By Adam Roberts | June 22, 2010
A very nice piece from Stuart Kelly on New Model Army, Kraken and The Restoration Game (Scotsman on Sunday, June 20 2010):
IF I were to say that these three novels dealt, respectively, with how technology is changing the nature of self and democracy; the politics of belief in the postmodern city; and the ramifications of Bostrom's simulation hypothesis for ethics and the philosophy of being, then you'd be forgiven for thinking this newspaper had turned into Critical Quarterly.
Likewise, if I said these three novels were about a "giant" waging war on Basingstoke; the miraculous disappearance of a giant squid; and a computer game about a real but non-existent Soviet state - and the dark goings-on therein - then you'd be equally at liberty to think this was SFX.
This is one of the great ironies of contemporary literature: the books that ask the deepest and most profound questions tend to be situated in the most marginalised of genres. Even writers in the field are tired by the labels and the schisms around them - is this fantasy or sci-fi, steam-punk or alt-history? - and if it weren't for the shelving policy of bookstores, we might as well just call them all literature.
The "giant" in Adam Roberts's New Model Army is called Pantegral, and it's not a single entity. In the near future, new armies have developed through a combination of flash-mobbing, crowd-sourcing and wireless connections. Volunteers - genuine volunteers, not conscripts - come together to achieve objectives, then melt back into "civilian" life as they choose. This radical, freelance and truly democratic army has been hired by the Scottish Government as part of the Succession War: cheekily, Roberts posits a crisis in devolution when Prince William dies, and the Scots and Welsh demand Prince Harry has a paternity test before assuming the role of Prince of Wales. The protagonist tells us in the opening line that he is "not the hero of this story" as, under interrogation, he describes how the New Model Armies work.
The brilliantly detailed concept is balanced by terrific action scenes in the "suburban catastrophe" style of HG Wells or JG Ballard. Every bus stop becomes a fox-hole; each multi-storey car-park a bunker. And Roberts suggests, eerily, that the New Model Army might just be an interim stage as humanity comes to term with its new collective capacity.
Kelly says some equally insightful things about Mievelle and MacLeod.No tags for this post.