Adam Roberts

By Light Alone by Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts seems to be, in general, a writer with two modes.* He can write good ideas badly, and he can write bad ideas well. His last novel, New Model Army, was an Andy McNab-meets-Cory Doctorow future-military romp which unfortunately only worked if you assumed that teaching soldiers how to carry out first aid and basic repairs was a radical new idea that could destroy world politics as we know it. By Light Alone, the pendulum has swung back, and now a fundamentally interesting plot has been buried in a thick sludge of clumsy metaphor.

The basic setup is this: in the unspecified future, humans can be engineered to photosynthesise through their hair. The Bug, as it’s known, is essentially free (it’s passed from mother to child in breast milk) and has created a new class of people who have nothing and need nothing, except water and the odd handful of mud for minerals. There is a lot that can be done with that idea, and in Roberts’ case, he goes for the satirical angle. Faced with a world where food is unnecessary and the poor are rake-thin, the rich have become gastronomes of the highest order, flaunting their wealth by stuffing themselves with masses of shrimp-and-pomegranate purée and origami ham.

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