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The Circumference of the World

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Like Nabokov writing a sci-fi book, it's very, very meta--sort of a book within a book within a book masquerading as a book. While that sounds like a lot of fun, the writing is a bit dull and derivative of hardboiled detective fiction.
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This book was a hard one to wrap my head around.

The premise is that an author from the Golden Age of science fiction wrote a book, where he supposedly encoded great secret truths about God and the universe. Except maybe he didn’t, and it’s all just people finding meanings that aren’t there. Except maybe the book never existed in the first place, because almost no one has ever seen a copy, and the only semi-reliable cases where one appeared ended abruptly when the book dealer in question ended up dead.

There are a variety of main characters here, and it’s difficult to say who among them might be the “main” character. There’s an albino woman from the South Pacific island where the author in question spent WWII. There’s her husband, a math professor terrified he’ll never make that grand contribution that will help him achieve mortality. There’s the face-blind used book dealer turned investigator trying to track down the husband after he disappears. There’s a Russian mobster who threatens him into searching for a copy of the book. And there’s flashback sequences of journals and letters written by the author and his contemporaries (including folks like Robert A. Heinlein and John W. Campbell).

We also get a few chapters from this book, which might not ever have existed in the first place.

The author, I eventually figured out, is based to some degree on L. Ron Hubbard. A religion, or possibly a scam, was founded based on his writings: the Church of the All-Seeing Eyes of God.

(As an aside, it took me a little bit to figure out that he was based on Hubbard. I was thrown by the name of the religion, which made me think of the Church of All Worlds that got started based on *Stranger in a Strange Land*. This confused me, because Heinlein is a character within *The Circumference of the World*. It wasn’t until the Church of the All-Seeing Eyes of God bought a cruise ship that I realized it was Scientology, not the Church of All Worlds.)

(As another aside: it’s very funny to me that I had a moment of “Oh, this is the *other* religion based on mid-twentieth century pulp science fiction.”)

Anyway. The book alternates between the present (actually 2001), where various actors are looking for the book; the 40s and 50s, when science fiction was in its golden age; and a middle section coming from the book in question.

The flashback sequences were very well done. I know more than a little about the period and the players, and I think Tidhar did a great job of capturing both the optimism and the confidence/cockiness of the genre of the time (as well as the sexism and racism of guys like Campbell and Heinlein).

The excerpts from the book-within-the-book were fantastic. If you told me it was something written from that time period, I would believe you. I honestly want to read this book in its entirety.

The Russian mobster’s flashbacks to his time in the Soviet gulags were interesting, and again were well crafted, but also rather brutal.

But overall, I didn’t particularly *enjoy* this book. It felt a little pretentious, in a Jonathan Franzen-esque fashion. I don’t like feeling like a book is over my head. This was my second try at Tidhar, and I doubt I’m going to try a third.
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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Lavie Tidhar has earned a great deal of acclaim for his novels Central Station and Neom, both set in a futuristic Tel Aviv replete with cybernetic implants, abandoned virtual pets, and androids. The Circumference of the World is a very different book. It follows three characters in the modern world, all searching for a book that may or may not exist. The book, written by a reclusive science-fiction author, is so beloved that it actually spawned a religion. Whether said religion is true or false, its premise is intriguing enough that the search for the book results in kidnapping and perhaps even murder.

While much of the book follows the three main characters, we also get an excerpt from the possibly-imaginary book Lode Stars and a section from the POV of its enigmatic author during his stint on a remote Pacific island in World War 2. This construction gives the novel a broad, wide-ranging feel. The excerpt from Lode Stars is a great excursion into Golden Age-style sci-fi, and the cosmology it posits is an interesting take on simulationism.

There were some elements of the story that I thought were underdeveloped, such as Daniel’s prosopagnosia. But overall, this was an interesting, thought-provoking book.
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Another story about stories, this time a metafictional romp through a Scientologyesque religion and the end of the universe. Lavie Tidhar’s The Circumference of the World is imaginative and, dare I say, quite a bit wacky; however, it never coalesced into something I would call enjoyable. Thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for the eARC.

Delia is a mathematician from Vanuatu, though now she lives in London. Her boyfriend’s disappearance causes her to start looking for a book so rare some think it doesn’t exist. This pulp science-fiction novel is at the centre of a cult-like church that believes reading the book conveys protection against the “Eaters,” mysterious creatures connected to black holes (I am keeping the details vague to avoid spoilers here). Delia enlists the help of a book detective, essentially, who then falls in with a gangster, who then … you know what, it’s turtles all the way down.

