The first Richard Powers book I read was Galatea 2.2, and I read it in about 2001 or so. It’s more or less science fiction, but pulled back a little. It struck me later with other books that he does this a lot. He write scientific fiction, where he explores various scientific ideas and concepts within fiction, sometimes wonderfully and sometimes a little mechanically.
This book, as you can tell, is a kind of Orpheus retelling. Richard Ells is an experimental composer influenced by the likes of John Cage and Philip Glass, and with some minor fame in the 1980s and 1990s. Now at 70, he’s closing in on the end of his life and thinking about how music works, legacy, and biological agents and terrorism. Also his dog just died, and he’s burying her in the backyard. He’s told he’s not allowed to because she seems to have maybe died from his “garage science” experiments on viruses, but he needs to. Yes, the Eurydice character in this novel is partly a Golden Retriever.
The book is about a lot of things, but as a character tells us about music: “Music is not about things; it is things” and that’s been buzzing around in my head since. Richard Ells is almost more a Faust character than an Orpheus, but he’s definitely a fallen genius. He’s mostly harmless in interpersonal ways. He wasn’t a great husband or father, but he wasn’t that bad either. But he is an international terror fugitive, so maybe there’s balance here.