It is through the study
and practice of illusion that we learn the art and science of the
truth, and this philosophy has proved immensely effective.
It suddenly struck him, for instance, that the definition of a
complex machine was one that was five-dimensional--time
defining the fourth, psychology the fifth. Mind transcended
time, the same way that language tried to, and could indeed
Lloyd Sitturd is an unusual six year old at any time in history, but particularly in the year 1844 in the hotch-potch attempt at national definition called 'America'.
'America' is a strange place. It is filled with disparate groups of wandering souls looking for something to latch on to, some hope to propel them forward. People are lawless, and godless, trying to establish order in a barren wilderness filled with strangely spiritual savages. The time is ripe for a great force to move in and exert its will. The only question is, which force will it be?
Lloyd was young when his parents first saw the signs of how unusual he was. For his mother, Rapture, Lloyds constant communication with his dead twin sister was understandable. His intelligence that alienated him at school is more difficult to manage. For his father, Hephaestus (a carbon copy of his Greek God namesake) the boy is a mixture of wonder, pride and some jealousy. How is it that he is able to make these machines that are far more elegant and functional than anything his father could conceive? And what is the dark streak that runs through his only child, that had him perform a vivisection on a rabbit while it was still living?
When Lloyd's strange intelligence, his mothers witchcraft, and his fathers debt plunge the family into dire straights they feel hopeless. At this crucial moment they receive a letter from Hephaestus' brother, begging them to cross the country to be with him, no matter how dangerous a journey this may be, and start a new life in Texas. For three people searching for a miracle, Texas becomes a talisman of hope, a promised land, and a justification for a perilous journey of escape from a life they can't manage and a world that doesn't understand or appreciate them.
And thus begins the unusual journey of Lloyd Sitturd, a six year old who may or may not be six forever, and his bewildered parents who are victims of a life they don't understand and want nothing to do with.
Enigmatic Pilot is largely the story of Lloyd and his experiences. Adeptly hidden in its pages, however, is an examination of the thing we call history, a philosophical examination of the concept of time, and the way time is encased in language.
It is also an examination of a certain kind of America, the relationship between human beings and mechanistic science and the wonders of magic. It is a blurring between life as we see and touch it and the life we can feel, intuit and use to connect to other human beings. It is a road story, of three individuals caught up in a battle of the gods that has been raging through time. It is the story of the human quest for its own immediacy through scientific knowledge.
It is also a series of questions that the author wants us to ask ourselves about time, its relationship to experience, and its importance in defining and creating our lives through history.
Kris Saknussemm has put together three separate books that form three separate aspects of Lloyd Sitturd's development from a boy into a 'man'. In some ways Enigmatic Pilot is a coming of age story. Lloyd is formed and shaped by the people who come into his life. Some of these are there to guide him, others are there simply as part of a seemingly random occurrence, but all the people Lloyd meets in his life go toward forming him, defining him, and ultimately, revealing him to himself. The narrator informs us regularly of historical events being formed and shaped at the time and in the place Lloyd walks, as if to constantly remind us that history is alive and interpreting us just as we think we can interpret it. Time stands still for Lloyd, the man-child, just as it appears to stand still in our own experience of it.
However, the rush of events is always around us, and despite our own relationship with our own evolution, and our own desire to comprehend it, time is obeying its own rules.
He thought back to Mother Tongue's remarks about Spiro of
Lemnos, the Enigmatist who had glimpsed more deeply than
all others into the mesh of things--all that was hidden in plain
Enigmatic Pilot is set in a time in American history of great industrial, political and social change. Another great theme of this book is the relationship between life, death, machines and power. There is a tension being drawn by this talented author at all times, between the connection we have with all things (people) past (history, the shadows and the ghosts of what has gone before us) as well as the mechanistic future being built by our own hand; the human striving toward itself, its endless demand for the realisation of its own creative spirit. Machines attach themselves to flesh in this world. Time stands still and history is made out of deliberate forced action. People are purchased and sold, men are deformed or maimed and women are both the vehicles for the realisation of the mysterious and the agents for salvation. Nothing is as it seems, and the answer to everything lies within.
It also came to him for the first time that if the complicated
workings of something like a plantation--a machine both built
by humans and including them as critical components--could
be understood as a machine, working within a network of other
similar machines to form a bigger, still more complicated machine,
then there were two contrary but very pregnant implications.
First, the notion of mechanism, as in the mechanistic philosophy
he had become acquainted with in Schelling's bookshop--
as in a reductionist strategy--was categorically
deficient, if not totally wrong.
Second, the far more interesting
idea that such a thing even as multifaceted as a plantation
could be rendered diagrammatically, as could any machine. It
was just a question of what the hierogram looked like. Then he
said to himself, "I meant diagram."
Imagery and language are used by the author in this exciting book, to transport and engage the reader in a partnership of creativity that brings all the characters alive. Enigmatic Pilot relies heavily on the myths and legends we are used to - from Lloyds crippled 'fallen-god' father, to a crucial Icarus-style flight toward the sun that ends in tragedy. Age old themes that we recognise are given fresh life as we seek to examine science versus faith, the seen versus the unseen, evidence versus the power of the talisman, real evil versus supernatural evil, and the redemptive power of love.
Names are used in a Dickensian fashion - the holder of all wisdom is called Mother Tongue, and the hapless undertaker who murders his wife as she she takes his life is Othmieal Clutter. There are more shades of Dickens as a graveyard dwelling Miss Havisham style 'Mother Tongue' seeks to use the young boy for the realisation of her vision of truth; elements of the realist grandeur of a nineteenth century Russian novel as the young protege is educated by those who cross his path - with more than a touch of Jules Verne to excite and spice up the plot. People are old beyond their years or young beyond their years, trapped within the walls of time but never defined by it.
"It struck them all that every camp is made amid graves. It is just unknown who lies buried."
Amongst all of this is rich and often witty language, lush in its descriptive quality (pregnant drops of rain) filled with the enigmatic qualities of its young protagonist (Marked where the world becomes mind. Where the world becomes time. Where the ghosts become flesh).
I read Enigmatic Pilot almost in one sitting. I found it difficult to put down. This exciting journey, nicely sliced up into the vignettes we recognise in life, was not one I will forget in a hurry.