Stone is Roberts' second novel (following Salt) and adds further to his reputation as a talented author.
The story is the monologue (as told to a stone) of a prisoner, and how he came to be where he is. The prisoner, Ae, is given a mission in return for his freedom; a mission to commit murder. What makes Ae special is that he is capable of murder - in this future murder is almost unheard of. Life is peaceful, there is no scarcity, and, thanks to nanotechnology, humans may live for many hundreds of years.
What unfolds is a linear story of Ae's mission, and this could be a very ordinary sci-fi tale. Why makes it otherwise, is an intelligent and entertaining writing style.
Compared to Salt, this novel has more and better science, and richer characterisation. It does lack complexity and originality, and to some readers these will be critical shortcomings, but to me it was a solid and worthwhile read.
on 18 August 2007
I first came across Adam Roberts when I read 'On', an early novel that, for all that its central concept was breathtakingly original, was let down by an abrupt ending that left me feeling utterly cheated.
I gave the author the benefit of the doubt, however, and read 'Salt', his first book, which was dreadful enough to put me off sci fi for a while - one of those hackneyed, formulaic colonisation sagas that only appeal to people who read nothing but sci-fi, the only surprise being that it didn't feature a beautiful alien female who inexplicably fell for the central character.
Then I saw 'Stone', and I decided to give the guy another go. And I'm so glad I did, as this is one of my all-time favourite books - in any genre.
It's an intelligently and beautifully written road trip of a book that stands up to repeated readings and that, in 50 years time, I hope will be held aloft as an example of how imaginative, intelligent science fiction can match the best novels in any other genre, in terms of quality of prose, narrative drive, and emotive power.
The plot is deceptively straightforward, with a destination that's spelled out from the opening chapter, but which, thanks to a masterful build-up of tension teased out over a number of superbly-written episodes along the way, doesn't disappoint or feel contrived. As the central character, Ae, stumbles inexorably towards a genocidal destiny that ought to make the reader hate and fear him, we instead come to sympathise with him, seeing him for what he really is: a tragically suggestible and mentally unhinged human being who, because of a genetic anomaly at birth, is the last known living being in the universe who is still capable of murder.
Even when he's driven to kill, through his confusion and inability to interact with other people - in what is one of the best-written murder scenes I've ever come across in a sci-fi book - we're not repulsed by him or hateful of him, and by the end of the book, as he's on the verge of annihilating the entire population of a whole planet, we're positively rooting for the guy.
And for a writer to be able to carry that trick off, while creating exotic yet utterly believable alien worlds, pacing the novel beautifully, and writing with a raw intelligence that never detracts from the tale, is almost unique.
This is not a comfortable read, but it is nonetheless a book that you'll want to read again and again. It's high-concept, but don't let that put you off. It's written with a story-telling skill that is, in my experience, hard to find in serious science fiction novels. No sci fi writer I've ever read comes close to being able to write a story as moving, challenging and satisfying as this. Only Iain Banks can, for my money, write fantastic science fiction that's as intelligent and imaginative as this, while still being utterly readable and not at all cliched or lacking in emotion.
This is head and shoulders above anything else I've read by Adam Roberts, but for this novel alone he deserves to be remembered.
"Stone" is a curious book. The quality of writing and characterisation is poor and the narrative is at times risible. The worlds of the t'T are Sci-Fi stereotypes, two-dimensional and bland with planets with names like "Rain" (so called because,er, it rains continually) whose main city is "Raintown", and there is an embarrassing half-baked attempt to add depth to the book by references to the t'T language, "Glice". However amidst this mediocrity there is a plot which keeps the reader guessing throughout and one good theme relating to the "Dot Tech", a kind of sub-atomic AI that the citizens of t'T have infused in their bloodstream which keeps them disease free and void of negative and destructive emotions and behaviour. The author repeatedly compares and contrasts the sentient world that we humans experience with the sub-quantum state of flux that the "Dot Tech" inhabit and introduces interesting ,but complex ,philosophical concepts based on sub-atomic physics about what constitutes the nature of reality at it's smallest level and the consequences of this for the human experience of cosmic life. The narrative is written by the central character , Ae, in the form of a letter to a stone, the relevance of which becomes apparent as the plot unfolds. However the reader doesn't need to be reminded of this constantly by the narrator who intersperses the dialogue unnecessarily with phrases like "my dear Stone" all the time. "Stone" is good in parts, poor in others and does provoke some thought , but overall it is a fairly average effort .
on 24 October 2003
Stone, is an exciting book, where the story is not confined in a single area, or planet, but evolves throughout the only patch of universe where travelling at n times light speed is possible.
