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Jupiter Magnified
Adam Roberts
PS Publishing, 104 pages

Jupiter Magnified
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: Stone
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 Gabe Mesa

"Jupiter, magnified so as to fill half the horizon, appeared in the night sky." Thus begins Jupiter Magnified by Adam Roberts, a new, ambitious and daring novella from PS Publishing. That first line effectively sets the stage for the entire book, which is about the effect of magnified Jupiter's mysterious appearance on humanity in general, but specifically on the narrator, a young female Swedish poet by the name of Stina Ekman.

Things have not been going well for Stina. Her day job involves reporting on poetry for an Internet webzine, but her own writing has foundered. Poems about Light, her work in progress, was once hailed as the most exciting prospect in Scandinavian poetry, but it lies unfinished, victim of a writer's block that has lasted a few years. Stina's attraction to her lover Dun is cooling and she finds him clingy and irritating.

Enter Jupiter. The phenomenon baffles experts at first, but even as the book progresses and theories explaining it are advanced, it is only for them to be later discarded and, whenever scientific consensus is reached, it appears rickety. Jupiter magnified is only an image, of course -- the planet remains millions of miles away where it has always been -- but is the image the result of a mass hallucination, a harbinger of the end of the world or perhaps even the signal from an advanced extraterrestrial civilization? The backbone for the theories advanced always seems a bit weak, the science itself a bit dodgy. This may be a weakness in the story, but Roberts clearly does not intend the novella as hard SF, and to provide even further detail and explanation in such a short book would move it away from its focus, which is not the rationale for the event per se but the character of Stina and her reaction to it.

And it is quite a reaction indeed, involving infidelity, drinking binges and, at the end, even an epiphany of sorts. Thankfully Roberts has the good sense to shy away from cliché and the epiphany does not necessarily result in an end to Stina's writing block. In a sense, things go on as before.

And then in a sense they don't. Because even when Stina's narration is done the story is not concluded. Stina's first person narrative is followed by twenty-five actual poems, her unfinished twenty-four Poems about Light plus one late entrant, in addition to an ostensible introduction to the poems by Tomas Sundsvall, one of Stina's literary rivals. There is the temptation in a situation such as this, where a novelist writes poems in the guise of one of his characters, to ask whether the poems are any "good", and yet it's a question that probably should be resisted. The poems are clearly not included for their own sake but for the way they further illuminate the character of the fictional author. Although Jupiter Magnified would have been a perfectly good piece of character-driven speculative fiction without the poetry, it is its inclusion that makes the novella so intellectually thrilling. The poems and their introduction add an additional level of complexity and mystery to the narrative, posing further questions as to Stina Ekman -- her past, her fate, the nature of her epiphany, even her reliability as a narrator. Whether answers are also provided, and the nature of these answers, I suspect will be the subject of debate. In his introduction to Jupiter Magnified, fellow author James Lovegrove refers to the theme of Roberts's book as that "there is no situation, however dire, that cannot be transcended". Although I would likely reach the same conclusion had the novella ended with Stina's own narration, I also believe the poems, without necessarily contradicting that statement of the theme, have the merit of opening the text to other, possibly darker interpretations.

The book is not without its flaws, most notable the fact that it not only wears its symbolism too openly but also too heavily. Jupiter in particular groans under the weight of all the metaphorical baggage, having to stand in not only for Stina's absent father but also for her lack of inspiration, her anger, even for the archaeological character of her memories. That said, these are quibbles. There are not many SF writers so self-assured and daring as to be willing to illuminate the character of one of their creations by including the character's own literary output not just as an afterthought but as an integral part of the book. Roberts's high-wire act pays off and the final part of the book not only works but strengthens the whole, making Jupiter Magnified among the worthiest of PS Publishing's long line of excellent novellas.

Copyright © 2003 Gabe Mesa

Gabe Mesa is the assistant editor at s1ngularity. He lives in New York City with his wife and daughter and 4,000 books.

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