The best and perhaps also worst aspect of The Circumference of the World for me was the structure of the narrative. We leave Delia in the first part of the book to follow Daniel, and then leave him to follow Oskar, and there is also an interstitial moment where we are in the Lode Stars story itself, which may or may not be real or even more real than the rest of this story. The way that Tidhar plays with the flexible nature of reality and fiction is skillful and thought-provoking. The scenes set within Lode Stars, in a far, posthuman future, demonstrate some really neat thinking about the nature of humanity and the cosmos. The wider novel as a whole dances around notions of the simulation hypothesis, albeit coming at it from a very different angle than we might be used to.

This is all to the good. Where the book failed to work for me was the characters themselves. The narration often felt stilted, and I had trouble connecting to most of the main characters. Although I like the segmented structure of the book, I wish we had come back to Delia and spent more time with her than we did. Overall, the book itself felt both too long and too short—with characters and plots being picked up and then dropped without resolution.

File this under “some amazing science fiction happening here but in a way that never comes together as a single coherent story.”
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The Circumference of the World
The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great novel that should have been titled The Lodestar. I mean, void, man, sure, it would have sounded like a pulpy SF novel, but it's YOU, Mr. Tidhar, writing it, so it's not only f***ing self-aware and erudite, it's a commentary and it glories in the subject matter while pulling off one hell of a hat-trick of an ACTUAL SF novel all at the same time.

What the hell am I talking about?

The Circumference of the World starts out as one great Noir-type investigation novel featuring the murder of a book seller and the questionable reality of a novel named The Lodestar written by a certain Eugene Charles Hartley who used to bump shoulders with all the late great SF writers like the big three and all the old SF greats. This fictional SF writer seems to be a mash-up between PKD and L. Ron Hubbard, and the missing, even apocryphal book in question seems to have a mathematical equation hidden within it that prevents the Eaters from nibbling away at our holographic universe that is lodged in the great eye of a final black hole at the end of time.

We get sections in this novel from unbelievers, true believers, and the creator, himself. I can't tell you which I love the most. The mystery is absolutely hard-boiled and perfection. The hard SF is fascinating and hard-core, feeling right out of Pohl's best, and the Golden Age SF retrospective brought tears to my eyes, being a huge fan of all these authors and having read them all.

Mr. Tidhar's love of SF is real, ya'll, and the total shift in styles and tone and voice just makes me want to clap with joy. Again, he shows me what a world-class talent he is.

No spoilers, but this novel is truly delicious. Even if the title lacks... um... everything. :)
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Neom last year was one of my favorite SFs, I loved the stacked story within a story structure of it and Lavie Tidhar has done it again. The Circumference of the World is a similarly structured story that begins simply enough with a woman seeking her missing husband. From there the story spirals out, the book he was seeking - others are seeking it. Then we see the madness that drives some people to seek the book and ultimately the strange way reality has twisted for individuals affected by a religion that idolizes? Uses? the book. I spent so much of the book going ‘what the hell?’ in the best way and by the end, I’m not going to lie I was so amused.

First off, I’m going to say as he says at the end. The religion in this book is fictional and not based on any real world religion. But if you know you’re history of religions… or cults… you may see some **interesting** parallels to some real world things. 

And that is the real selling point for me here. This is a story about a book. Is the book truth or is it fiction? And are the people who are interacting with the book genuinely experiencing these things or is it simply giving voice to deeper problems. I would 100% would have read so many more of these stories to see more people in this world (and universe) and how they were/are affected by the actions and items here. 

It was a wild ride, a fun ride, and one I loved. I really recommend this for my fans of weird SFF or for a fan of religion/cults in fiction. It will likely tickle your nerd buttons.
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I had a great time reading The Circumference of the World. It’s a strange but rather beautiful and at times haunting read. It’s a complex book weaving more than one narrative together, stories that are linked by the strange book Lode Stars. This is a gripping read, a blend of science fiction and fantasy with a little detective fiction thrown in. I’ve read other books by the author and have also found them to be strange and beautiful. I loved this.
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I was so excited to see a new title from this author, as I loved The Escapement. I remember being a tad confused at the beginning of that one, but was quickly captivated. I stuck with this one, waiting for it all to completely coalesce for me. I’m still waiting. It’s a book, about a book… that’s actually the answer to the God and the universe. The story shifts from the search for the mythical book, to the book itself, to the author, and…I am so confused! To quote a line from this book “There is a good idea buried somewhere within this tale, but for the life of me, I am having trouble comprehending it.”
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This was a fun ride, substantially more meta than his other novels, think Philip K. Dick ([book:Ubik|22590][book:Ubik|22590][book:Ubik|22590]). We have a book, a book about the book, a book about the author of the book, and a narrative that challenges the reality of everything in the novel. Whee!

