Steve Erickson’s novels are a mixture of science fiction, philosophy, postmodern experimentation, and good storytelling. ARCD’X is probably his most accessible work, although it remains a challenge for any reader. Prefaced by a slave’s murder of her abusive master and her subsequent execution, the story at first examines the relationship between another master, Thomas Jefferson, and his slave-mistress Sally Hemings. In Erickson’s interpretation, Jefferson’s decision not to free Sally, and her decision to return to America with him from his post in France, where her slave status is not recognized, set in motion the history of the United States in which the question of race and slavery run their inevitable course.
This future world is abruptly introduced early in the book, a surprising shift in time to a post-cataclysmic future at the beginning of the twenty-first century. There Sally again appears, this time as the suspected murderer of an unidentified man in a hotel room. This world is ruled by the Church; freedom is restricted and history denied. Sally’s presence in this world, a passage through time and history, causes other revisions of events to occur. Through a series of stories, all inevitably returning to Sally and her initial choice in Paris to sacrifice freedom for love, Erickson examines the roots of our national identity, projects that identity into a variety of possible futures, and confronts the contradictions that make up our country.
Erickson’s work is a remarkable accomplishment, a mixture of the historical and the imagined which makes the reader realize how little difference there often is between the two.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. LXXXIX, March 15, 1993, p.1297.
Boston Globe. May 9, 1993, p.13.
Chicago Tribune. May 19, 1993, V, p.3.
Library Journal. CXVIII, March 15, 1993, p.104.
Los Angeles Times. April 1, 1993, p. EA.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, May 2, 1993, p.9.
Publishers Weekly. CCXL, March 22, 1993, p.59.
Time. CXLI, May 10, 1993, p.70.
The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, May 9, 1993, p.4.