The Memory of Whiteness

[a science fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson]

Since two of my largest interests are music and literature, in that order, I was quite happy when I received The Memory of Whiteness from the publisher HarperCollins. Naturally I was curious how these concepts had been intertwined by Kim Stanley Robinson.

The story takes it place in the year 3229. Mankind have by this time populated the entire solar system. Thanks to the physics of Arthur Holywelkin, humans are no longer limited by the surroundings of the natural environment. Holywelkin, devoted to both physics and music, also constructed the Orchestra; hundreds of instruments within one instrument. The knowledge about how to master the instrument has been passed on and is know possessed by the ninth Master of the Orchestra. Johannes Wright is the ninth Master of the Orchestra, a blind, former drug-addict. The Master haven't made any public performances, but is now setting out on a grand tour through the solar system. The first ever grand tour of the Orchestra takes it start, all centered around the complex instrument and the Master of it. However, things are not well in the solar system and during the tour mysterious things happens. It appears as someone wants to see the Master dead.

As a reader you will follow the tour and its persons through the omniscient narrator. Those of you who enjoys new age sf will probably find the storytelling in this book fascinating. The musical theme inspirits the whole book, and from time to time it is hard to track down what really is going on, everything gets so....far out. The Master is a rather unsympathetic character, whom with his artificial eyes sees the world in shades of blue. During the journey he finds evidence that points to the fact that Holywelkins famous Ten Forms of Change should be explored through music, and by doing that Wright will find the real truth about the universe.
Mysterious people and events takes place, and in the center of the unknown are the Greys, a cult of which little is known, apparently sun worshippers.

I haven't read anything written by Kim Stanley Robinson before, the man who is mostly known for his Mars Trilogy. The thoughts behind this story is interesting; finding a deeper connection between music and the structure of the Universe. The language in the book is poetical rather than technical, not that surprising since KSR received a Ph.D in English at the University of California. However, the book becomes a bit to abstract in my taste, there is happening things that you as a reader are not told about. For example, the characters are placed in situation A, and then within a few sentences they find themselves in situation B, and it's not really explained how they ended up there.

Among those who have read this book it appears as one either love or hate the book. The fact that the readers feel these strong feelings is a rather good thing. The author has managed to stir around inside the reader and the reader will probably remember the book for some time, no matter if he liked the book or not. Myself, I don't hate the book, the first half is really enjoyable, but towards the end things get a bit out of hand, and I just want to shout "Get on with it!". Those of you who have only read KSR latter work might find it interesting to read one of his earlier novels to see if his writingstyle has changed. This novel was published 1985, the year after his debut. Since this is the only KSR novel I've read, I have little to compare to, but if you are interested in this author, his famous Mars Trilogy is probably a better start. You can read more about that trilogy and order the books on-line in the sf/fantasy-area at the FireAndWater.com website.

Memory of Whiteness by Kim Stanley Robinson
science fiction
First published 1985
Published by Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers
ISBN 0-006-48256-2
Read more about this book and order it on-line through Amazon.co.uk, it is also available at Amazon USA and Amazon Deutschland

Review scribbled down on the 1st of July 1999

Calle Åsman. Mail: emsworth AT gmx DOT net