Paperback: 656 pages
Publisher: Orbit (4 Nov 2004)
I hated this. I've read various novels by Roberts before, and enjoyed them all. He comes up with interesting ideas, and then mixes in interesting people to make a sensa-wunda mix that is still intelligent. But here, for me, he failed.
To start with, the setting. It's a Birth of a Nation story, except the nation in question is that of the Uplanders - libertarian billionaires making small space dwellings, reached by aircraft that interact with the Earth's magnetic field near the poles to climb into space itself. The story takes place over the better part of a century, and looks at the life and career of Gradisil (named for the Yggdrasil world tree, to which the polar magnetic field is early compared) who becomes the founding voice of the new nation. The book is in three parts - the first starting before her birth. The second is about her rise to prominence and her betrayal (no, no spoilers there, this betrayal, and who does it, is known from the start) , and the third part, after her death, deals with some late consequences. The whole is deeply laden with symbolism.
The ideas are fascinating, and how they work out quite intriguing. But when it comes to the characters - no, I didn't like any of them. Gradisil herself is one of the most repugnant people I've encountered - fascinating, yes, but repugnant. In addition, Roberts wrote parts 2 and 3 with ever more irritating verbal tricks that also made it less accessible - I find it difficult to read anything where so much is misspelt, even if deliberately. Oh yes, and the science is implausibly bad - you can't hide objects big enough to live in in low orbit space. That I finished the book at all, that it didn't join the 0.01% of books I've ever failed to finish, is down to a determination to finish it no matter what. Yes, it had the potential for greatness. But in the end, I hated it.