A Voyage to Arcturus: Review/Meta

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A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) by David Lindsay is the best book I have read in a long time (sci fi or otherwise). It’s an odd duck: never a huge success but never out of print, influential for many, apparently including C. S. Lewis in his Space Trilogy, but often absent from the Great Works of Science Fiction lists. Until I happened on a YouTube video about it, I had never heard of it or Lindsay.

Perhaps all this isn’t surprising because the book really is odd; it may be a quintessential example a very well-written “niche” work, destined to be admired by a few and passed by by most.

Like The Space Trilogy, A Voyage to Arcturus uses a science fiction setting to stage a philosophical exploration of the meaning of life, morality, and so on. This staging is so similar, in fact, that I initially expected the book to be an allegory or thought experiment on Christian cosmology. It is not. In fact, while it echoes themes from real-world religions and philosophies, the cosmology it seems to settle on is not quite like anything else I’ve encountered. (I won’t say more here due to spoilers.)

I find this book hard to understand. I could not predict where it was going, even up to the last page. And while I found the ending a bit anti-climactic (maybe I just didn’t get it), I like all that. I like being surprised; I like being perplexed. I would take that a hundred times over being bored by sameness. I am also in awe of Lindsay’s worldbuilding. Overall this book is immensely ahead of its time. It was published in 1920, but I would have readily believed it came from the 1950s, or even a less gender-progressive corner of the ‘60’s or ‘70s. It’s that far-thinking. Spoilers below the cutRead more… )

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Arwen Spicer
Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and writing teacher raised in the San Fransciso Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and is an educator on the concept of workable utopias. Her novel The Hour before Morning was hailed as “A carefully paced, rewarding sci-fi debut” by Kirkus Indie.

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Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer

Arwen Spicer is a science fiction writer and writing teacher raised in the San Fransciso Bay Area, and Northern California will hold her heart forever, even if it turns into a desert. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on ecology in utopian science fiction and is an educator on the concept of workable utopias. Her novel The Hour before Morning was hailed as “A carefully paced, rewarding sci-fi debut” by Kirkus Indie.

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