by Adam Roberts
Another success for Roberts, exploring a society built literally on the edge of a wall, and what happens after one character falls off it. Interesting central idea for the setting, and it allows some good experience in contrasting worldviews and awareness. The genre conceit doesn't seem as ambitious as some of Roberts' other stuff, the story gets a bit too episodic and points and it's specatacularly void of an ending, almost to Neal Stephenson extents. Still, the characterization was a lot more engaging than the norm, allowing forthe full development of an occasionally funny, occasionally exasperating and above all credible person.
The overall sort of quest layout to the plot is simple but appealing, building on the stark juxtaposition of different elements, and the slow falls into corruption amidst success are pretty interesting. The book benefits from highly effective represention of the personality as a body, moving through its understanding of the world, in physical contact with other bodies through sex and violence, and in a changing relation to itself as social position and language alters.
Fundamentally the story is about change, the process of it as experienced by an individual growing into his life and in the process shattering his old expectations and norms several times. Because he lives in a science fiction environment the process of change becomes more extreme and poignant than would perhaps be expected, but it remains centrally a focus on the individual within different levels of understanding. It also, in the later elements, becomes a focs on a society itself in the process of change, with clash among political units and the bewildering ebb and flow of political currents. The protagonist seeks to define himself as the center of his narrative, all heroically and in a good libertarian model of self-possession and success, but inevitably this is undermined. Pressures from beyond him reshape his own values, he proves complicit in types of ownership of others, and is himself constrained by social aspects much more extensive than he can challenge or even recognize.
There’s an intense focus on the military in this book, a recurrent theme for Roberts that also featured prominently in Salt, Snow and Gradisil. Here they emerge as a fundamentally amoral and destructive force, but while condemned there’s also the effort made to understand them in the invented setting and context, to understand them as the productio of dysfunctional social forces rather than the main origin of them. That gestures at the need for a more fundamental focus on repairing complex social circumstances than is usual, and looks interesting when read with the other angles of armies seen in different books. At some point I think it would definitely be worthwhile to reread all of Roberts’ books back to back as I did with Banks’ Culture series.
Worse than: Gradisil by Adam Roberts
Better than: Black Man by Richard Morgan