Worth reading more than once, maybe more than twice, though I might need Douglas Hofstadter to talk me down from the top levels of re-interpretation.
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The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar is a fantastic mix of style and character. It collects interesting people and writes about them in interesting ways. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: The publisher provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Any and all opinions that follow are mine alone.

Review: The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar

Unexpected gems are one of the best things about life. Finding a craft beer bar in a strip mall surrounded by chains is exciting. The five dollar game bought impulsively on Steam that you’re still playing one hundred hours later is amazing. A book that surpasses and then reworks your expectations mid-read is beautiful. I recently read that book. It’s The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar. Reviewing books takes a toll on me, and burnout is a constant danger looming on the edge of my reading. When I picked up The Circumference of the World, I was expecting a science-fiction mystery about a book that may or may not exist. What I got was so much more.

The life of Delia Welegtabit is where Tidhar starts this book. Delia is a native of Vanuatu. She loves her home; she loves math; and she eventually leaves for London where she falls in love with a man obsessed with big questions. So big in fact that they lead to his disappearance. Tidhar takes from Delia’s birth to the moment her husband exits her life. From there, the story enters Daniel Chase’s point of view. Daniel is a book dealer in London, and since Delia’s husband is obsessed a book that may or may not exist, she asks Daniel to find him. Daniel, though, is face-blind, and his search for Delia’s husband puts him into a game much bigger than himself, one that may even take him into the past. Oskar Lens is one player of that game. Lens is a Russian mobster, an ex-inmate in the gulags of Siberia, and a beneficiary of the corruption that followed the fall of the Soviet Union. His encounter with this book in prison occupies him into the present. He must find the book again to learn its secrets. But the Church of the All-Seeing Eyes attempts to stop him. The book is meant only for members of the church who reach the top levels since it was written by the church’s founder, Eugene Charles Hartley. Hartley is a pulp science fiction writer who founded a religion for either profit or because he discovered a terrifying secret about existence. Hartley’s journals take readers through the so-called “Golden Age” of science fiction with many names from science fiction’s pantheon of writers appearing.

Tidhar has given readers an interesting mix of character studies and stylization. The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar is a book that presents four point of view characters in five different ways of a telling a story, which, by the way, all work very well. It’s a book in which the craft and the art dominate the experience. Readers can luxuriate in the writing. The plot is minimal, but it really doesn’t drive the novel. Getting to know the characters, exploring their lives, and caring for them is what kept me glued to the page.

Beautiful Characters

All four point of view characters are great. Tidhar excels at getting me interested in his characters. Each perspective is unique and could carry the book wholly on their own, but lucky for us readers, we get the eclectic mix of characters. Delia is the islander transplanted to London. Daniel is the London native in over his head. Oskar is a gangster with a mission, and Hartley is man who fell into writing because it was easy for him. All are reducible; yet, all are so much more. When point of views were switched, I was sad to leave the other character but quickly got hooked by the new the character.

If I had to have a favorite of the book, I’d say it was Hartley. I didn’t like him, but damn if he wasn’t compelling. Tidhar used his portion of the book to walk readers through the writers of post-World War 2 United States in a way that gave commentary on Hartley and the science fiction scene of that era. Even at the end of the book, I couldn’t tell if Hartley was insane or really did happen upon one of the deep secrets of the universe. If he is commentary on another pulp era writer who started their own religion, I’m sure that’s just coincidence.

Wonderfully Stylized

This book contains memoir, a hard-boiled detective section, a prison journal, portions of a non-existent book from the pulp era of sci-fi, and the letters of writers. It’s brilliant. Switching between the styles was exciting for me as a reader, and each style felt tailored to each character. They were yet another way to provide characterization. Characters are the aspect of reading fiction that I love the most, and this book is no different. Yet the stylization comes close to being my favorite part of the book. There’s enough of a through line that it doesn’t feel like a collection of short stories, and yet each section almost feels like it’s its own thing.

All fiction is art. I have to put that disclaimer because it’s the internet and someone will email me if I don’t. But The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar is pushing the art of fiction in a way that I needed. It’s more artful than a lot of books I’ve been reading lately. That doesn’t mean it’s better or worse than the other books. It means that it’s refreshing. The Circumference of the World was the read that I didn’t know I needed. Books that push what stories can do or how stories are presented scratch a different itch than other books. Genre books too often get dismissed because the stereotype of the Tolkien clones persists. But books like this help shatter that stereotype and show just how dynamic genre can be.

