About Adam

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...

Recent Posts

Other Roberts Blogs

Links / Blogroll

By Light Reviewed

By Adam Roberts | September 8, 2011
Categories: Book News, Reviews

I've been neglecting this website: apologies. I'll make things a little busier here, starting off with some reviews of By Light Alone. Here's Stuart Kelly, at the Scotsman:

TWO years ago, Kim Stanley Robinson declared that Adam Roberts ought to have won that year's Man Booker Prize. Roberts, like writers as diverse as China Mieville, Will Self, Ken MacLeod and David Wingrove, exists in that weird hinterland between literary and genre fiction. By Light Alone is both more interesting in terms of its ideas and more memorable in terms of the actual, sentence-by-sentence writing on the page than much of what passes as serious fiction. I once, in a rather exasperated moment, said that I yearned for a literature without dinner parties. By Light Alone, with nauseous and visceral brilliance, manages to be a great contemporary novel that includes even them. ... Roberts is asking important questions about the nature of need, the metaphysics of hunger and how revolutions come about, both technologically and politically. Maybe it's time for a new prize: not for "literary fiction" or "good reads" but for novels that actually challenge.

To have pleased a critic as intelligent and perceptive as Kelly is very gratifying indeed. Here's the equally intelligent Guy Haley at SFX:

Is it possible for a writer to follow the precepts of Moore’s Law, doubling their capacity for excellence with every book? Probably not, but Adam Roberts is giving it a spirited try ... Roberts cunningly pricks out the ridiculous shape of our society with wickedly sharp satire. Inequality and self-obsession are his targets, and yet he manages to hit them while keeping his characters entirely human and sympathetic. No-one does SF parables quite like Roberts, and as usual it’s all spun from the most amazing prose. Taken in isolation, his sentences here tend to the overly candied, but the effect of them en masse is hypnotically poetic. It’s brilliantly effective, and affecting. Roberts’s SF novels are all worthy of praise, but there’s a certain majesty to By Light Alone – better rush out now and buy it, before the mainstream literary establishment sweeps Roberts under its wing and tells us he’s not aloud to play out with the nerds anymore. It’s hard for us sometimes to credit some of the claims made by PR, but when Gollancz calls Roberts one of the most important writers of his generation, it’s something of an understatement: this man puts art at the heart of our genre.

Here's the estimable David Barnett, in the Independent on Sunday:

If By Light Alone were written by David Mitchell or Margaret Atwood, for example, it would doubtless be said to "transcend its science fiction" roots, as all literary fiction which borrows SF trappings must. But By Light Alone is unashamedly SF, and would that half the supposed "literary" novels on the shelves today were as well written, thoughtful and intelligent as this.

And here is James Lovegrove, in the Financial Times:

Adam Roberts is our most intellectually engaged and literary science fiction author, crafting sentences the equal of any by Ian McEwan or Kazuo Ishiguro. His 11th novel, By Light Alone, hinges on the idea that genetic engineering has created hair that can photosynthesise sunlight. The world’s poor survive simply by being outdoors, while the rich shun the treatment and consume expensive food. ... Not only is the novel a satire about the gulfs of understanding between rich and poor but also an affecting study of the gulfs of understanding between parents and children.

Finally here's Gwyneth Jones, in the Guardian. A rather negative review -- though it's an honour to be reviewed by a writer of her stature:

Every element in the story of Leah's disappearence and return will be equally, annoyingly shorn of context, all details blurred and dim – swamped in the mush of Marie's utter indifference, and George's helpless failure to connect. Clearly, one of the targets of Roberts's satire is a fat-headed culture of ignorance. Likewise, there's a righteous purpose, as well as some malicious glee, in the obesity motif. The titanic blimps who stomp through these serious pages, in a pastiche of gross-out reality TV – Very Fat People Having Sex; Very Fat People Sicking Up Their Dinners – are there to teach us a lesson. By making visible the invisible blubber that swaddles our own beautiful people – the sickening cushion of wealth that smothers empathy – Roberts strips the super-rich of glamour and lampoons everyperson's complicity in the toxic religion of greed. If some readers are offended or sceptical of his motives, that's a risk he seems happy to take. At the Ararat resort there is an attraction called the Ice-Cream Mountain, a Brobdingnagian treat obliquely recalling the mountainous diamond in F Scott Fitzgerald's story, "The Diamond as Big as the Ritz". Fitzgerald's influence is cited in the publicity for By Light Alone, and invoked by the novel's handsome cover; and justly so. But Roberts's updating of romantic jazz age pessimism is ironic. The wondrous gem has become an infantile heap of goo. The rich just aren't different enough, these days. Extreme wealth isn't a tragic, interesting disease, it's a planet-wrecking blight. It's not pretty, and it's not romantic.

Be Sociable, Share!

No tags for this post.

2 Comments to-date;

2 Responses to “By Light Reviewed”

  1. Simon Basso Says:
    September 9th, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    I'd very much like to read your new work, but I wonder if your publishers have done a better job formatting the Kindle version of By Light Alone than they did for Yellow Blue Tibia and New Model Army, both of which are dreadful and need re-doing. I'm sticking with a surprisingly dog-eared copy of the former and not even buying the latter until they get it right.

    I've tried to download a sample of By Light Alone from Amazon this afternoon, but that isn't happening, leaving me wondering if our glorious all-digital future isn't going to turn out to be a huge pain in the arse.

    It's not all gloom though, Tibia is an outstanding achievement in any genre and, for me, a book that will last me my whole life, and there's not many of those.

    Kind wishes, Simon.

  2. Adam Roberts Says:
    September 11th, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Thank you, Simon, for your very kind words. I know that Gollancz have now hired a digital director, and one of his jobs is to make the e-editions more attractive packages all round.