Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book Review : Swiftly - Adam Roberts 8*

Adam Roberts has written a number of sci-fi novels, amongst them Stone, the story of humanity's only remaining murderer living out his days in a seemingly unbreakable prison in the heart of a star.  In Swiftly though, Roberts steps back in time, to a hundred odd years after the voyages of Lemuel Gulliver.

Britain is in trouble, it has enslaved the Blefuscans and put them to work in factories producing fine materials and complex machinery, France has been more clever with its choice of slaves, and has managed to get the giant Brobdingnagians allied to their cause.  When war breaks out, the giants smash the British lines and sink the navy with their enormous clubs, and in quite deliberate echoes of War of the Worlds giants are seen striding through the streets of London with heavy artillery being the only weapon that can touch them.

Abraham Bates is a young man with convictions, he believes passionately that slavery is sin, and he carries his arguments to those engaged in it.  Eleanor is a clever but naive young woman whose mother seeks to keep the pair of them in a style to which they would like to become accustomed, and to this end engineers a marriage to an older man, an industrialist with a factory full of Blefuscans.  The Dean of York is obnoxious, ill mannered, paranoid and conceited, and he's addicted to heroin.  These three characters are thrown together by the misfortunes of war and begin a heady and complex love triangle.

Roberts has written parodies (of Tolkien, Star Wars and others) and he injects a rich vein of black humour into Swiftly, he also shows a deft hand with eroticism as the relationship between Abraham and Eleanor becomes sexually charged.  Roberts then blends Gulliver's Travels with H G Wells as he explores the possibility of creatures many times smaller than the Liliputians, and vastly larger than the Brobdingnagians, and as the tiny creatures, unseen to normal sized human eye, have cause and effect on the plague that now ravages Yorkshire (Mr. Roberts Sir ! You've destroyed Scarborough and York, you cad) so perhaps men can, unseen, find a way to attack the gargantuan menace of the moonship.

Swiftly is a sci-fi novel, it's also a love story, a tale of perverted desire and a look at slavery, imperialism, colonialism and other less appealing aspects of the British Empire.  It is exceedingly well written, descriptive enough to set each scene well and provide a comprehensive background, but it is far and away more exciting and pacey than the writer from which the ideas are borrowed and enlarged upon, Jonathan Swift never penned anything as engaging and fast moving as this.

1 comment:

  1. DSP Andy9:49 am

    Glad you enjoyed it :-)