All of the reviews I’ve put on this site to date have been previously published in one magazine or another, but here’s one that I wrote specifically for Goodreads, a nice book/ social networking website. If you’re interested in books, sign up and friend me, it’s populated by a lot of very nice, articulate people, many of whom write great critiques of all manner of papery products (and digital one, naturally).
I’ll probably write more of these “original” reviews, but probably not many. Nearly all books I read are for reviewing purposes, and I blush to say therefore for financial gain (no, not bribes, a magazine fee for the review. Tsk). But I enjoy Adam’s books so much, and I am determined to tell as many people as I can about them, that I wanted to have my say on this, his latest novel for FREE. Wow, an almost Christian level of generosity there.
Roberts’ books are truly difficult to rate, because there isn’t anything else like them in the modern SF genre. He writes beautifully, really beautifully; the kind of image-dense, well-crafted sentences that you have to read three times just to savour the feel of them sliding through your neurons. His ideas are magical, and he’s no imaginative slouch – each novel he writes sports a new and freshly minted world of wondrous veracity.
Set in a future where humans thickly clot the space between the worlds of the Solar System and are ruled most oppressively, Jack Glass is a story about a kind of cosmic terrorist, but presented as a series of three murder mysteries; the literary conceit here being Roberts’ take on the old country house, Agatha Christie style whodunnit.
To a point this is what we have, but the detective angle proves more a surface gloss to SF world buildery. The murders take back seat and we’re soon hip-deep in Roberts’ usual concern of the unworthy swain courting the unobtainable damsel. Who are we to complain? All authors have their literary drums to beat, but with the gruesome first installment of Jack Glass it appears at first that we have escaped this particular obsession, and it’s something of a surprise and disappointment to be presented with it again.
Glass himself is a confident, capable man, much more sure of himself than many of Roberts’ earlier protagonists. Part of the book’s draw is the slow revelation of the various layers to his character, and the discovery of the romantic flaw in Glass is well-judged, if slightly disappointing, by which I mean it fits this story perfectly, but anyway, see above. The dividing up of the story into three undoes the pacing, and the contrast between the first taut, superbly claustrophic tale and the more languid tone of the latter two unseats the reader. There’s a little too much time spent detailing the inner thoughts of teenage girls (something Roberts already tackled brilliantly in By Light Alone). He does it well, admittedly, but too much here.
Although this is not his strongest work overall, Jack Glass contains some of Roberts’ most artful writing, and the first part of the book is among the best SF stories from one of today’s finest British SF writers.