Posts Tagged: Adam Roberts

Alice in Wonderland
A Rule of Thumb for Escapism

When it comes to discussing the appeal of SFF and its various affiliated subgenres, escapism is an extremely relevant consideration. Given how strongly a pro-escapist perspective correlates with a pro-SFF perspective, and vice versa, the term has become a loaded one, such that a species of argumentative shorthand has developed around its usage. Thus: if escapism is a negative, then so too is the desire for escape, casting those who seek or enable it as naïve, childish daydreamers disconnected from reality. If escapism is a positive, then the pursuit of escape is a noble one, allowing us to transcend the limitations of what is in favour of embracing what could be. Though ostensibly a tried and true dichotomy, the term is ultimately inaccurate in this context: the escapist/realist schism is a false binary, not only because the presence of one element doesn’t preclude the presence of the other, but because both escapism and realism are subjectively realised states, not objective truths.

If escapism is a negative, then so too is the desire for escape, casting those who seek or enable it as naïve, childish daydreamers disconnected from reality.

Despite this fact, the fallacy remains a popular one, both at the external level (SFF is less realistic than straight fiction, and therefore less worthy) and the internal level (aspirational fantasy is less realistic than gritty fantasy, and therefore less worthy). Which isn’t to say such conversations are wholly without merit; indeed, a great deal of useful dialogue is spawned by them. It’s just that, at a fundamental level, there’s a tendency to hark back to an either/or that doesn’t exist, but to which we’ve historically ascribed inordinate importance. By definition, all fiction contains elements of escapism and realism, in that it both includes untruths and, being born of reality, is necessarily tethered to it – the only mitigating factor here is the ratio of truth to lies, and given the wildly divergent ends to which fiction can be turned, to say nothing of the myriad possible interpretations of truth, there’s hardly a rule of thumb for determining even that much with any degree of accuracy. The question of whether escapism constitutes a positive or negative force in SFF has nothing to do with its presence, therefore, but rather with the twofold matter what it is we’re escaping from and into. Read More »

JACK GLASS by Adam Roberts

Jack Glass is the murderer. We know this from the start. Yet as this extraordinary novel tells the story of three murders committed by Glass the reader will be surprised to find out that it was Glass who was the killer and how he did it. And by the end of the book our sympathies for the killer are fully engaged. Riffing on the tropes of crime fiction (the country house murder, the locked room mystery) and imbued with the feel of golden age SF, JACK GLASS is another bravura performance from Roberts. Whatever games he plays with the genre, whatever questions he asks of the reader, Roberts never loses sight of the need to entertain. JACK GLASS has some wonderfully gruesome moments, is built around three gripping HowDunnits and comes with liberal doses of sly humour. Roberts invites us to have fun and tricks us into thinking about both crime and SF via a beautifully structured novel set in a society whose depiction challanges notions of crime, punishment, power and freedom. It is an extraordinary novel.

I’ve not read any of Roberts’ work, but I’ve always been a big fan of what Gollancz does with his covers. Jack Glass is colourful and interesting, and the mix between the classic style of stained glass and the rocketship indicates that you’re looking at SF that doesn’t fall alongside its more traditional genre-mates. Roberts takes chances and challenges readers with his fiction; it’s nice to see Gollancz doing the same with his cover art.