Monday, June 28, 2010


by Adam Roberts

Takes the premise that Jonathan Swift's Guliver's Travels was accurate, and explores a story set a generation following the enslavement of small and giant people by the Europeans. The story involves numerous perspectives on the scientific and political unrest that accompanies the invasion of Britain by France in the midnineenth century, and the way different characters expand understanding of themselves and the natural world in the process.

Like much of Roberts' stuff take a very meta approach, the literature of literature. Here, however, a lot of basic elements of characterization and plot fall by the wayside. It's clearly deliberate, but in the end it didn't seem entirely effective. I've noticed in almost every case I think more of Roberts' novels longer after I've read them, with some time to digest and look at the projects from the outside. At present, though, while it's a meaningful and substantive text I see swiftly as one of the author's lesser works, and it was a bit of a struggle to finish. There are certainly interesting ideas here, in drove, but the work on the narrative that would anchor them isn't quite enough.

This work is one that hasn’t improved on later regard months after reading it, the way that occurred with Stone and Snow most prominently. In fact, I think I’m a bit harsher on it, since Swift’s novel is in many ways such an obvious targert for this kind of book and there is a lot of unengaged potential with the whole setup for the novel. The central plot, and the ending drama, of the novel is quite ingenious--taking the theme of bigger than and small than humans to a further extent, featuring a dual invasion of Earth by viruses and truly immense giants in spaceships. Yet, there are a number of quesitons of the setting left overly vague, and a lot of potential not delivered. Simply put the main setup of the book could have done a lot more in terms of worldbuilding and plot, and I’d count it a problem that the story setup indicated such a work and then didn’t deliver. Given the issues with plot, hardly unknown for a Roberts novel, it’s all the more problematic that characters remain fairly stock and in some points not very coherent, shifting rapidly from one demeanor to another in between book sections without enough elaboration of what caused the psychological changes.

It’s still hardly a bad book, and in terms of the sheer quotient of engaging character moments and weird ideas it’s quite worthwhile.

Worse than: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Better than: Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter

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