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By Light Alone Paperback – 18 Aug 2011

3.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Gollancz (18 Aug. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0575083654
  • ISBN-13: 978-0575083653
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.8 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 881,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Should have won the 2009 Booker Prize." Kim Stanley Robinson, author, "Red Mars," on "Yellow Blue Tibia""

Book Description

In the future hunger is a thing of the past. Unless you choose to be hungry. The new novel from the 'enfant terrible of British SF' (GUARDIAN).

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By A. Whitehead TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 30 Aug. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Decades in the future, the world has been revolutionised by the introduction of photosynthetic hair. The poor now no longer need to be fed, as they can live off sunlight alone, whilst the rich flaunt their wealth and power by their unnecessary consumption of food and cutting their hair. Supermodels are now immensely fat and the rich very bald. A well-off family undertakes a skiing trip to Mount Ararat on the Turkish-Iranian border, but during their holiday their daughter, Leah, is kidnapped. Attempts to track her down fail, but a year later she is found and returned to their home in New York City. But Leah's return preludes a time of immense change in the world, as revolution threatens...

By Light Alone is Adam Roberts' eleventh novel. On the surface it's the story of a young girl who is kidnapped, returns home, and whose return serves as the catalyst for significant changes in her family life. But this is only a very shallow reading of the text. As the narrative continues, it becomes clear that there are a lot of different things going on, and periodically the text switches to a new POV and rewinds in time to provide a fresh perspective on events we have already seen. The main characters - Leah and her parents, George and Marie - are all somewhat unreliable narrators and finding the inconsistencies between their accounts of the same event is a fascinating exercise in itself.

The central SF element - the photosynthetic hair - is a Maguffin that sets up a world in which poor people no longer need to work to eat, resulting in a mounting overpopulation and unemployment crisis that threatens the lives of the rich and powerful. Roberts explores the ramifications of this well-meaning development through its impact on society and how that affects the central characters.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the past, rich people were fat and the poor skinny. These days, poor people are fat and the rich are skinny. In Adam Roberts' future, the rich are bald and the poor grow their hair as long as they can. The reason for this is that Nick Neocles developed the Bug. Once ingested the Bug turns hair into an organ capable of photosynthesis. The poor need never go hungry again. And to prove their superiority, the rich ostentatiously live on 'hardfood'.

By this simple invention (and a single act of 'suspension of disbelief') Roberts recasts our contemporary world. The rich are even richer; a super-rich 'stateless elite' who have less and less in common, have less and less empathy with, the vast bulk of humanity. Just maintaining an interest in current affairs is considered rather distasteful. Those in the squeezed middle are yet more stressed and terrified of falling - made up of an increasingly obsequious professional class, a hard-pressed and terrified bourgeoisie ('jobsuckers' as they are disdainfully referred to by the super-rich) . The poor are truly, absolutely poor. Previously, it was necessary to give the poor some few pennies to keep body and soul together. Now, there's no need to even do this. A little water, a few grubs and insects and a sunny day is all this lumpenproletariat needs. Meanwhile, the super-rich breakfast in New York, fly by ramjet to dine in London and ski on Mount Ararat.

So that's the basic premise. It is, like the previous 'New Model Army' and others, overtly political. It is wickedly, almost grossly, satirical - which means that, really, there are hardly any endearing characters. But there are some really interesting ideas.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have only relatively recently discovered Adam Roberts, with the likes of Jack Glass and The Thing Itself, but every one of his books I've read has been excellent, so it seemed time to start filling in the gaps.

I went for By Light Alone because of its interesting sounding premise. It's a cracker (as they say). The idea is that science has produced a mechanism where people can get all the energy they need from sunlight, thanks to a bug that turns their hair into super-photosynethic light absorbers. All they need to live is some water and a few essential nutrients. A clever (if technically verging on the impossible) idea, certainly. But where Roberts triumphs is in going into the unexpected implications of the change - the absolute heart of what makes science fiction, and which so few literary types who do SF down, and think it's all about spaceships and ray guns, appreciate.

One implication considered is that for the first time ever it's possible to have a group of people who have literary no money at all. Not just poor but literally penniless. Roberts also examines the possibilities for male/female distinctions, and how a small group of wealthy people might consider those who have the special hair to be a subspecies, and to conspicuously wear their hair short to emphasise they don't need it.

The book is divided into four parts, each seen from a different (but linked) individual's point of view. At the heart of the book is the story of a privileged family whose daughter is taken from them on a skiing holiday. They assume initially it is as a hostage, but the authorities gradually explain that something much darker is behind it.
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