Friday 9 February 2024

The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier

Many things have been written about Herve Le Tellier's The Anomaly. One of those pesky science fiction novels passing itself off as a mainstream literary novel, it has attracted flattering remarks over its originality, its fidelity to the Oulipo school of French writing, and for being a good read. While quibbling the claims to newness - doppelgangers have been an SF staple since Poe's William Wilson - Le Tellier's scratching of an old groove produces a melodious work. It has the page turning quality of a Michael Crichton, centring the scientific/military inquiry into/protection from the unknown with small character studies of everyday folk thrown into an unbelievable situation. But what reviews and other commentary has tended to neglect is The Anomaly's polemical thrust.

Spoilers below.

In March 2021, an Air France airliner lands at JFK airport. The passengers and crew disembark and go about their lives. In June 2021, the exact same plane with the same crew and passengers appears in US air space and is escorted by fighter jet to a US Air Force base. What's going on? The duplicates (or are the ones who landed in March the duplicates?) have experienced no lost time, and have to come to terms with a world where their niche is inhabited by their other selves. This poses a problem for Blake, a hit man, who has no intention of surrendering his shadowy life to a double. But not so much for struggling novelist Victor, whose alter ego finished writing a book of aphorisms - entitled The anomaly - and promptly took his own life. This catapults the book to the top of the best seller charts for Victor to more or less pick up where he left off. What duplication means for relationships, for people's standing in society (or at least those who come out publicly), and the arrangements some characters arrive at to assure their co-existence is all deftly done.

How to explain what happened? Eventually, the leading hypothesis is that our world is one of many simulations ran on an inconceivably vast computer by a super advanced civilisation for reasons unknown. The duplication of Flight 006 is a test of some kind, the insertion of an unknown variable to see how us little computer people would go about reacting to it. There is some suggestion it could be existential. If our response is wrong then our simulation will get turned off. The White House invites representatives of several religions for their take on what happened and where the creation of over 200 duplicated people might sit theologically. A consensus of sorts is arrived at that if they were abominations, then God would not have given them life. The Devil, after all, cannot create.

For my money, The Anomaly is a polemic against what Le Tellier sees as the real anomaly - the unending eruption of unreason in culture and politics. The US President, who is never named but is obviously Donald Trump and has a deal of trouble following the explanations and recommendations offered by his advisors. Published in France in 2020, Le Tellier didn't have much faith in the American people cutting short the tangerine dream's bid for a second term. That's and his two-faced dealings with Macron are the light relief appetiser. The polemic hits hard toward the book's end. One of the young women from the flight appears on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert with her doppelganger. It's all wholesome with the sympathetic liberal audience. They're slightly gawky and awkward. The one who landed in March has embarked on her first hesitant romance with a boy. They couldn't be more unthreatening. But outside the studio is besieged by Christian fundamentalists drawn from America's religious redoubts. As the pair leave in a company car, they're caught up in a traffic jam caused by the protest. By chance one of the zealots spot the pair giggling in their seats, and convinced they're Satanic spawn he shoots them to death. The theological positions put out by at the government's behest count for nothing as his mind is consumed by religious ecstasy.

And then, the end. In October 2021 JFK airport is radioed by a third Flight 006 seeking landing permission. The action cuts to the cockpit of a fighter pilot querying his orders. They've come straight down from the President himself. The flight must be destroyed. The missile streaks towards the helpless jet and in the seconds before impact, everything stops. The world feels a shudder, and the text breaks up and collapses to a point. The obvious implication being that we, or rather the unreasonable order of an unreasonable President have failed the experimenter's test and our simulation gets shut down.

The warning is clear. The anomaly of unreason is an existential threat, but not an insurmountable one. If the right people made the right decisions. If the crazed and the stupid were not encouraged and empowered, we might stand a chance.

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Blissex said...

«If the right people made the right decisions. If the crazed and the stupid were not encouraged and empowered, we might stand a chance.»

Fortunately in the UK it is Mandelson who decides (one-man-one-vote) who are the "right people" and what are the "right decisions" and it is the right-thinking press that did not encourage and empower the "crazed and stupid" "f*cking racist and an antisemite" Corbyn. That is what valid democracy is all about: "guardrails". :-(

Blissex said...

«In March 2021 [...] In October 2021 [...] The obvious implication being that we, or rather the unreasonable order of an unreasonable President have failed the experimenter's test and our simulation gets shut down.»

So the entire book is simply TDS, because the conclusion is comically arbitrary: why would killing an "anomalous" airliner be "unreasonable" to the point of shutting down the simulation?

Every moment on Earth there are much bigger "unreasonable" continuing massacres than one airliner every 6 months (currently we have the large scale massacres in Yemen, Sudan, Myanmar and the small scale one in the Levant). Obviously the simulation is not (yet) being shut down over those, but it gets shutdown over the one ordered by one specific jerk.

The author has simply contrived one particular and weak excuse to elevate one specific jerk among many from "existential threat to democracy itself" to "existential threat to (simulated) reality itself".

Aimit Palemglad said...

It's always wise to read the full work before commenting, so, unlike certain commentators, I intend to stay silent until I have actually read the book. Opinions should be more like songs, with a melody and a rhythm, requiring a sense of pitch and the ability to deliver them harmoniously. Merely opening the mouth and letting air flow out in a way that generates sound might be imagined by the perpetrator to be worthwhile and appreciated, but in reality it may be no more than a prolonged belch.