Book Review: Purgatory Mount by Adam Roberts


Synopsis (From Goodreads)                            An interstellar craft is decelerating after its century-long voyage. Its destination is V538 Aurigae ?, a now-empty planet dominated by one gigantic megastructure, a conical mountain of such height that its summit is high above the atmosphere. The ship’s crew of five hope to discover how the long-departed builders made such a colossal thing, and why: a space elevator? a temple? a work of art? Its resemblance to the mountain of purgatory lead the crew to call this world Dante.
In our near future, the United States is falling apart. A neurotoxin has interfered with the memory function of many of the population, leaving them reliant on their phones as makeshift memory prostheses. But life goes on. For Ottoline Barragão, a regular kid juggling school and her friends and her beehives in the back garden, things are about to get very dangerous, chased across the north-east by competing groups, each willing to do whatever it takes to get inside Ottoline’s private network and recover the secret inside.

Purgatory Mount, Adam Roberts’s first SF novel for three years, combines wry space opera and a fast-paced thriller in equal measure. It is a novel about memory and atonement, about exploration and passion, and like all of Roberts’s novels it’s not quite like anything else. 

My Review

Purgatory Mount is apparently the first Scifi novel from Adam Roberts in 3 years (Standard calendrical human time) and the first of his books I’ve had the opportunity to read. I found it A strong SF, huge in scope and could only be written by someone who is unafraid of taking risks and is willing to re-write the rulebook. It is split up in 3 distinct parts that had me wondering how the heck it’s all going to connect. Though it’s clear what connects everything on a kind of base level, the bigger picture is multidimensional. There is a lot going on, from the future humans arriving on a distant world, to a group of teenagers living through an America that could be 10 years out and frankly, was frightening as seen through the eyes of a 16 year old kid who just wants to take care of her bees, and hide whatever creation her and friends are makes up a story that was full of tasty little SF tidbits and chunks of sweet and juicy SF imagualizations.

Before I read this, I took time to search through Adam Roberts previous books. He had slipped through my radar successfully until now. I came across info about the upcoming release of Purgatory Mount, and with its awesome cover, I was on the hook. He is Australian and has been recognized constantly over his career for his unique writing, mostly in a scifi and speculative nature, even non fiction work.

A vast panorama of a science fiction story split between three unique parts. In the first, a small group of very advanced humans have reached the end of a long voyage to uncover the mystery of a tower structure on an uninhabited planet, and discovered by a drone that scanned the anomaly and sent the info back to be evaluated.

As the ship nears the destination, we get to be the fly on the walls (with this kind of setting, let’s say it’s an AI controlled, nanotech built fly) to the unique planning and philosophical implications of a  structure that punctures the atmospheric boundary of this planet and yet remains steadfast. Those that built it have been long gone, and it remains elusive as to what’s inside, or even what it’s built of, with no weathering over hundreds of thousands of years.  These Dvanced humans in charge ofbthe mission have managed the decades long voyage by adjusting their perception of time and are now bringing themselves back to a more natural rhythm in order to get the work done in what they are hoping is 100 years or less.

These advanced humans running the mission hope to gain the technology that was used to construct the tower, and then profit by selling the tech back home.

In Part one, we also get a feel for the less advanced creatures who handle the more menial tasks that an intersteller ship that spends 100+ years conducting a mission. They live in the moment and naturally, without the ability to adjust, or dial up (or down) their experience of time. The differences in reality are vast, and this first part of the book was my favorite. They have families, duties, arguments, love, loss, and culture. Their lives are almost completely separate, and cut off from the bigger reality. This becomes a major point of the book down the road and opens up philosophical and morality questions I found myself thinking about. The first part of the book alone makes for an amazing read.

These simpler type of human, having short lives see the ship as a world. Because the advanced people can manipulate the time experience, they are considered God’s. As they walk the ship passages, they look frozen in time to the simpler ones, even though they are moving, just very, very slowly. The act of reaching down to flip a switch might take multiple lifetimes from the normal perspective.

Unique, intelligent, thoughtful, strange. After reading Purgatory it’s clear that all of those characteristics are overflowing in his writing.

Thank you for visiting, it means a lot. I had a lot of trouble writing this review, maybe too much personal stuff going on right now, but this was a really interesting book that I wanted to at least pass along my recommendation.

The Author

He has a degree in English from the University of Aberdeen and a PhD from Cambridge University on Robert Browning and the Classics. He teaches English literature and creative writing at Royal Holloway, University of London.[2]

Adam Roberts has been nominated three times for the Arthur C. Clarke Award: in 2001 for his debut novelSalt, in 2007 for Gradisil and in 2010 for Yellow Blue Tibia. He won both the 2012 BSFA Award for Best Novel, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, for Jack Glass. It was further shortlisted for The Kitschies Red Tentacle award. His short story “Tollund” was nominated for the 2014 Sidewise Award.[3] Roberts’ science fiction has been praised by many critics both inside and outside the genre, with some comparing him to genre authors such as Pel Torro, John E. Muller, and Karl Zeigfreid.[4]

In May 2014, Roberts gave the second annual Tolkien Lecture at Pembroke College, Oxford, speaking on the topic of Tolkien and Women.[5]

(Author info taken from Wikipedia)

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Purgatory Mount by Adam Roberts

  1. Really happy to see a review of this, and enjoyed reading yours. I’ve followed Adam on Twitter for a while now, and he’s got a great sense of humour, but I’ve never read any of his work. The Guardian reviewer bashed this a little bit, but did it in such a way that I thought it might still be for me. Your review tells me I might well have been right to think that. I’ll be checking this out.

    Liked by 1 person

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