Minimal to Non-Existent Plot

I loved The Circumference of the World by Lavie Tidhar, but I don’t know what happened in it. Other than people looking for a book that may not exist, I don’t know what the plot is, and I don’t really care that much. The characters and the craft are why I love this book. But if plot is important to you, this might not be the book for you. Or I could be wrong and completely missed the point of the book. I might have been blinded by writing.


Lavie Tidhar’s The Circumference of the World is the book I needed at the exact moment I read it. It’s a refreshing reminder of what genre is capable without sacrificing entertainment. It’s artistic, readable, character-driven, and enjoyable. It’s a wonderful melange of style and character, character and style. If you’re looking for something different than your usual science fiction novel, try this. You won’t be disappointed.
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This short cerebral, mind-bending fable whisks you through the golden 1960’s years of science fiction, while delving into a heavy philosophical take on whether we’re all just memories echoing and trapped within black holes. And yes, you have to work hard to follow along. 

Delia grows up on a remote sea island and infused with a love of mathematics. Fast forward to London 2001, and Delia has married mathematician Levi who hopes to make sense of the universe. Levi goes off in search of a mythical and obscure 1962 sci-fi novel Lode Stars, as he thinks it holds the answers he’s seeking for his mathematical proof. Delia hires a book dealer with vast literary acumen, but who also suffers from face-blindness, to find Levi. Daniel as he embarks on his quest gets kidnapped by Oskar, a dangerous Russian gangster and fellow book collector looking for a copy of the book. 

But the story hinges Eugene Charles Hartley, the author of Lode Stars, who believes all of humanity is just smart memories trapped in black holes, and at risk from predators known as “Eaters” who gobble up these sentient memories – unless you happen to have a copy of Lode Stars as protection. Along the way, Hartley blends all of this into a religion: The Church of the All-Seeing Eyes, before Hartley himself vanishes. In the book within a book, another Delia searches for her missing father in a distant star. 

All this mind-bending plot, and revisiting of vintage Sci-Fi, boils down to a philosophical and existential questioning of why humanity has come to exist at all. An eclectic, original read. 

Thanks to Tachyon Publications and NetGalley for an Advanced Reader’s Copy.
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I have read three of Tidhar's works and I have to say that I really like how he writes. It is sure and innovative, and versed in intersting topics and questions that plague so many of us whether layman or scholar.

This one follws a group of people who are drawn into each other's spheres because of one book, a book that doesn't exist; a book seller, a book collector, and a mathematician who seems to be at the very heart of this nonexistent book and its rippling effects.

What kept me hooked on this story bar the overarching mystery of the book, was how very human Tidhar made his characters. They are all just trying their best to move through the world and its mysteries in a way that makes the most sense to them. Asking questions, seeking answers, and drawing conclusions from what they have gathered. In this way, he uses history, science, religion, and philosophy to anchor his telling.
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Lavie Tidhar continues to be a little bit of an enigma for me as a reader. His Central Station stories have given me a setting I enjoy: a space station backdrop for stories that aren’t exclusively science fiction. His Judge Dee stories present mysteries being solved by an aristocratic vampire and his ever-hungry familiar, Jonathan. I like when a trope character, like a vampire, is given stories outside their genre.

But I didn’t connect with 2022 release, The Escapement. The setting was less solid, its characters less interesting. Unfortunately, I had some of those problems with The Circumference of the World too. The plot slips around between three character who are affected by a science fiction novel that may or may not exist and has spawned a world-wide cult. (Take that L. Ron Hubbard.) I never felt like I was on solid ground with the plot and didn’t really want to spend all that much time with the characters. That said, I finished the book. It was fine. I will of course read more of Tidhar’s works. The Circumference of the World, though, isn’t an enthusiastic recommendation from me.
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Unfortunately I had to DNF this book. I found the intermix of languages to be too immersion breaking and confusing, and I wasn't a fan of the specific type of prose and descriptive language used. Obviously these are completely an individual preference, and I would still encourage other people to check it out.
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A book that creates a whole religion. A book that reviews who we are in this universe, from a very small born in a tiny island from the Pacific to the inmensity of the cosmos. Hugely ambitious and succesful in just 300 pages. Highly recomended.
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Lavie Tidhar's new novel is a fiendishly ramified mixture of narratives. In late 90s London, Delia Welegtabit's husband, Levi, has disappeared. Levi may or may not have owned a copy of the elusive novel Lode Stars, upon which pulp legend Eugene Charles Hartley apparently founded a religion (no, definitely NOT that one, despite one of the categories Amazon has filed this book under). A London gangster and his pliant police stooge want the book and engage second hand book dealer, Daniel Chase, to find it. 

