This novel presents itself as a gazetteer to an archipelago on another world. The situation on this planet is that there are two cold-weather continents, north and south, with a vast and warmer-weather island range between (the Dream Archipelago). The nations on the north continent are using the southern continent to wage an apparently endless war, while most of the islands have proclaimed a united neutrality.
Furthermore, as declared in the fictional introduction and eventually further explained, the Dream Archipelago is resistant to being mapped.
After an introduction by a famed novelist, the rest of the novel consists of articles about the islands, in alphabetical order, describing their geography, tourist appeal, local laws and customs, weather and currents, and currencies.
Oddly, some of the articles break the mold of the gazetteer, presenting instead fictional documents or even short stories dropped into place.
Some themes recur throughout the novel, such as the mystery concerning the death of the mime Commis. Or events from the life of Dryd Bathurst, famous artist, ravisher of women, and murderer. Other subjects are brought up once and never further explained, such as the mystery of an off-limits island bombarded by drones. You expect some storylines to go somewhere, such as a terrifying insect species supposedly now under control, or the discovery of immortality, which seems to have had little impact on society!
The novel has no ending, it simply concludes with another short story for an island starting with the letter Y.
The book is nominally science fiction, as it is set on another world with technology similar to our own. (There does not appear to be space travel.) Yet it also includes elements of fantasy and horror, such as blood-spitting ghosts and time-shifting vortexes.
It is possible that the author intends the reader to collect clues throughout the book in order to resolve mysteries, such as who killed the mime. Or maybe the point is that there are multiple realities in the Dream Archipelago.
I found the novel to be boring and pointless. Knowing that it has won several awards, I forced myself to read all the way to the end, but there is no reward for doing so. The gazetteer format simply adds more clutter to what might have been a short story anthology in a rather bland setting. Despite the modern technology, the society has a retro vibe, with a cultural focus on authors and painters. The short stories are wordy and full of atmosphere and end in mystery.
The subplot about the famous artist who ravished women throughout the archipelago was apparently meant to be both amusing and repugnant, but considering he's also a pedophile and a murderer, I didn't see the humor nor did I find it entertaining.
Can you wargame it? The idea of an archipelago avoiding war by simply proclaiming neutrality is rather ludicrous, and the idea of nations from one continent using another continent on the other side of the world as their battlefield seems unlikely. There are only passing references to combat situations, and the military technology is unspecified.
This isn't a novel I would recommend reading.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .