Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Adam Roberts
Gollancz, 261 pages

Adam Roberts
Adam Roberts is in the English Department of Royal Holloway, one of the 8 larger colleges of the University of London. He received his MA from Aberdeen University and his PhD from Cambridge University. Salt was his first science fiction novel.

Adam Roberts Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The New Critical Idiom: Science Fiction
SF Site Review: Park Polar
SF Site Review: On
SF Site Review: Salt

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Let me begin with a few words for my fellow SF readers here in the United States. Adam Roberts is the best science fiction writer you've never heard of. Following on the heels of the brilliant Salt and the engrossing, perplexing On, it's a mystery why no publisher has yet seen fit to print any of these books in a US edition. Given the amount of bookshelf space devoted to and marketing dollars spent on thoroughly mediocre books, Adam Roberts' continued absence from American bookstores amounts to a crime.

Enough ranting. Stone is a first-person narrative from the depths of human behavior, a memoir of madness in a seemingly perfect world. The citizens of t'T consider themselves the first truly utopian society in human history. The universal use of nanotechnology, referred to in the novel as dotTech, has eliminated hunger and want, and all the other inequities that plague human societies. Crime is almost unheard of, all have equal access to the pleasures and resources of t'T. But imprisoned in a cage built within the plasma of a star waits humanity's only known murderer.

Ae is the narrator, a criminal whom we would, in our time, label a sociopath, incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, good from bad. His prison, as you might expect, is considered escape-proof. Ae himself shares that view, until one day a voice in his head offers escape and wealth in return for the completion of a horrific task, the killing of an entire planet's population, sixty million people, without destroying that planet's physical infrastructure. Ae takes the job.

The story then follows Ae's escape from prison, his travels to various planets in t'T, and pursuit of the remaining big question, who has hired him to do this, and why? There are other complications, as part of his punishment, all nanotech was removed from Ae's body, and in a culture of perfect health, where any bodily abnormality is the individual's choice, Ae suffers from many of the physical and mental afflictions that are all too common in our age, almost unheard of in his. It is the mental illness that re-awakens his desire to kill.

Roberts' smooth writing style lends itself particularly well to the subject matter of Stone and the character of Ae. It is easy to be seduced into sympathising with Ae, even as his actions become more and more twisted. There are also some games being played with gender identity here, the second paragraph of the novel begins with Ae's assertion that "I am a bad man," and the male pronoun is used throughout the book. Yet when on one of his planetary visits Ae himself is seduced, his new lover exclaims "You're a girl." The moment is a reminder to the reader that under Stone's slick surface there is a hidden depth.

In like manner, readers who are expecting a soft science fiction novel may be surprised by the book's fairly in-depth discussions of the quantum-nature of reality. The physics is germane to the plot, it helps provide a link between t'T, Ae, and whoever hired him. Stone is a good example of just how difficult it can sometimes be to draw the line between hard and soft science fiction.

There are echoes in the novel of much of contemporary science fiction. Ae and the unfolding of his life history brings to mind the main characters of both Iain M. Banks' Use of Weapons and Alastair Reynolds' Chasm City. The depiction of a galaxy where faster-than-light travel is possible in some areas and not in others recalls Vernor Vinge. And the "My God, that could actually work" method employed by Ae as he undertakes his task results in the same realistic destruction that Greg Bear achieved in The Forge Of God.

If Stone has a flaw, it is that the final chapter amounts to a drawing-room scene where All Is Explained. Yet it is an explanation that Ae has been demanding from his employer's throughout the story, and it is an explanation that the reader deserves as well. At the most, it is a minor flaw of form in a novel that completely succeeds both in its world-building and its character study. Pick up and read Stone, or, for that matter, any of Adam Roberts' other novels. It's past time for everyone who appreciates fine writing and first-rate science fiction to discover this terrific writer and his work.

Copyright © 2000 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson appreciates the access the SF Site has given him to books he might not otherwise have read. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide