The Fire Opal Mechanism by Fran Wilde
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
4.5 Stars bumped because I just love the underlying message here.
Fran Wilde's second book in the Gemworld series takes place long after the events of her Hugo Award-nominated novelette, The Jewel and Her Lapidary. Set in the Far Reaches, we see a treacherous time where the nature of knowledge itself is explored. Ania, a librarian, working in a university library, is struggling against losing odds to safeguard her books from being destroyed and churned into pulp by a group called the Pressman who make them into the self-updating Universal Compendiums of Knowledge. Professors and students are bullied into joining the Pressman or have their minds altered if they resist. Jorit, a thief who encounters Ania in the library while trying to escape the Pressmen and steal a few books herself, flees with Ania into another era via a clock running with the titular fire opal mechanism, which permits time travel. Of course, traveling in time allows them to set things right. And if Ania and Jorit have a jewel what if there are other jewels out there. What if that's how the Pressman are updating their Compendium, they wonder?
The Fire Opal Mechanism offers some interesting thoughts on freedom of information, and about what is lost when we have knowledge without context. The Pressmen are clearly analogous to the firemen of Fahrenheit 451, collecting books to destroy and redistributing "knowledge" in a continuously updating format that is not unlike the "parlor walls" in Bradbury's novel. The obvious risks of curated knowledge, of knowledge as information without context, and of limiting information that, au courant, is unpopular or out of favor, strikes the heart of an era of fake news, media distortion of information, and governments that limit scientific discussion or offer textbooks that rewrite history changing the reasons that led to civil war.
I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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