I ordered this online and received half of a science fiction book. The second half of Tim Wirkus’s The Infinite Future, actually. The first half doesn’t have traditional speculative elements like spaceships or magic, but it’s more magical realism tinged. Imagine if Jorge Luis Borges wrote an introduction to A.E. van Vogt’s Voyage of the Space Beagle and you’ve got everything in The Infinite Future. So, yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds. Wirkus has created an ice cream sandwich of a book by sticking an excellent genre work inside of a elusive metafiction.
The book opens with an introduction from Tim Wirkus, who got the manuscript of a recently translated Brazilian science fiction novel from Danny Lazlo, a BYU classmate who hopes that Wirkus can get it published. Danny prefaces his novel, actually written by Eduard Salgado-MacKenzie, with a 206-page “translator’s note” that reveals that he got the manuscript because he and librarian he met in Sao Paulo while researching for a semi-autobiographical novel about Mormon missionaries in Brazil went a road trip in order to find Salgado-MacKenzie. Diagram that sentence! The rabbit hole goes deep. It goes even deeper once the text of The Infinite Future actually begins where we follow Sister Ursula who sits besieged in a space convent and desperate records the history of Irena Sertorian, the saint whom she venerates. Here’s a relatively spoiler free graphic that shows the most layers that the book wraps itself in.
I love metafiction, so I could easily put aside the story-within-a-story motif that makes up the entire novel, but that horn gets tooted an awful lot. In fact, as is symptomatic of the genre, sometimes the intricacy comes at the cost of real characterization. The librarian, Sergio Altunes, who introduces Danny to the work of Eduard Salgado-MacKenzie, brings fervor to the quest, but little else. Mormonism historian Harriet Kimball also joins the quest, after they discover that she alone has published Salgado-MacKenzie’s work prior to the discovery of The Infinite World. In an interesting subplot, Kimbell reveals her excommunication from the Mormon church over a book she published in 1995. Unfortunately, the journey to find Salgado-MacKenzie doesn’t seem to impact her the way it does Danny and Sergio. Most disappointingly, Danny gets in deep with a shady non-profit early on in the novel, and then the problem fizzles away with a hand-wave. It creates minor tension between Danny and Harriet, but neither character ever really looks the problem in the face.
The Infinite Future features several Mormon characters and a journey through the Rocky Mountains where lots of Mormons make their homes, but it never advocates wholly for or against that faith. When examining questions of truth and centuries-long games of telephone, one cannot help but think about religious texts. The characters show remarkable and admirable diversity of beliefs, ranging from Sergio’s agnosticism to Sister Ursula’s devotion, and The Infinite Future presents a respectful discussion of all.
Despite a few flimsy resolutions, I couldn’t put The Infinite Future aside. In simplest terms, it’s a story about the way we tell stories. It’s also a convoluted road trip filled research and obscurity. However, The Infinite Future rewards a patient reader with a delightfully bizarre science fiction story as well as some wry humor. The story asks questions about faith and truth, but sometimes moves them to the back burner for the sake of a wonderfully twisted plot.
Four stars out of five.
Favorite quote: “‘I have a theory,’ Salgado-MacKenzie wrote, ‘that when two human beings enter into a deliberate relationship with one another — be it professional, personal, or otherwise — they become connected by a long, invisible filament that can never be severed.'”
Page Count: 390