Fiction Reviews

The Adjacent

(2013) Christopher Priest, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, 419pp, ISBN 978-0-575-10536-2


Well, can you really judge a book by its cover? Certainly, Gollancz are playing its cards close to its chest with a dust jacket that says on the front The Adjacent, then the author’s name and at the bottom a strap line that says 'There is Something Beside the Truth'. And on the back? A line: 'They never found Melanie’s body'. And what else do we get? Triangles. Lots of triangles, and planes. Lots of planes. Could that be a clue? Triangles and planes? Those on the front are clearly fighter planes, perhaps, the most famous of all, that of the spitting fire variety, while on the back, they are bigger, heavier, looking as if they are about to open their guts and trail bombs through the air.

Who is Melanie? Well, she is the wife of freelance photographer, Tibor Tarent who was killed mysteriously by insurgents while abroad in Turkey, killed in a most peculiar way, by some sort of advanced super weapon that left no trace of her except a triangular scorched mark on the ground, but her death might be linked to a terrorist attack that totally destroyed a large part of London – a vast triangular shaped chunk, that killed hundreds of thousands in the process. Tibor might have the answer to what that weapon is, if he could only remember what it is, if he even knew what it is in the first place. Memory can be a tricky thing. Places, events, key parts of your life aren’t always the way you remember them.

Meanwhile, a hundred years ago, a stage magician is sent to the Western Front with the not-so-simple mission of using his stagecraft to try and make British planes invisible to the enemy, and in 1943 a female Polish pilot has managed to escape the Nazis, but for some desperate reason she needs to get back home. And in present day England, a theoretical physicist is standing in his garden and about to make something happen that has never happened before.

If you are a fan of Christopher Priest then his latest novel, The Adjacent, is a must-read, but even if you are not familiar with his work (perhaps only through the Hugo nominated film made from his novel The Prestige) it is still pretty essential. Intelligent, and thought-provoking, and totally different from much of the entertaining, lightweight fare we are fed these days. Priest gives us a glimpse of a possible future where religious differences, terrorism and environmental disasters make the Earth a pretty bleak place. But, for the Priest fan, this is almost familiar stuff, with key themes and motifs of his past work rearing their many heads here, almost in a continuation of the way that his previous novel The Islanders riffed off his Dream Archipelago and some of his other pre-occupations.

Complicated, surreal, disconcerting, puzzling, baffling, unsettling, but still a great read (though not an easy one, but then again it is not meant to be) from one of the great writers of speculative fiction in the world today. Sadly, he is not as prolific as he possibly could be, but The Adjacent wouldn’t be as good as it is, without the care and attention and imagination that Priest has poured into it.

Ian Hunter

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