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The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts
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The Thing Itself (2015)

by Adam Roberts

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I have not in the past got on especially well with Adam Roberts’s novels. He’s an enormously clever bloke and has excellent taste in fiction, but I think there’s something in his approach to the genre which rubs me up slightly the wrong way. Except. I really did like The Thing Itself and thought it very good indeed. The narrator is a radio astronomer, wintering in Antarctica with a creepy geek. This is during the 1980s. The geek is secretly experimenting with perception – the idea that our senses mediate the world, that there is something there, in reality, an idea based on Kant’s Ding an sich, which our senses edit out… but what if we could actually perceive it… “It” all turns out to be a bit Lovecraftian and eldritch, but the geek’s unsuccessful attempt to kill the narrator, and the brief glimpse the narrator has of unadulterated reality, were enough to fuck him up. And now, decades later, he’s a complete loser (although the geek is in Broadmoor). But then he’s contacted by a secret thinktank – and it’s pretty obvious they’ve built themselves an AI, but the narrator is too dumb to realise this – because they need him to approach the geek… And, of course, everything goes horribly wrong and the narrator ends up on the run, not entirely sure who he’s running from and increasingly convinced the mad geek has developed some sort of superpower. There are also a number of historical sections, which better explain, and illustrate, the book’s central Ding an sich premise. I do have a couple of minor niggles, however. The narrator uses a cane, which he loses while fleeing from hospital… but mysteriously has it back a chapter or two later. And a female character changes name over a couple of pages. But that’s minor, trivial even. I thought this a very good sf novel. ( )
  iansales | Jan 12, 2018 |
3.5 Stars.

Adam Robertas rarely provides the reader with the easy road, and 'The Thing Itself' is no exception. Science fiction is supposed to be food for the mind, and we have this in spades in this neat package. A typically Robertian protagonist, Charles Gardener's (middle aged, sexually frustrated male, whose life has not lived up to early promise) has a tale full of woe.

From the bookends of terror and bloodshed in the Antarctic and Arctic polar wastes (noding sagely to John Carpenter), to speculations on the nature of reality and human perception of time and space whilst on the run from the 'powers that be' with a fugitive AI, the main narrative moves at a spritely pace, interspersed with flashbacks and flashforwards into the timestream, which are quite neatly tied up in a Kant shaped philosophical bow in the denoument. Does the athiest put a convincing argument for why one should believe in God? I'm not sure, but the read is well worth your time. ( )
1 vote orkydd | Feb 2, 2017 |
“An atheist writing a novel about why you should believe in God.” Science fiction and philosophy with a visceral plot at its core. Despite constant obstruction by the narrative (flashbacks, diversions, etc) I couldn't put it down—a rare combination. ( )
  joeld | Sep 27, 2016 |
This was actually quite a good book, which I wasn't really expecting as I didn't get on too well with the reading group's last Roberts book, New Model Army. The start wasn't particularly auspicious with two men stuck in an Antarctic base slowly growing to hate each other as the isolation takes effect. One of the men is reading Kant in an attempt to develop a theory about the underlying reality of existence and the presence (or otherwise) of aliens. There were several divergences from the main stories that were sometimes interesting in their own rights but did tend to destroy the flow of the main story. ( )
  JohnFair | Jun 25, 2016 |
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Syncretism refers to that characteristic of child thought which tends to juxtapose logically unrelated pieces of information when the child is asked for causal explanations. A simple example could be: 'Why does the sun not fall down?' 'Because it is hot. The sun stops there.' 'How?' 'Because it is yellow'.

G H Bantock
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This tale of the world turned upside down is dedicated to Rachel.
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Two men while away the days in an arctic research station. Tensions between them build as they argue over a love-letter one of them has received. One is practical and open. The other surly, superior and obessed with reading one book - by the philosopher Kant. As a storm brews and they lose contact with the outside world they debate Kant, reality and the emptiness of the universe. The come to hate each other, and they learn that they are not alone."--Fantastic Fiction website.… (more)

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