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3.0 out of 5 stars19
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on 17 September 2003
I have to go with the reader from Sandown. There's a lot of invention packed into this book, and the main character is effectively drawn, but then it all tails off into a series of disjointed scenes and, ultimately, the arrival of a deus ex machina (in more senses than one) who explains nearly everything but then sets up a couple of brand new mysteries, and then... the book stops. Roberts fits comfortably into the millenium wave of British SF writers - the belief that novels don't need a proper ending, the obsession with gore, blood, guts and severed limbs, all the trademarks are there. So long as you can get past that it's not a bad book, but it's lacking something.
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on 2 December 2002
Adam Roberts' second novel demonstrates that here is an author who refuses to be straight-jacketed by the 'normal' rules of hard sf as he creates the most bizarre of worlds and then show us it from the perspective of one of its seemingly most insignificant denizens.
Tighe's story is part quest through a setting as bizarre as any in Gene Wolfe's 'New Sun' series, part the story of a coming of age into a true age of wonders. Yes, it's strange, yes it's unusual, indeed almost 'fantastic' in flavour, but it does have a very solid hard sf basis - and there's always been more to science fiction than just robots and spaceships, as Roberts more than ably demonstrates.
Give 'On' a try - take your head in new directions.
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on 21 November 2007
I have read other books by Adam Roberts such as Salt that I enjoyed. However this book left me very disappointed. The concept behind the book is a very interesting one but the characters and plot within the book were shallow and meaningless. As for the ending - I thought I had a book with missing pages.
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on 20 November 2002
Various reviewers have either raved or ranted about the lack of conclusion to the book but actually, it kind of stops on a bit of a cliff-hanger that feels like ON - Part 2 may come along sometime.
In general this is a road-movie of a book with the main character growing from boyhood to manhood as he blown across the surface of the world wall by extreme events. The time line seems to expand and contract so that 50 pages equate to a few days of his life and then later a couple of paragraphs to months, maybe a year - this is somewhat annoying.
Also, the explanation of the boys existence and the reason that his world is the way it is, I found, a little rushed and raised more questions then answers.
Not a compulsive read but something to do on a wet Sunday afternoon.
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on 23 October 2010
What a very strange book. It is based around a single, huge concept that results in a world that is almost unrecognisably alien. But within this alien world, people live small agrarian lives, superstitious, narrow and ignorant. And then one boy, Tighe, goes unwillingly and unknowingly on a quest. And that is kind of the trouble with the book. Quests, to my mind, don't always make for the most riveting of stories. The central concept is so huge that the narrative ends up being almost swallowed by it. The story tends towards the 'this happened and next, this happened and after that, this happened', so there's not really any 'plot'.

In some ways, it rather reminded me of 'Davy' by Edgar Pangborn. In that book, the eponymous hero travels through a post-apocalyptic America, ruled by the Holy Murcan Church. But in Adam Roberts world, things are more tribal, as the Empire declares war on the 'Otre' and Tighe is caught up in the ensuing chaos. The story seems allegorical, almost like 'Gulliver's Travels', but if it is, the allegory is pretty obscure. It feels as though there should be some ulterior motive or power. It is, at times, reminiscent of 'Candy Man' - another post-apocalyptic but dream-like novel. There's also something very English about the book - probably the nearest comparison I can think of is Brian Aldiss's 'Hothouse'.

Although it is very well written, at times in an almost poetic or epic style, I found it long and quite hard work at times and it is strange to compare this with, say, the more overtly political sci-fi of 'Salt' or the fantastical 'Stone'. Certainly Adam Roberts always provides a challenging read.

Adam Roberts states right at the end that the novel is about 'precariousness'. There is an obvious sense in which this is the case, but also the story is in a sense equally precarious and, as such, not wholly successful. Still, Adam Roberts is always worth reading.
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on 28 December 2007
The quote on the cover says "very high concept". This is true, but the story is driven along by the need to reveal the "high concept" underpinnings of the world, not by the characters. With each change in Tighe's circumstance, he is little changed by his experiences. The overall effect was unconvincing, particularly the end (which it was a struggle to reach). I gave this book 2 stars as I liked the clues and (mis)information seeded in the story about the origins of the world, even though I didn't like the way which the underlying mystery drove the story.

If you are new to Adam Roberts' work, don't start with this book, try Stone.
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on 24 November 2002
The book started well, with some great characterisation. I really enjoyed the introductory part, which was very short, but then half the good characters got effectively killed off. The tale seemed to then go into an incredibly long and ultimately irrelevent series of cutscenes into the conclusion, which was equally short and unsatisfactory. Definitely not a good story, nor well told. The characters and the set though, cannot be faulted.
The worst offence of all, in my view, was the appendix which explained in painful technical detail the origin of the unusual phenomenon which is the breathtaking central premise of the book. There was more than enough room in the body of the book to explain all of this in a much more friendly and exciting way; and goodness knows it needed a bit of that. The appendix managed to make this audacious idea into a dull and pointless sideshow. A tragic waste.
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on 9 March 2007
Reading the reviews here I find myself agreeing with some of the main points- yes the main character is a bit passive, the deus ex machina explanation was a trifle unnecessary and the ending was a bit too much of a cliff-hanger (pun intended?) but overall it is greater than the sum of its parts - it works and these criticisms don't reflect that. I would say it is "vividly executed" - excedingly so and yes it is a conceit - sci-fi falls into that category if it isn't tolkein in space, look at asimov, greg bear or Iain M Banks. To make a convincing depiction of a world at right angles to what we know is a considerable achievement.
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on 21 April 2002
The central premice of the novel can be worked out fairly early on,the reason for not giving it 5 stars being the rather clunky and pulpish way it is explained at the end.As with salt,the world is perfectly realised as are the characters.Some delightfully gruesome parts involving man eating insects and a truly shocking incident involving canabilism.Look forward to Stone...,but next time Adam,be less meticulous about dotting the i's and crossing the t's in the plot;some times things are best under explained.
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on 6 May 2002
There is a particular brand of fantasy writing where the author has an apparently inspired idea or concept, and then proceeds to tell you about it...badly. This is one of those books.
Although the ideas and issues raised are all of a high intellectual quality and potentially interesting, Roberts simply isn't a very good writer. Whenever he talks about how the main character Tighe is thinking, you get the distinct impression he's just listing what ought to be said there - you don't get any real idea of what Tighe feels or believes, only the voice of Roberts dictating at you. There is a definite difference in there, and one which led me to stare in incomprehension at the page on far too many occasions, trying to work out why I was continuing reading. And I realised that reason was because several reviews I had read said the book was really very good.
It isn't. Anyone who has read a superior style of science fiction/fantasy such as Iain M. Banks, Peter F. Hamilton or J.V. Jones would be appalled by the way this novel has been executed. The style is such that I could not immerse myself in it as I can with those authors; the impression throughout is of Roberts dictating to you what is happening, and he isn't even any good at that. His hamfisted attempts at creating a "zany" world are laughable - novelty names are one thing, but "Pahe" and "Pashe" for father and mother respectively just don't ring true, and are a mouthful to articulate.
When I come across a book which I fundamentally dislike as much as this one I always wonder distractedly whether I have "misread" it, and that I've rather missed the point, as so many other people seem to have enjoyed reading it. Therefore, despite my vigorous condemnation, I suggest that if you want to try this book, borrow it from a library to see what YOU think of Roberts's style, and don't spend money on him until you're sure.
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