In a place where anybody can be anyone-or-anything and where crime has been long forgotten, we encounter the last criminal, fighting to remain sane, confiding his inner thoughts to a stone.
Committing the ultimate crime and trying to solve the crime mystery at the same time, Stone proves to be a very enjoyable read, one of the few books that deserve a second read, and for this reason 5 stars are well deserved.
'Stone' was Adam Roberts' third novel. I had already read his first, 'Salt', and the later 'Land of the Headless' before trying 'Stone'; after reading it, I still find myself in two minds about the author's merits.
There is no doubting Roberts' intelligence. He understands enough of the science to make for interesting speculation, and he understands that much of the interest of science fiction stems from the interaction between technology and human psychology - the way in which changed possibilities in the physical world change our sense of who we are. In 'Stone' he tries to marry radical speculation about technology - particularly the likely consequences of nanotechnology - with speculation about the nature of consciousness and what it is to be human, with mixed results.
The form of the story is conventional. Set in a world in which faster-than-light travel is commonplace and technological advances have enabled something close to a functioning utopia, it is in effect a murder mystery with a twist. A terrible crime is to be committed. We know who will commit it. But who has commissioned this act, and why? The narrator's - and the reader's - quest for the truth is not helped by the fact that the narrator is unreliable: an undoubted psychopath who may or may not be schizophrenic.
This suggests many possibilities: but the book has serious failings. At this stage of his career Roberts still seems to lack some of the necessary qualities of the writer, for which intelligence is not a satisfactory substitute. His ability to construct character is limited; his prose style is undistinguished; and he seems to have difficulties with structure, employing blatant delaying tactics that irritate the reader who wants the story to progress. There are even 'info-dumps' in the classic, infuriating SF manner - expository sections during which the entire narrative screeches to a halt while characters convey necessary information in the form of miniature lectures.
Roberts seems to have little feel for the natural world, but his interplanetary narrative requires him to construct entire new landscapes at every turn, most of which are banal or unconvincing. He struggles with another difficulty that has tripped up many an author before him: how to deal with an unsympathetic central character. With no compelling characters, and a plot that requires much of the action to remain unexplained for long periods, the most fundamental problem is exposed: 'Stone' is simply too long. The ideas Roberts explores would sustain a tightly-written novella or long short story, but three hundred pages is too much space for the content, and the result is effortful, slack writing, much repetition, and for this reader at least a recurrent feeling of 'get on with it'.
Much of the greatest interest comes in the last fifty pages, so in a sense the reader's patience is eventually rewarded. Whether it's worth the slog through the rest is another matter.
on 2 April 2007
Good intelligent prose without becoming too wordy...Adam Roberts has written this completely from the perspective of the main character and manages to vividly capture and draw you into his state of mind. its a bit of a cliche but i flew through this book in about 2 weeks even though i usually only limit myself to reading during my 20 minute bus ride to work.
the only other adam roberts book i have ready is gradisil and although i also thoroughy enjoyed that book, this one was much more traditional sci-fi orientated and not as dark.
there are leaning towards iain m banks in terms of the dark humour. maybe i haven't read as much sci-fi as some of the other reviewers but i found the story very original and completely captivating. if you like writers like iain m banks, alistair reynolds and ken macleod i think you'll like this one.
Another classic offering from Gollancz and really has made this a great month for Science Fiction . Well written, this first person examination into a future from a sociopath's point of view. Cunningly crafted and above all a tale that will grip you not only with the lovingly crafted characters within but with the plausibility of the world for which they all inhabit with the only draw back being the tale nicely tied up with a big bow in the final chapter. Its definitely worth a read and a tale that will set the bar high for the sheer quality within.
on 24 December 2006
Stone is set in a plausible utopia. The "hero" Ae is the only criminal in a society where there is no crime. Murder is extraordinarily difficult, but that just makes it more of a challenge.
The author teases the reader, constantly building up to a monstrous crime that we know is coming. Despite leaving us with no doubt about the eventual fate of Ae Roberts keeps the tension going and it is impossible to put the book down.
If you like Iain M Banks or Greg Egan you're going to like this.
on 27 September 2012
Enjoyed this immensely. Some wonderful ideas, snappily written. A well realised and nicely original take on the galactic society thing. The t'T could easily be as satisfying as the Culture - this is the first I've read but based on this I shall be reading his others.
Nicely bleak/nasty in places too - my comparison with Egan and Banks wasn't meant to suggest it's derivative of them - it just fits in well with someone who likes both.
on 25 September 2011
I've now reached the point when i am struggling to find good SF to read, i honestly feel like i've read them all. I downoaded this and was really suprised. I thought it was brilliant, interesting, what SF should be like. If you've not read anything by him, then give him a try,