By Adam Roberts | July 25, 2007
Categories: Book News
Deathray you ask? Deathray I say. Guy Haley reviews the novel, and his tagline is: 'Newly headless pompous poet wends painful way to self-discovery in picaresque SF tale that is, at time, too clever by half.' Quite right too: no place for cleverness in SF. Vile quality.
Tricky, tricky Mr Roberts. He's a tough one to evaluate. An accomplished sculptor of prose and a cunning satirist, Roberts writes playful SF with concepts so high, you sometimes need a stool to get them down from the shelf. ... There's a part of me that loves Roberts' output: it's all that SF should be, packed with brilliant ideas and clever--
No! There it is again.
--clever examinations of the human condition. Land of the Headless does both, taking the hero Jon Cavala on a painful road of self-discovery before finally, finally his eyes are opened to his inner self. But he can be a plodding read. Roberts is unquestionably a good writer, so much so that he feels he can happily stuff a paragraph with analogies and similes until it chokes on literary merit, and this is bad. It slows the pace right down, as do the long discursive sections (which, to be fair, are an integral part of the tale) and it all robs the story of vitality. There's an additional annoyance with Land of the Headless, in that you'd quite happily cut Cavala's head off yourself. He's the most pompous ass since Lucius Apuleius and though the story is concerned with his enlightenment, spending 275 pages with Cavala's morbid whining is not easy. Of course, it's all a very clever--
--a very clever parable on perspective, makes sly use of the picaresque form, and has a good deal of satire on fundamentalist societies (and the woe-filled self-pitying mentality of writers, for that matter). Cavala's character is at the very heart of this, but that doesn't mean you don't want to thump him, a desire shared by, and acted upon, by quite a few of the other characters too. Do persevere, though. For Cavala's salvation, when it finally comes, is a satisfying experience, and there are many great ideas in here, so hats off, if not heads, to Roberts.
So no more cleverness for me; and no writing that does anything other than move narrative forward. And only likeable, Stepford-wifely characters too. It's an interesting review, actually; that could either be summarised (for, say, blurbing purposes) like this:
[Roberts is] an accomplished sculptor of prose and a cunning satirist … all that SF should be, packed with brilliant ideas and clever examinations of the human condition.
or like this:
tough … plodding … bad … slow.
I know which one I prefer. On the other hand, Deathray likes the 'Swiftly' story included in Keith Brooke and Nick Gevers' Infinity Plus anthology, also reviewed in this issue: 'one suspects,' says Haley, 'Roberts is referencing Candide with Land of the Headless ... [he] has played with early modern literature before--witness his excellent story 'Swiftly' (see the Infinity Plus review) a clever story that ...'
Ah well, let's turn to the the Infinity Plus review itself, and see whether it specifically mentions my story. It's by Matt Keefe, and it does mention the tale! 'One man struggles to free Lilliputians from slavery in a clever follow-up to Swift's Gulliver's T....'