Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: Jack Glass by Adam Roberts

Jack Glass by Adam Roberts
Published: Gollancz, 2012
Awards Won: Campbell Award and British Science Fiction Association Award

The Book:

“Murder has been committed, and Jack Glass is guilty—that much is certain.  But what exactly has he done? How? Why?  These are the more interesting questions. In a future world where trillions of expendable humans live in fragile bubbles in space, even the rumor of faster than light travel is enough to cast the power structures of the world into disarray—and to cause several very unusual murders.

A series of three mysteries form the backbone of this story, and each one of them is impossible in its own way. These three mysteries include: a need to escape from an isolated prison asteroid, a murder that conveniently occurs for a wealthy girl detective’s birthday, and a gun that seems to have shot in the wrong direction. When something is impossible, though, it usually just means that you’re overlooking a crucial detail.” ~Allie  

I’ve been meaning to check out Adam Roberts’s work for a while, but for the longest time, his work wasn’t published in e-book format (or, sometimes, outside the UK). I’ve already bought Jack Glass and By Light Alone in physical form, but it looks like his work has become more easily available (as e-books) since then! I expect that I will read more of his novels in the future.

My Thoughts:

Jack Glass was an incredibly entertaining mystery science-fiction novel, with an enthusiastic style of narration and mysteries that seemed to invite reader speculation.  Rather than just trying to figure out ‘whodunit’ (that much was given), the challenge was to figure out all the intricacies of the situation before they were revealed.  I think that sufficient clues were given in most situations, such that figuring it out was possible, though sometimes challenging. The science aspects were sometimes a bit sketchy, but I was willing to overlook that in order to enjoy the story.  I often found myself pausing in my reading, to sort out what I thought the explanations would be.  I definitely missed some details, but, happily, the solutions are also given within the novel!  It was really fun to see what I had right, and what I’d overlooked.

Beneath the fun of solving the mysteries, though, Jack Glass slowly shows a pretty dark, pessimistic future.  Trillions of humans live on the edge of death in fragile slum bubbles, and the luckiest of these are heavily drugged in order to become ultra-loyal servants of the wealthy.  The solar system is a cold place, governed by power politics and profit, and human beings are seen as a cheap, renewable resource. In such a world, and especially in a murder story, it should come as no surprise that there’s some fairly gruesome violence and references to sexual assault.  Most of the more disturbing violence occurs within the first third of the novel, in which Jac is trapped for an 11-year sentence in an asteroid with a group of convicts. In the later parts of the story, though, I think the liveliness of the story tends to balance the grimness of the setting.

A lot of that liveliness comes from the voices of the characters through which we experience the story—who are, surprisingly, not Jack Glass, though he is often present.  This includes the unnamed (until later) narrator, who is ‘doctorwatson’-ing the story for our benefit, who has an engaging voice, and the wealthy, young detective, Diana Argent.  While the middle section is in Diana Argent’s voice, it still seems to be written by the unnamed narrator. Diana Argent is an extremely wealthy young girl, who has been raised as a data analyzer, and who specializes in people.  She has therefore developed a deep interest in murder mysteries, and it is her very own “birthday” murder mystery that leads into the larger story. Her voice is full of enthusiastic slang (“No wavy way!”), a good portion of which she probably doesn’t even understand (“That’s close enough for government work.”).  The minor characters in the story seem only very lightly characterized, but Diana, Jack, and the unnamed narrator are more than sufficient to bring life to the mysteries they encounter.

My Rating: 4/5

Jack Glass was an extremely fun mystery science fiction story, set in a surprisingly depressing future scenario for the solar system.  I really enjoyed trying to work out the details of each of the three ‘murder mystery’ situations before the answers were revealed, though I was not 100% successful.  The main story involved the social effects of the rumor of the possibility of faster-than-light travel, in a society governed by politics and profit, where the vast majority of people live in extreme poverty. The distinctive, enthusiastic narrative voice, especially in the second section, helped to give a lively feeling to the story, despite the grim setting.  Overall, Jack Glass was an entertaining novel, and I plan to read more of Roberts’s novels in the future.      

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