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Adam Roberts

Victor Gollancz / Orion Publishing

UK Hardcover First

ISBN 0-575-07063-3

Publication Date: 07-18-2002

261 Pages; £16.99

Date Reviewed: 07-31-02

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002



Science Fiction, Mystery

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

Science fiction is a genre that is quite amenable to the novel of ideas. It's rarely used in that format because it's also quite possible and usually more sellable to write a science fiction novel in which ideas take the back seat. Adam Roberts never lets ideas take the back seat. In 'Stone' ideas are atoms with which Roberts constructs bombs to detonate in the reader's consciousness. He bucks trends, evades expectations and challenges the readers to think themselves into a state of wonder, terror and understanding. We're all dead alone in Roberts' universe. He'll rebuild yours, bit by bit, atom by atom. Don't expect your preconceptions to arrive intact.

'Stone' begins as Ae is sprung from an interstellar jail. Ae has been handed to keys to his jail because he is a rare criminal in the interstellar utopia of the t'T. The culture of the t'T is based on a pervasive nanotechnology that acts just as advertised in countless science fiction novels. Roberts likes to grab big chunks the science fiction toolkit and use them as building blocks to understanding a scientific problem from a unique perspective. Ae will be given his freedom in this universe if he'll perform one simple task -- exterminate the entire living population of a planet. The catch is that he won't be told who his employer is nor will he be told why he is to perform genocide. He accepts the offer, then undertakes to become both the criminal and the detective.

Ae's journey takes him on a tour of the universe of the t'T, bordered by the fervently religious Wheah and the mysterious Palmetto. Be assured that Roberts has not bucked the trend without a fantastic imagination. His version of space travel in the t'T is excitingly original. His insight into the lone criminal character of Ae is starkly disturbing. The stresses and self-arguments that Ae puts himself through are reminiscent of Joyce Carol Oates' psycho killers. There's a quality of earnestness to the violence that abets the shock value. If you're reading Adam Roberts, you'd best be prepared for some pretty unsettling examples of the old ultra-violence. Roberts operates in the same science fiction universe as does Anthony Burgess, where a point is made with, well, a point. In many ways, the hedonistic universe of Roberts' 'Stone' is the utopia of 'American Psycho'.

But Roberts is up to quite a bit more than polishing a really nasty character. He is always dealing with the scientific concepts that fascinate him. Gravity, a big player in 'On' is back again in the center stage of 'Stone'. The latest discoveries back up some of the more imaginative creations in Stone's universe. Gravity rivers and trenches are just now hitting the news, but Stone has incorporated them into his novel. The quotes that precede the novel all indicate an interest in quantum theory, and Roberts gives the reader a delightfully clear and original tour of the implications of this bit of really, really weird science.

Roberts also plays on the mysteries in this novel like a seasoned pro. Science fiction and mystery are often mixed, but not in the fashion that Roberts has managed. Either genre can result in a big 'Wow!' on the part of the reader. Just when you thought that Roberts had done this repeatedly, he'll manage another revelation that is an order of magnitude larger than those that preceded. This is the kind of novel that will only get put down for a moment, as readers rise and walk around a bit to clear their heads.

Once again, in 'Stone' Adam Roberts has gone in the direction nobody expected and brought himself there in a fashion nobody else could have conceived. Each novel from this fantastically talented author is a quantum leap away from the previous novels, though they all share an Oates-like dark vision of humanity with an Arthur C. Clarke-like vision of scientific possibility. It's an intriguing and enjoyable mix. Roberts manages to mix ideas and humanity while preserving the pure essence of both. The only thing that takes the backseat in Roberts' novel is the reader's attention to reality.