Salt by Adam Roberts

March 3, 2004 at 12:00 am | Posted in 2 stars, Book Reviews, Science Fiction | Leave a comment

Salt is one of those books that has an interesting premise and not much else going for it. The setting is a new colony world, a planet whose surface is almost entirely covered in salt. To establish this Roberts has written what in my opinion is a simply beautiful opening few pages to the novel, the most memorable opening I’ve read short of Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Unfortunately what follows is merely mediocre. The setting and the ways the colonists cope with it are interesting, but the novel is really a sociological book. SF has a long tradition of writers setting out their ideas of utopia or dystopia on the clean canvas of a colony world, but in this case Roberts seems to be going more for a story about unbridgable cultural differences. The story is told in first person by two narrators in alternating chapters. Each belongs to a fundamentally different society, and the book is about the inevitable conflicts that arise through these differences. The problem is that by the end of the story both characters are thoroughly unlikable. One society is pretty much an off-the-shelf militarist totalitarian state, while the other is little-C communist. Neither works because the first has unfortunately been so common in history it is mundane and the second is so unprecedented it seems impossible, and Roberts’ narrator has thought processes that are so different they can scarcely be thought of as human. Ultimately the book goes nowhere: the plot does not resolve, the characters are completely estranged from the reader by their actions, and the book seems to make no philosophical point other than “extremes are bad”.  Not recommended.

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