Published by Pyr
Adam Roberts has been part of the science fiction community for some time, being a university lecturer in SF and having published book reviews, fiction and parodies under the A.R.R. Roberts pseudonym. Gradisil is his take on the space race, though played out somewhat differently than one might expect. In the future, a community, the Uplands, has grown; a community of the rich who can afford space flight, and who can afford to live in space, in low orbit around the Earth.
These people are not traveling in rockets; rather, they are traveling in spaceships which utilize the earth’s magnetic field. While this may seem a very far-out pseudo-scientific idea, the technology is under study by leading scientists. I saw Roberts’ use of this technology more to highlight the differences between the established way to do things and a very different way. Basically, Roberts sets up a traditional establishment versus the outsider dichotomy. In the society Roberts sets circling the earth, he portrays the collective as something between a societal experiment and a revolutionary new country.
The first portion of the novel is told from the point of view of a young woman, Klara Gyeroffy, who comes of age in the Uplands. Told in the first person, these opening chapters are perhaps the strongest and provide more of an emotional impact than the remainder of the book. While these chapters can be considered “set-up” and do lay the ground work for the remainder of the novel, they are the most engaging.
When Roberts shifts the narrative to the next generation, focusing on Klara’s daughter Gradisil, a derivation of the mythical Yygdrasil the far reaching tree of Norse legend, the story becomes more clinical. Here, Roberts switches narrative voices between characters and the story loses its emotional impact. Part of the problem is that the characters, though fairly well developed, aren’t entirely likeable. The strongest and most interesting aspect of this third of the novel was how Roberts contrasted the development of the Uplands with the political situation planetside on Earth and the eventual war between the two. The political maneuvering he plotted through (the character of) Gradisil and her enemies felt genuine, as if it was, did or could happen today.
The third portion deals with the third generation of Gyeroffy’s and the outfall of the war. The book has some interesting ideas and provides a good backdrop with which to compare our own world. However, after the first third of the book, I found the emotional investment not nearly as high and could not empathize with any of the characters. I also thought some of the intentional misspellings were a stumbling block and found it odd that a male character would be named Hope.
In all, an unevenly layered book with good ideas that could have been more if the narrative strength and pull of the first third were sustained throughout. I know the book was highly praised upon its UK release about a year ago, and I came to the book with anticipation that was, unfortunately, unfulfilled.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford
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