Book Review: By Light Alone by Adam Roberts

By Light Alone by Adam RobertsBy Light Alone by Adam Roberts

Gollancz, 407pp large format paperback
£12.99 cover price
Reviewed by R A Bardy [@mangozoid]

There have already been heaps of praise for Adam Roberts’ By Light Alone, so I’m no doubt going to upset the apple cart by saying I wasn’t so impressed, sorry…

Set in a future in which humans live through photosynthesis of sunlight by their hair (the science escaped me too, and is smoothly glossed over as to be ignored completely), this serves as a modern allegorical SF tale. We have the obese and super-rich affecting baldness and indulging themselves with food as a modern luxury at one end of the scale, with a cast of characters completely self-absorbed by their own routines and petty lives… and a story about the daughter of an aforementioned affluent family who is kidnapped and sold into a servile sub-society where women do all the work while their useless male counterparts laze around…

Split into two almost completely separate stories, the first tells of George Denoone, father of kidnapped Leah and the various stages of grief he encounters dealing with the loss of his daughter within the parameters of an obscenely affluent bourgeois existence. The second story tells of Issa (aka Leah) and her unswerving talent for survival as she drifts from one frail existence to another in a journey which will eventually take her into the centre of a modern ‘revolution’ and direct confrontation with her estranged family (who have since found an ‘alternative’ daughter)…

Roberts’ writing is definitely poetic and beautiful in places, but in so many other works and contexts this would be considered severely over-written (that amorphous quality ridiculed by more zealous editors), and this is how I felt, almost as if the author tried too hard to impress. As a social commentary or modern parable this is a good read but for me personally it just lacked substance.

* This review originally appeared on the British Fantasy Society website here

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