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on 23 August 2001
I have to wonder if other reviewers were reading the same book, I found this a very disappointing read. Fundamentally, the book describes a religious war on an alien planet, the problem is that I failed to empathise with either side - the pompous self righteousness of the leader of one side against the indifference of the "leader" of the other (both of which are, bravely, given equal coverage) completely failed to inspire me. There are a few highlights (like the descripion of the rebel "actions"), but you would be better off ignoring this title and reading the more polishing (and strangely, believable) "On" by the same author instead.
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on 25 August 2001
The novel starts off with the voyage to 'Salt'. The planet is so-named because the main element on the planet is a preponderance of sodium chloride. Not the most hospitable environment for a human; but as someone points out to Petja, if there was no supply of salt, then all the colonists would die (although the colonists' recycling process seems to cover all their needs). Petja is the opening narrator of the novel. He belongs to a community of anarchists called the 'Alsists'. Adam Roberts openly acknowledges that there is an element of intertextuality involved in the novel, referring to Ursula Le Guin's 'The Dispossessed', Nabokov's 'Bend Sinister'. There are various other religious groups making the same journey, all strung out like pearls attached to a comet (an inevitably risky form of transport, especially considering the cabin fever inside the various ships, but a speedy one at that). One of the Alsists commits suicide and threatens the whole mission. This causes concern in the Senaar ship, who bid to avoid a repeat performance. They ask the Alsists to send a delegate to discuss the issue, and Petja is sent. Not that Petja is any kind of leader: like all the Alsists, he's against any form of hierarchy. Thus begins the troubled relationship between Senaar and the Alsists, which is exacerbated by the fact that Senaar men have fathered children on the Alsist ship. The undisciplined Alsists then break ranks by deciding to land on Salt first, angering the Senaarians further without even realising it. Not that the Senaarians want to grab the best land for themselves, or anything. The Senaarians have a patriarchal, hierarchical culture. They're named after the place in Genesis where the Tower of Babel was built. Babel later became Babylon, and there is a settlement named 'Babulonis' in the novel, complete with water flowing uphill, just like the famous Hanging Gardens. Barlei, the Senaar leader, would have preferred the planet Salt to be called 'Kepesh', after the Hebrew word for 'silver', which most often seems discussed within the Book of Exodus. Indeed, Barlei later builds a 'Great Dyke', which he describes as a 'Pharaonic feat', without any hint of hypocrisy. It's debatable as to whether the Alsists or the Senaar are representative of 'The Chosen People', and it's Petja who seems most like Moses, despite Barlei's use of language from the Book of Exodus. When the debate is held on how the future Senaar should be built, there is the suggestion that it should be constructed in the shape of 'The Eagle of St. John', which may be a sign of freemasonry in Senaarian society. One of the Senaarians who has fathered Alsist children is called Beltane: perhaps by referring to the Pagan May Day, Adam Roberts intends to remind us of modern anarchists who now wander forth and protest on May 1?
The anarchists are well drawn by Roberts, and he is quite topical in including them. Roberts' dystopia is just as biting. All those scenes where Alsists threatens to punch one another's lights out does reflect how an anarchist society would settle disputes (or so I've read). This contrasts with Petja's use of force, which is violently opposed by some members of the Alsists later on (although Alsist society has been more or less smashed by then). Although they have talked their way onto a religious exodus, only a minority of Alsists have faith in a divine being. Most of them reject religion as just another hierarchical structure. This probably explains why some of them are so found of the atheist Roman philosopher Lucretius, together with his ideas on the 'free movement' of atoms. Thus it's quite a spiritual novel, in tune with recent fictions like John Meaney's 'Paradox' or Mary Doria Russell's 'The Sparrow'.
Adam Roberts also claims that 'Salt' is intertextually related to Frank Herbert's 'Dune', but I couldn't really see much of a similarity, except that both worlds obviously have dunes. There are rather more factions involved in Frank Herbert's epic. There is no feudal empire or choam company (no minerals worthwhile exploiting), no fabulous sandworms, no Mentats, and no Bene Gesserit here. One of the disappointments of 'Salt' is that it doesn't really throw up any of the gender issues embodied in anarchism. Okay, so Senaarian women are obliged to do their duty by staying at home, and Rhoda Titus has the most irritatingly girly middle name ('Blossom'), and Barlei misogynistically calls Alsist women 'Maenads' whilst viewing Alsist society as matriarchal. Maybe it's a fault of characterisation, but all the narrators seem a little bland and lifeless. None of them seem to have worthwhile aspirations, but then I suppose they are living in a dystopia. At times, it does seem at times as though 'Salt' has far more in common with 'The English Patient' than 'Dune'...
