Fiction Reviews

The This

(2022) Adam Roberts, Gollancz, £9.99 / Can$19.99 / US$17.99, pbk, ISBN 978-1-473-23091-0


The This is the new social media platform everyone is talking about. Allow it to be injected into the roof of your mouth and it will grow into your brain, allow you to connect with others without even picking up your phone. Its followers are growing. Its detractors say it is a cult. But for one journalist, hired to do a puff-piece interview with their CEO, it will change the world forever. Adan just wants to stay at home with his smart-companion Elegy - phone, friend, confidante, sex toy. But when his mother flees to Europe and joins a cult, leaving him penniless, he has to enlist in the army. Sentient robots are invading America, but it seems Adan has a surprising ability to survive their attacks. He has a purpose, even if he doesn't know what it is. And in the far future, war between a hive mind of Ais and the remnants of humanity is coming to its inevitable end. But one woman has developed a weapon which might change the course of the war. It's just a pity she's trapped in an inescapable prison on a hive mind ship.

          “The This is the Hottest New Frontier in Social Media.
          It’s definitely not a cult.
          It’s not a cult.
          But it’s not a cult.
          But it’s definitely not a cult.”

Or is it?

Well, there’s only one way to find out, by diving into the latest offering from Adam Roberts, one of my favourite science fiction writers. Why? Because of the ideas, the differences between novels (alright, except when he’s writing two books about a female private detective), the experimentation, and the fun. I’m happy to report that all of his strengths are on display here in a novel told in nine parts, with part one – “In the Bardo”, neatly linking up with part nine, the final part, also called “In the Bardo”. Each part varies in length, some very short towards the end, while others are long, 80 to 90 pages long.

But what’s it about? Well, as said, we start in The Bardo, which is a limbo between life and death, where a soul is being reincarnated again and again in different lives, times and situations, until it goes large becoming a universal consciousness that is everywhere, yet, nowhere at the same time, but makes some telling observations along the way about humanity, thought-processes and the individual which will reappear throughout the novel. Then we move into the main plot as we meet Rich Rigby who augments his income by taking on freelance journalism work and ends up interviewing someone who works from The This which is marketed as a sort of “hands-free twitter” starting with neural implants that work their way upwards through the roof of your mouth and allows the user to connect with other minds who have the same implant. He is even considering undergoing the process when an elderly woman named Helen who was once part of this hive mind, but having cancer freed her from the connection with others and now she has a story to tell Rich. Switch to the future, where we meet another likeable waster called Adan who spends most of time having phone sex, with his phone which takes the form of a beautiful android that can assume the appearance of anyone calling him, which might be a bit of a passion-killer. In this future there is a war going on the those with The This, and those without, with the former having a grand plan to relocate on Venus and destroy Earth and the non-The Thissers. Adan signs up to fight the good fight and becomes a pawn to the military hierarchy, but things don’t work out as they had planned for them, or him.

Enough of the plot, there are bigger themes to consider here, and it wouldn’t be a Roberts’ novel without a smattering of philosophy in this highly imaginative, multi-layered tale which is thought-provoking and typically funny, and I do like a novel with footnotes, and there is a whopper here. Yes, there are big themes about time and consciousness, the individual and the collective, the notion of being ever-more connected, yet strangely alone and isolated, and the interesting theory of the “Odourless God” where we are dominated by visual images and stimuli which have replaced religion, yet we must worship what we have created in this safe, and embracing, and inclusive hive mind, but at what cost to the self, and to those outside? It is a novel that will remind readers of science fiction and fantasy writers of the past and present- Disch, Sheckley, Vonnegut, Beckett, Mitchell, and others spring to mind, yet, The This remains uniquely Roberts' own vision, and comes highly recommended.

Ian Hunter

See also Jonathan's review of The This.


[Up: Fiction Reviews Index | SF Author: Website Links | Home Page: Concatenation]

[One Page Futures Short Stories | Recent Site Additions | Most Recent Seasonal Science Fiction News]

[Updated: 23.4.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]