That's the first layer. We also learn about Delia's early life on the island of Vanuatu (also visited by Hartley) and about Hartley's career and life - part of this is told through letters to and about Hartley by various early SF luminaries - Tidhar rendering many different voices here, all totally believably.

We also read an extract from The Book itself, the story of (another) Delia seeking her lost father deep in space, the setting keying into a mythology that Hartley either believed or invented. It's all about the destination of humankind, which is to both swept into a black hole at the centre of the galaxy and preserved as information. All of these narrative levels interact, with coincidences, names and versions of names, apparent timeslips and repeated themes (shadows, eyes). Some of these might be explained by Hartley's authorship of Lode Stars and his making allusions to the works of his contemporaries: others - less so.

Gangster Oskar Lens's career as a black market dealer in the failing Soviet Union features too, as does the London second-hand book scene ('My highest ambition had always been to open my own bookshop on Cecil Court'). It's a bewildering ride through 20th century history and the birth of modern SF (taking in the rise of modern conventions, as well as gatherings in a Holborn pub) something Tidhar has deep knowledge of (it was fun to spot allusions, especially in the Lode Stars extract, to names, themes and artefacts from various genre classics: I'm sure I missed many). It is though much more than that, touching on questions about the nature of reality and the meaning of life as well as - perhaps - commenting on how the SF writer of a religion may be affected by that and, possibly, escape the trap he's set himself. 

There is some lovely wordplay here ('Dewey-eyed librarians') as well as nice pulpy (but culturally appropriate) language ('Paperbacks started back at me from the shelves without saying a damn thing', 'My aunt had died of cancer. She wasted away like a cigarette.') as well as starkly beautiful language ('I felt the press of stars overhead, and they were cold, and bright, and indifferent.')

I really enjoyed The Circumference of the World. As a book, it is a thing of its own, not like anything I'd come across before, but a great read crammed with ideas and glorious writing: there is simply so much material here, I think some writers could and would make 3 or 4 books of it but we have all that concentrated in a short novel. Somehow that compression means that - like matter spiralling into a black hole - everything here simply lights up, bathing the reader with its intense radiation.

An amazing read, strongly recommended.
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This book is about a disappearing book, black holes, nearly-immortal humans, and a legendary but fictional science fiction writer, Eugene Charles Hartley, who keeps company with other writers from the “Golden Age” of science fiction. Hartley wrote a book—that no one can find anymore—and established a religion. The mystery at the heart of The Circumference of the World: was Hartley enlightened or deluded?

I wanted to grasp the meaning behind this novel… In a way, this is itself the book that disappears upon being read. Reading it, I felt as bewildered as some of its characters, like there was something just there, just beyond my grasp: the same feeling I had reading Heinlein’s (awful) A Stranger in a Strange Land, in some ways—which I think would really please the author, as this novel feels like an homage to Heinlein.

Still, this was a speedy and intriguing read. There are many delicious layers, interesting worlds, and connections to make. I only wish I had a book club with which to make those connections. I’m going to leave it to those who understand its references and perhaps Tidhar’s style to interpret the novel; but I am very glad I read it, as it has left me with ideas that will no doubt send me down worm- (not rabbit) holes.

Thank you to NetGalley and to Tachyon Publications for the ARC.
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This is a story within a story with another storyline thrown in there. I don’t think I was in the right headspace to truly enjoy this book. There are good parts, but brining it all together fell a little short for me, and that probably on me more than anything. If you do pick this up, be ready to bend your brain in some weird ways
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"What is a man but a sum of his memories.”

The story surrounds of finding a cult sci-fi book called The Lode Stars. All the copies of this book have disappeared through time and the book since then have become a myth. We follow first a set of characters led by Delia. We also get to know the life of the infamous author and bits of the book, and interestingly, the main character of the book was also called Delia.

The book contains different sections and follows a set of characters with different time frames from 1900s to thousand years in the future. The POVs changed interchangeably from 1st person to 3rd person which can be confusing, but as a whole it was ingenious. It is a pretty short book with concise text and storytelling without losing its soul and essence. I guess it all comes to the author’s proficient writing skills.

This is quite a different book than I expected. I didn’t like it at the first but grew to like it after finishing it, when I connected all the dots and understood its philosophical underlying message.
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Lavie Tidhar delivers a homage to science fiction in the form of a self-referential narrative, providing us with numerous entertaining parallels and references. It's a fragmented story, composed of various perspectives, and leaves the reader free to interpret the ending in many ways, which can both please and displease. He skillfully blurs the boundaries between reality and imagination, to the point where by the end, one doubts where they are! Is it a book within a book within a book?
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