For instance, there are dunes in 'The English Patient' also. A bit of a tenuous link, I'll admit. But what about this? If you look at the movie soundtrack listing to 'The English Patient' by Gabriel Yared, you might be able to guess what music Adam Roberts was listening to when he first started writing 'Salt', and why the Alsists all seem to have Hungarian names. First off, there's a settlement called Yared, Pteja seems to have got his surname from the Song "Szerelem" (meaning "Love" in Hungarian), Marta Cserepes is possibly related to Marta 'Sebestyen' (name of the mountains in 'Salt'), or maybe Karoly Cserepes, who arranged the song 'Szerelem'. Is it "As Far as Florence" or 'New Florence', 'Convento' or "Convento di Sant' Anna"? Hamar, Sipos, and Csooris also seem to belong to the Hungarian band 'Musikas', featured in 'The English Patient'. Swapsies Herodotus for Lucretius? Compare with pages 18 and 63 of 'Salt' and weep. I reckon that Adam Roberts should utlise Gabriel Yared's soundtrack for 'Betty Blue' next time - I've always thought that 'Zorg' would be a great name for an alien!
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on 29 May 2001
Adam Roberts did an excellent job of world-building in this novel. The landscapes of Salt were unforgettable. Unfortunately, I was so repulsed by the main characters (the Alsist Petja much more than the Senaarian Barlei), that the entire book lost its appeal.
I object strongly to David Langford's characterization of Petja as "gentler and poetic." This guy almost kills one of his fellow Alsists in a fight, and rapes a Senaarian woman. This is not my definition of gentle. If anything, I found Petja to be a bigger hypocrite than Barlei.
Although, to be honest, the idea of punching anarchists in the nose does have its appeal.
Finally, the fact that there were no protagonists worth cheering for, made this otherwise promising novel a depressing read.
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on 5 October 2001
This book is a modern masterpiece. Not always comfortable, but always well-written. poetic and thought-provoking.
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VINE VOICEon 23 May 2003
Salt takes a fairly bog-standard sf idea – the colonisation of another world, and gives it a new twist by way of its telling. It’s not always successful though. The practicalities of colonisation are glossed over with a few make-anything Fabricant devices, while the story concentrates on the war between two sets of colonists. The setting itself is fairly unmemorable, as while in a novel like Dune the setting is central to the story being told, here the planet Salt simply offers Roberts the opportunity to make frequent (and often painfully stretched) allusions to salt.
Where the novel succeeds is in the culture clash of the Als and Senaarians, with a stunning central chapter featuring the complete failure of understanding between a Senaarian ambassador and her Alsist opposite. Unfortunately much of the rest of the novel is told at a great remove, with historical testimony from the main players scotching any chance of characterisation for anyone else.
So, flawed – yes, but its still and interesting and different novel, and for a debut certainly worth a read.
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on 18 July 2014
An interesting idea for a book, but not a style of writing I enjoy.
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on 3 October 2000
Some reviews have implied that Salt is derivative of Dune;this is grossly unfair.It is reminiscent only in that both worlds are both incredibly bleak,yet beautiful.Adam roberts has succeeded in marrying plausible extrapolations of contemporary science with fully realised three dimensional characters,complete with political,scientific and psychological aspirations.Let us hope there will be many more returns to this fascinatedly created world.
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Salt is a very interesting novel. It is about differing political outlooks, the inevitability of war and the danger that, in defending your way of life, you become like your enemy.
The underlying story - colonisation of a distant planet - is merely a device to introduce these ideas. As a result, the science is weak, the technology glossed over. If you are looking for hard sci-fi, you will not find it here.
The fundamental difference of opinion is between hierarchists and 'anarchists'. The hierarchists place importance in political structure, a legal system, the value of money.
The 'anarchists' have no structure, no leader, no rules. Work is organised by a random computer-generated rota. If people don't want to work on their assigned tasks, the don't have to. But they usually do, because they would be bored if they didn't. And the rota provides plenty of variety - there is no specialisation.
The story is told in the first person by two people - one from each side of the divide. And while they have completely opposing views, its easy to agree with both viewpoints. By playing such opposing monologues, Roberts injects a fair amount of humour, although this later makes way for more harrowing developments.
Eventually war and violence corrupt those involved, dehumanising and ultimately destroying the truth that was being fought for at the outset. Perhaps this is the only ultimate truth.
The last 20 pages go completely weird, and do detract a little from an otherwise excellent novel.
Four stars.
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on 3 November 2000
Roberts has certainly hit on something. His prose has a poetic, shimmering quality, and his fascination with the history and concerns of Science Fiction shine through.
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on 18 July 2004
This book wasted hours of my life, and I want them back.
The characters are unbelievable extremes, it is difficult to believe that two such extremist groups could 1) exist in the first place, and 2) get stuck together on the same colony ship.
The book plods along, with little to interest the reader, and nobody to sympathise with.
The ending is, at best, unfulfilling. I don't think there is any closure for any of the characters, and no kind of resolution. Granted the conflict might not have a quick resolution, but the story itself should still have one. The ending is, in fact, not even related to the conflict. The last chapter goes off on a complete tangent, changing to a new protagonist and whining on about her demons.
Don't read this book.
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