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Adam Roberts is the author of a growing number of science fiction novels, short stories, essays and other writings. This site contains not just his blog, but everything you could ever want to know about everything Adam has ever published. And more...

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By Adam Roberts | June 30, 2010
Categories: Reviews

Gord Sellar, over at, has reviewed On, my second novel, from way back when. It's a long, but (I think) fascinating review, as much a meditation on how to handle one's preconceptions -- including, interestingly, one's positive preconceptions -- when approaching a novel for review. This bit I especially liked:

What I was doing, when reading Roberts, seems a lot clearer to me now when I look again at my comments on Stone, linked above. I was saying, “Tell me a hard-SF story written with wonderful literary sensibility.” It’s like picking up Analog and saying, “Make me weep with passionate sympathy for the misunderstood narrator of this small personal story from a world overturned by technological change.”

Okay, okay, I rarely go out looking for a good weep, but the clear priorities that shape stories in Analog are a poor match for the things I go out looking for in stories, most of the time. However, this was why I was always so puzzled about my response to Roberts’ work. After all: I wanted good characterization. I wanted lovely, stylish prose. I wanted some intellectual challenges, and some philosophical dilemmas to wrestle with. Roberts had all of these things in spades. How come I always emerged from his novels finding myself so very frustrated, or at the least so very uneasy?

Well, a good part of it — not all of it, but a good part of it — has to do with the insistences and expectations I was bringing to his work. It was, in large part, because of how I was reading him.

I only see this after having read his 2001 novel On in a different way. I decided to read the novel, which has sat on my shelf for something like four years, after seeing Rich Puchalsky’s review of a completely different novel by Roberts, titled Splinter (a novel I have not yet read). On reading Puchalsky’s review, I was reminded of how compelling a storyteller I’ve always found Roberts despite the things I haven’t liked about his books — of his wonderful style and distinct imagination — and so I decided to pick up On, and then while reading it simply to step out of the way and let Roberts tell me the story he wanted to tell, with the nuances he wanted to polish and shine.

I decided, in other words, to stop insisting that he ought to be some other kind of SF writer, and see what Roberts-as-Roberts had to offer me.

I think part of this especially difficult for me is because I also somehow find myself wanting him to be more like the kind of SF author I want to be when I get around to writing novels. That’s a weird kind of a thing to realize, to look in the face, and I’ll bet if I were I able to chat with Harold Bloom long enough to talk about this weirdness, he’d accuse me of being an Oedipus in search of a daddy to kill — an author anxiously searching for an influence about which to be anxious. Which is pretty weird, because I already have a few pretty good influences, whom I’m pleased to note thus far I have not needed to slay.

I have the least useful perspective on my novels, because I wrote them. Which is a shame, because if it were otherwise, I'd go 'yes!' here. I'm not really like other writers of SF. Since most fans want a new writer to be like their favourite writers of SF, and for good reason; because that's what they enjoy, because it helps them orient themselves with regard to new stuff. Still, I'd be happy to be oedipally slain and superseded in Mr Sellar's SF novel, when it finally comes out.

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