Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Land of the Headless

Adam Roberts

This one is quite interesting, a very creative setup and lots of little details attached to the account that build a sense of credibility and a complex future. The story doesn't entirely avoid the temptation to avoid cheap satire of current political forces, both American and Taliban, but on the whole this is a stand-alone science fiction extrapolation with many effective elements. It's complex, a bit haphazard in the plot, very creative and with the final plot ending a lot more sentimental than I'd expected. Roberts continues to delight.

Features the story of a man in a theocratic society that's beheaded for adultery. Because of its high tech, this is not fatal, and he goes on as a social pariah. For much of the book I was expecting a darker turn, a descent of the society into even more dsfunctional character or a reveal--like it Salt--that an apparently quirky character was fundamentally callous. In fact neither happened, the character turned out to be a relatively good guy, and the story takes a surprisingly sentimental turn at the end, to the point where it ends at something of a romance combined with major character growth towards what seems to be a happy life. There are ways that this fake out of darkness leading to a relatively breezy ending doesn’t work entirely, lacking a bit of substaqnce and revealing a somewhat creaky and implausible plot. Nevertheless it still works fairly decently, is nicelly written as it goes, and is quite nice to see that Roberts isn’t attached to a fixed formula. Beyond the strength of any given book or not, one of his talents is the range of fiction he’s produced, the way he jumps into a given narrative format and then next year writes a book that is similarly imaginative in a significantly different way.

There are some recurrent themes, though. One that struck me was the portrayal of the military, which here is even more focused and nasty than in On. The case is made again, though, that it’s tied into other elemetns of society and can’t be demonized in isolation from it. Overall the protagonist’s trail through different roles and position in society serves as an effective way to show off details of the world. The action sequences involved with the military experience are intense and awesomely weird, with an enemy-induced hallucination and the whole tactics of headless people figthing in the fist place.

Better than: Splinter by Adam Roberts
Worse than: Woken Furies by Richard Morgan

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