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Jupiter Magnified

Adam Roberts

PS Publishing

UK Trade Paperback First

ISBN 1-902-88056-0

Publication Date: 01-15-2003

104 Pages; £10.00

Date Reviewed: 07-23-03

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2003



Science Fiction, General Fiction

02-14-02, 03-14-02, 04-15-02, Interview (08-19-02), 08-20-02, 12-13-02, 02-25-03, 05-23-03

Adam Roberts teaches literature at the University of London as well as writing science fiction. He's even written a literary analysis of science fiction. But his science fiction has never used any of the meta-fictional tricks that one might expect from a Lit Prof. 'Jupiter Magnified' breaks from his previous work by virtue of a fascinating frame around an even more fascinating science fiction story. But in a short, smart conceptual collection Roberts manages to cover a variety of topics with clarity and an inventive eye. 'Jupiter Magnified' gets it right in both ends of the spectrum, from the tiny, untidy details of relationships going sour to the end of the world -- assuming there's a difference.

Roberts' format for this entry in the PS Publishing line is interesting in and of itself. The main text is the memoir of failed Scandinavian poet and e-zine editor Stina Ekman, "translated into English by Adam Roberts". Following that is 'Poems About Light', by Stina Ekman, "translated into English by Francis Matthew". This includes an introduction by Tomas Sundsvall, and 25 poems. It's all complimented by the Edward Miller's powerful cover painting.

The memoir begins when "Jupiter, magnified so as to fill half the horizon, appeared in the night sky suddenly." It's an event that defies explanation but cannot be denied or avoided. Stina Ekman is probably the least affected by this frightening appearance. She was a poet who once showed promise, but now she's burnt out, unable to write poetry and spends most of her time editing and presenting an internet E-show about Scandinavian poetry. She's an ideal narrator to take the reader through the world's journey under the watchful face of the enormous planet.

Roberts' treatment of how world cultures and scientific establishments react to events that cannot be explained and cannot be denied is thoughtful and fascinating. The reactions occur on many levels; the scientists try to explain the events, the churches try to capitalize on them to create new believers, much of the populace uses them as an excuse to stay home from work, and Stina's rocky relationship acquires layers of deceit, seething dislike and betrayal.

Most of the story in 'Jupiter Magnified' occurs in the memoir. Roberts' prose shows a wonderful touch of Scandinavian frost. Stina is not easy to like, and nobody around her is either. Roberts shows a willingness to let his characters be unpleasant that is potentially off-putting, but ultimately winning in its honesty. His series of scientific speculations for the cause of the events that propel the story starts out appropriately weak, but it gets better and better, escalating to a glorious finale. His feel for the apocalyptic nature of the events and how humans react to them is subtle and strong.

But all this occurs in the memoir, and there's more to 'Jupiter Magnified' than standard-issue survivor's tale. Tomas Sundvall's Introduction to Stina's poems pulls the camera back from a first-person shaky-cam to a talking-head post-story academic shot. It's an effective technique for answering some of the questions left by the conclusion of Stina's memoir. Following this are Stina's poems. Here's where Roberts' really shines. He's a good poet, and Stina's work is reminiscent to my mind of Sylvia Plath. The concluding section of poetry brings back the personal intensity of the memoir. The first 24 poems were (in Stina's timeline) completed before the memoir was started; the final poems during the time the memoir was written.

Roberts gets a lot of mileage out of the reflections he sets up in 'Jupiter Magnified'. It's interesting on so many levels, well written in so many ways, that though it reads very quickly, it offers the complexity of a novel without the weight. Jupiter is not all that is magnified in this novella. Humanity is what Roberts puts under the magnifying glass most effectively.