By Adam Roberts | June 30, 2010
It's a good question; and the answer is here, at Strange Horizons: 'Roberts's depiction of the results is quite well thought out in some respects ... Still, the book has its share of implausibilities.' Some point of praise, balanced by points of dispraise.
Most of what has been said so far is in line with Roberts's previous writing, which is distinguished less by sweeping worldbuilding or flashy prose than the relation of character-centered stories against his speculative backdrops. The unreliable, problematic and sometimes rather unlikable (but believable) narrator; the thematic concern with freedom (especially freedom inside radically different kinds of political community); a touch of the epic in the treatment (despite this particular book's comparative brevity, at 288 widely spaced pages) are all familiar as well. (Indeed, the NMA repeatedly made me think of Gradisil's Uplands in their formative period.)
The same also goes for the awkwardness of the structure, and the periodic self-indulgences. Two-thirds of the way in, the story turns in a sharply different direction, and while what follows caps off and completes the story told thus far, it is still so different in setting, situation, tone, and narration that, despite the set up, there are times when it seems like a different book entirely—indeed, a more ostentatiously "literary" one as the pop cultural references increasingly give way to highbrow allusions, the meditations lengthen, and the sense of the surreal comes to predominate.
Additionally, in this instance, Roberts's effectiveness in painting a portrait of Antony gets in the way of the book's ostensible focus, which is not Antony, but Pantegral. This is not only a question of Antony's limits as an observer, important as these are, but also the implausibilities intrinsic to Pantegral—for all the things that Roberts gets right—and the exploration of the book's central ideas suffers accordingly. Nonetheless, Roberts is skillful enough to make the book proceed as smoothly as can reasonably be hoped for under the circumstances. In fact, his sheer ability to keep the reader turning the pages is fully evident here, and despite the story's flaws, the whole still manages to be well worth the while.
It's an intelligent, thoughtful, well-written review, this; Elhenawy doesn't really like the novel, I think, but he goes out of his way not simply to dismiss it, to try and engage with it on its own terms; and a writer can never say fairer than that. If I have the sense that he doesn't really get the novel, that has certainly more to do with my failure to make the novel get-able than his critical faculties.No tags for this post.