We’re reading ADAM ROBOTS by Adam Roberts

26 Mar

David Gullen straps on his Acme pun-protectors and braves the fictional world of the man they call The Professor

One pleasure of short story collections is their sheer variety. Adam Roberts’s collection delivers everything from SF poetry to space opera to an essay on one of his own stories (“Wonder: A Story in Two”).

In one way this collection is an homage to science fiction’s Golden Age: Roberts’s idea-driven stories are by turns clever, funny, sinister, and bizarre. Some are straightforward: “The Imperial Army” is a rather glorious space opera of alien warfare. Others are oblique. “The Man of the Strong Arm” appears on the surface to be merely delivering a (wincingly good) punch-line – but there are more significant narrative layers beneath: a misogynistic culture based on a false interpretation of history; a building revolution; the teller of the joke is unaware that his final line is funny

Another good thing about collections is they give you an insight into the things that fascinate the author. In several of these stories we’re trapped: trapped in nature, in the very workings of the universe. Escape, let alone understanding, is impossible. Inevitable doom awaits and we hurtle off zig-zag towards it, knowing or unknowing. This may sound gloomy but it’s not. This group of considered, stream-of-consciousness narratives is inventive and witty, with complex, fast-paced writing.

By title alone you can tell this is a man who likes to play with words and ideas, colliding them together and pushing them as far as he can. Occasionally this can feel like play and invention for its own sake. “Review: Thomas Hodgkin, Denis Bayle: a Life” is a review of a fictitious author’s biography of another imaginary author’s life, including a critique of his novels. Just how deep can we fall down this meta-critical well? It’s a pretty good gag, and of course there’s a reference to Stanislaw Lem. Some of the novel ideas are pretty good too. Still, the last line ultimately lets slip Roberts’ real opinion of all this navel-gazing. A step too far for me; possibly a whole staircase for some.

This is what I like about Roberts’ writing: he’s clearly a smart and well-informed man, a talented writer who takes his writing, his words, and his love of SF as a form, seriously. At the same time, he wears all this lightly, is happy to appear playful, happy to break the equivalent of the theatrical fourth wall when he feels the story would benefit. And he does enjoy his puns, which is fine and good because so do I. Playful, yes. Knowing, sometimes. Mordant, dark, and downright sinister? Oh, yes.

This is an entertaining collection, brim-full of invention, twists, and ideas that sometimes challenge and provoke. Oh, to hell with it: it was a sheer delight. Top marks.

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