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Golden Age Mysteries,
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This review is from: Jack Glass (Golden Age) (Hardcover)
Adam Roberts' latest novel is in three parts, each written as a separate mystery (of a sort - they're not all Whodunnits) but making up a greater whole.
The first part is a prison story. A group of convicts are marooned on an asteroid for seven years. They must make it habitable or they will die.
The second introduces two teenage girls, the putative heirs to the Clan Argent. Diane and Eva are the result of advanced genetic engineering (we may suspect, but never learn for sure, that Alice, Beth and Carol before them may not have come up to scratch...) There is perhaps a touch of Dune here - the Argents jostle with a number of other clans for a position immediately below the ruling Ulanovs but above a mass of guilds, commercial concerns and mafias. Treachery and violence is always distinctly possible.
The third part follows closely from the second and could be described as a locked room mystery (but so could the others as well). It does bring together themes from the book as a whole, and it provides some answers (although I don't think we ever learn who the man was running through the olive grove in the heat of the day (or why he was running) in part 2).
"Jack Glass" does, in some respects, pick up themes from last year's By Light Alone. I'm thinking especially of the sort-of post-scarcity setting - in Jack Glass, there is no shortage of room - humanity has populated space with flimsy sphere habitations - or of food - most people exist on spore grown "ghunk" fed by sunlight. But, as in the earlier book, it's far from being a utopia: the poor live flavourless lives, subsisting on the basics and very definitely at the bottom of the heap.
Another resemblance is in characters. As in "By Light", "Jack Glass" has as its main protagonists (apart from Jack himself) a couple of rather spoiled, privileged teenage girls. Roberts has some fun creating a plausible future teen-speak ("No wavey way!") which is only one example of his ingenious use of language in the book - the preface, for example introduces the verb "to doctorwatson". Some of the invented terms are explained in an appendix, which also serves as a short primer to 26th century society. This is a rigid hierarchy, with the Ulanovs at the top and the Sump at the bottom.
Overall, I enjoyed this book, though very slightly less than I did By Light Alone, mainly because I found most of part 2 rather slow in pace, especially after the dramatic end to part 1. Having said that, considering it as a single book, it's really very good and fun SF and well worth reading, whether you've read Roberts before or not.