An Exaltation of Larks – Robert Reed (1995)
‘Jesse is the kind of callow, sly college man who has it all. He’s editor of the student newspaper, enormously popular with the female students, breezing through with terrific grades. But he’s oblivious to the fragile balance of life… until something unutterably strange strips away the surface calm of his existence and exposes a universe that proves uncontrollable and endlessly mutable.
For Jesse has become the focus of a conspiracy of creatures from beyond the end of time to re-create our universe anew. Blinded by sex and greed, Jesse can’t see the terrible flaw in their vast plan… until a wonderful woman named Sully comes into his life and turns everything right side up.
The result is a wild, erotic joyride, a no-holds barred tour de force, and, finally, a novel of sublime grace and beauty, a testament to the transcendent power of love.’
Blurb to the Tor 1998 paperback edition
Reed here manages to turn a seemingly absurd premise into a thought-provoking and beautifully crafted novel in a minimal amount of pages.
There are Turtles at the end of time, but these are no ordinary turtles. They are Godlike post-organic entities and they are on a mission.
Our Universe is destined to continue expanding rather than subsequently contracting into another Big Bang (thus recreating the Universe) and will simply slowly fizzle out and go cold. The Turtles’ mission is to rebuild the Universe into a cyclic one, one that will perpetually die and recreate itself. To do this, the Turtles travel back in time.
One of the turtles arrives in an America of the mid Nineteen Seventies (in the guise of a Native American) where any vertebrate destined to die within the following fifteen months is given immortality, fated to become the next wave of turtles in a trillion years time, from whence they will leap back to fifteen months earlier than before. Thus, in fifteen month sections, the creatures are working their way back to the Big Bang itself.
Those not chosen to become turtles are dismantled and stored in a virtual library.
It’s an extremely well-written piece which vividly creates US college life of the time and concentrates on the characters and the changes they undergo as a result of the turtle’s actions.
It’s very much a character driven novel, a love story that manages to examine teenage relationships from both male and female points of view. The central figure, Jesse, is a serial dater with a reputation for using girls for sex until he simultaneously meets The Turtle and falls in love with the enigmatic Sally Faulkner. Or does he?
Nothing in this book is what it seems. The turtles’ awesome abilities allow them to alter people’s perceptions and memories, and in the course of their hunt for a ‘criminal’ who has travelled back in time in order to live another trillion years, reality is warped in order that the truth, if such a word has a meaning in this context, can be discovered.
It raises many ethical questions about the nature of the universe, the integrity of the individual, and the rights of an individual against the concept of a greater good. Who, for instance, decides what is good or right when deciding the destiny of the universe? Certainly, the denouement leaves one with many questions which are unanswerable, pondering on issues raised in the book long after the pages have been closed.