The Weaver Fish, by Robert Edeson

The Weaver Fish
The Weaver Fish

Even though reading Robert Edeson’s The Weaver Fish made me feel simultaneously smarter and stupider, I’m glad I took a chance on this odd story. The Weaver Fish is both thriller and intellectual exercise, cyberpunk and philosophy. I fear that this review will not do the book justice.

The first third of the book is highly academic. There are even excerpts from journals and fabricated works of non-fiction to set the stage for what’s going to come. We learn of a strange chain of islands, the Ferendes, that lie somewhere near the South China Sea. There are strange, rare animals that live there, teasing explorers with their secrets. The excerpts also give us a peek into the mind of one of The Weaver Fish‘s protagonists, the wonderfully named Edvard Tøssentern.

Tøssentern is a transdisciplinary scholar. He builds his ideas from psychology, philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, and others. (There are footnotes that involve mathematical equations for beliefs.) The science and philosophy seemed (seemed because there are parts I’m not entirely sure I understood) to create a paradigm of a reality constructed of many small parts that only have meaning because they are observed from a far enough remove. Tøssentern cautions, however, that we can always take another step further back and see the pattern of meaning completely reassemble itself as we gather more contextual data. The theory of taking steps further and further back, plus Tøssentern’s transdisciplinarity made me think of this cartoon I saw on Twitter earlier this week:

Screenshot 2016-03-26 19.07.26

The first third or so of the book made the last half of the book seem entirely unexpected. The last half, rather than being further thought experiments, is a thriller. There are callbacks to events on the Ferendes Islands from the first half—the weaver fish and the Asiatic condor make rather spectacular returns to the main stage. Tøssentern and some of the other punnily named characters from the first third return, but Richard Worse becomes the lead protagonist.

I’m not sure what to make of the juxtaposition of intellectual literary fiction and more-than-usually-thoughtful thriller that makes up The Weaver Fish. It’s possible that the author is up to something so clever I can’t quite puzzle it out. What I can say for sure is that I love the academic jokes I did get, i.e. a character named Penelope Loom that specialized in Homeric Studies. I also liked the notion of meaning appearing and disappearing as more data becomes available. Our brains are wired for patterns, but we need to be aware of the biases this introduces to our thinking. We might think we know what’s going on until some new datapoint messes up our hypotheses.

The other thing I can say for sure about The Weaver Fish is that, as soon as I had finished the book, I wanted to go right back to the beginning and read it again, to see what I would make of it now that I had more information.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration.