Review: Gradisil by Adam Roberts

Gradisil by Adam Roberts

3 out of 5 stars

This is yet another hard one to rate. I really love sci-fi, especially high-concept, and the quote on the cover led me to believe this was one of those novels. However, I would describe as more of a low-key sci-fi – it is set not too far into the future, and the technology is not majorly developed. Although people (known as ‘Uplanders’) are living on the edge of the earth’s atmosphere, this is a very rare occurrence; and despite this development in technology, the last manned moon landing was Apollo 17 in 1972, as it is today.


The society in the book doesn’t seem too changed from our own. There appears to be more of a continental emphasis, e.g. the countries are called England-EU, Finland-EU etc, but apart from casual space travel it doesn’t seem too different. There are so many theories about the definition of ‘science fiction’ compared with fantasy, but the commonly accepted one seems to be that sci-fi is what could happen, whereas fantasy never could. In that case, I would say that 2050 seems far too early for this casual space travel, but it’s really hard to query the plausibility of sci-fi!

Roberts has a very fluid writing style, and the first half of the book (narrated by Gradisil’s mother Klara) was an account of her life as an ‘Uplander’, from her childhood to Gradisil’s late teens, and was some very effective world building. Yet as soon as the story switched to Gradisil’s half, it became much less interesting; it almost feels as though the two halves could quite easily be two different books. Whilst the eponymous character never provides the narration, we see her from two different sides: as a child and a teenager, from her mother; from a young woman to middle aged by her cuckolded husband. This has the effect of keeping Gradisil at a distance from the reader, as she is to all the loved ones in her life.

Yet for all the effective techniques that Roberts has used, there are some downfalls. The beginning of part two of the book, where narration by Slater (who becomes more and more entwined with the story) begins, was just a complete information dump. Too many facts and figures and information about technology was introduced in a matter of pages, and I quite honestly found all but one or two of Slater’s chapters really dull. I don’t even think his POV chapters were completely necessary.

The changes in spelling as time progressed, whilst showing changes in society, annoyed me. First it was the dropping of ‘c’, then ‘h’, then ‘ng’ became a strange symbol. I really can’t stand this in books, hence why I dropped Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks. It worked for Flowers for Algernon (which is a fantastic book, by the way) because it was a very effective way of portraying Charlie’s rapidly increasing IQ. Here, however, it really isn’t necessary and just bugged me.

Overall, I did enjoy the book but it honestly felt like it could have been two novels, or perhaps a novella – covering Klara’s story – and a novel. The two halves were rather disjointed, and I enjoyed Klara’s half more, despite Gradisil barely being in it. It was nice to read some low-key sci-fi though, something a bit more easily imagined.

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