Adam Roberts


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

July 3, 2008

dam Roberts has taken a big step backwards with the publication of Polystom. I was hugely disappointed as I read this book, because I really enjoyed two of his earlier novels. I read his first novel, Salt, which was an interesting look at two hostile groups of colonists who land on a desert planet, only to battle each other over a landscape that is as parched as the Sahara. The other Roberts' book that I read was Stone; Stone is an excellent book about a criminal who escapes an unescapable prison located in the center of a star. Both of those novels were original and interesting, which is why I was so unhappy to wade through the dross that is Polystom.

Polystom is a lame book. The structure of the book is really 3 novellas that interconnect, but the plot linkage between the novellas is not that tight - each of the three could be read as a stand alone disappointing novella.

The world building effort in Polystom has potential; it is quite similar to an idea I first encountered in Bob Shaw's The Wooden Spaceships - imagine a solar system where the planets are much closer together, and that a breathable atmosphere extends all the way from one planet to the next. If you could build a ship that sailed in the air, you could voyage to the other planets. This exotic idea is intriguing, but Roberts doesn't do much with it.

The characters in Polystom are just awful. Roberts seems to have deliberately set out to write a novel about horrible people. Polystom is the name of the protagonist, he is wealthy, arrogant, oblivious noble. Roberts describes him in such a negative light that I initially assumed that this would be a story about redemption - Polystom would realize how warped his world view is, and he would emerge a better man. Doesn't happen. Even while wading through the horrors of trench warfare on the Mudworld, Polystom remains an unlikable, overly-priviledged young man. And he is surrounded by equally wretched characters.

Even worse than the loathsome characters is the plot. Did Roberts even have a story in mind when he started writing? Not even a single sheet of a plot outline? The ending of the story veers off into a long and tiresome lecture on the nature of reality. Do we exist at all, or are we merely constructs in a machine? Geez, haven't we seen that tired plot device about a hundred times too many already? It isn't even presented as a dynamic story, instead we get the ghost of Polystom's uncle blabbing on and on about reality.

I wish Roberts had focused on the interesting solar system. There is a desperate rebellion of the lower class, they send assassins hidden inside a whale that swims through the atmosphere. But that plot thread withers and dies.

This book is not recommended. Not at all. Based upon his other works, I will still read more books by Adam Roberts, but I will approach them with much more caution... and toss them aside sooner if Roberts shows he has lost his ability to write an entertaining novel.