Levels by Karl Fischer
“It can be good to embrace nonsensical things. Life is like that.” – Leonard Marcs
I adore books that pretzel the brain and expand the mind. Karl Fischer’s novel Levels does so in spades. The culmination of a decade of work and six iterations, Fischer leads us on a kaleidoscopic journey across worlds, planes, and realities—a story of incredible scale for such a short novel.
While it has the feel of bizarro fiction, Levels is like nothing I’ve ever read. Its complexities make it so much more than your usual bizarro romp. Yet surrounding its brilliance is a charming façade of humor and adventure, earning many audible laughs as I read.
Leonard Marcs is an adventurer—designation “Expert Support Miscellaneous”—in a world not dissimilar to a video game: a life of quests, loot, and monsters located on the multitudinous “Levels.” Despite his unique talents, Leonard has been relegated to more tedious quests like data entry. But when he finds a magical fish stuck to his door, he is thrust into a conspiracy, stretching across the Multiverse and–ultimately–realities beyond his own.
In all my years reading speculative fiction, I have rarely seen a setting so expansive—not the least of this book’s many accomplishments. It could easily accommodate a twenty book series. Fischer amalgamates elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and action into a fascinating Multiverse that glows from the page. As massive as its name sounds, the Multiverse is populated with endless varieties of intelligent life, everything from dogfolk to sentient gases, down to details as precise as the language of the koalapeople of the Serenity Union Commonwealth.
As the story progresses, the plot deviates again and again, piling on subplots and complicating the story. Though weaving an interesting tapestry at first, these soon overwhelmed me. I could not imagine how Fischer would tie it all together, yet somehow he does so beautifully. Still I remained frustrated for a portion of the book. It is definitely a “thinking” book, especially in the latter half, requiring a bit of mental gymnastics. Yet through it all, it remains deliciously readable.
My one qualm—a pet peeve really—is Fischer’s penchant for taking a difficult yet understandable concept and explaining it in an unnecessarily convoluted way. In the process, using the word “paradigmatic” more than anyone should.
Its satisfying ending begs the reader to reread the book (which I am currently doing). Levels takes a unique direction for bizarro fiction, seeking weirdness not through absurdity (though there is some of that), but by twisting the mind into such a knot that the story becomes outrageous and unexpected—in other words, bizarre.
Levels comes out August 31st from Bizarro Pulp Press