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Sunday, July 31, 2011

"Anticopernicus" by Adam Roberts (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)



Official Adam Roberts Website
Read FBC Review of Yellow Blue Tibia
Read FBC Review of New Model Army
Order "Anticopernicus" HERE

INTRODUCTION: I never made a secret of my admiration for Adam Roberts the science fiction writer, whatever disagreements I have with his opinions as a reviewer. Mr. Roberts will soon have out By Light Alone which is a big expectation novel of mine to be bought and read on publication and on a recent visit to his website to see if an excerpt of that one is available, I stumbled across the announcement for his first experiment in independent e-publishing, the "dwarf" novel Anticopernicus. Of course that was an immediate buy. Anticopernicus is available on Amazon or Amazon.uk for a very modest price and it is also available on Wizard's Tower if you want an epub.

"A brief novel by the author of "Yellow Blue Tibia" and "New Model Army". 4-chapters in total; only available for e-purchase. First contact: despite our cosmic littleness, the aliens have come to visit. But they have parked their interstellar craft on the outskirts of the solar system, and despite friendly interaction (their English if fluent and idiomatic) they will come no closer. So an Earth ship, the "Leibniz", crewed by the best and the brightest, begins the slow haul towards the Oort cloud, in the hopes that meeting these alien creatures will answer the most profound questions humanity can ask. “Anticopernicus” is not their story, though. It is the story of Ange Mlinko, an ordinary individual working the Earth-Mars trade routes, largely uninterested in the arrival of alien intelligences. And because the focus is on her, it remains to be seen whether this short novel can answer the following questions: why have the aliens come? Why won't they come any closer than the furthest edges of the solar system? What does this have to do with the nature of the mysterious ‘dark energy’ pervading the cosmos? What about the celebrated Fermi Paradox? And most pressingly: could Copernicus have been wrong all along?"

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: At ~15k words I would estimate Anticopernicus is the equivalent of about 40 print pages, but it reads like a true novel and it has enough stuff to satisfy. The novel is a story of first contact including a clever "explanation" of the Fermi paradox and dark energy with the title hinting at what those are, but being an Adam Roberts book, the strength are style, characters and his musings through the eyes on the main character, a solitary divorced pilot Ange Mlinko who was on the long list for the crew of Leibniz, the ship sent by Earth to the Oort Cloud where the aliens, named Cygnics parked their suddenly appearing vessel and sent a message to Earth to come to them.

While ultimately she is not chosen and in consequence she stops having much interest in the mission which is the talk of almost everyone on Earth, as potentially changing life and all as we know them, Ange's pov seems to diverge from the continuing alien saga- it takes a long time for the Earth ship to get to the Oort, so lots of time for the story. But there are bills to be paid, a house to be maintained, so she takes a routine cargo job to Mars with two quite different crew-mates, Ostriker of the loud voice and strong opinions and the elderly, quieter Maurice, and well things happen...

This part is the core of the novel and it combines action with musings about humanity's place in the universe. While the story keeps the characters at arm length emotionally, I really liked Ange and her seeming detachment and solitude, though as the story progresses we come to see her as really interesting and enjoying her life. Ostriker is clearly a foil for both Ange and the author's opinions, so we are inexorably drawn to dislike her, but ultimately she is still a crewmate of Ange and the heroine has to make peace with that.

Anticopernicus (A+) is very good stuff and worth all the money and more, since it offers in those 40 pages what others offer in 300, while it has a great resolution in true sfnal spirit. Despite being self published, the editing was top notch too, with only one typo that jumped at me. Highly recommended as a blend of literary fiction, space sf and musings on humanity and our place in the Universe. Since the style is so Adam Roberts, I think Anticopernicus serves as a very good introduction to the work of the author, so I also suggest to give it a try if you want to see why I rate Adam Roberts in my top 10 list of contemporary sf writers.

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