On top of being an Aberdeen graduate, Adam Roberts is one of the most consistently entertaining and thought provoking novelists around. If you only dare to dip your toe into the nerdorama that is sci-fi once (or speculative fiction as some like to call it), New Model Army would be an excellent place to start. It will get you thinking about networked technology, war, and most importantly, the early modern philosophy of Rabelais and the nation state.
In Jack Glass: The Story of a Murderer, Roberts tells three interlinked stories. There is a prison story, a murder mystery and a classic locked-room mystery. They all arc together. The stories are bloody and fascinating.
Here, explaining two of the characters, aristocratic heirs to great power, the narrator muses on what a dream is (Page 119):
As far as dreams were concerned – well dreams are generated by the random processes of neural oscillation during the brain’s rest phases. What dreams do is cycle and recycle images and feelings, rationalisations and fears. There’s nothing special about that. It’s not the dreams that matter (chaff, mental turbulence, the rotating metal bars moving endlessly through the transparent tub of metaphorical slushy). It is what the problem-solving circuits in the mind make of the dreams. Dreams iterate and test mental schemas, discarding the maladaptive to return the adaptive to the slush to be reworked. Dreams are emotional preparations for solving problems – that is why we have evolved them, because problem-solving abilities are highly adaptive and thus strongly evolutionarily selected. Dreams intoxicate the individual out of reliance on common sense and preconception, and tempt her into the orbit of private logic. Dreams have utility.
And then elsewhere there is a conversation about how people once upon a time (remember that the novel is set in the future) people “worshipped economics” (Page 62):
“… Because they believed that economics preserved the special place for humankind at the universe’s heart. We used to think the Earth was the centre of the cosmos, and that meant we were special, until science told us we’re marginal creatures. Then we thought the sun was centre, until science told us not even that was true. We used to think God made us in His image, and that meant we were special, until science told us we just evolved that way because it suited a landscape of trees and savannas. That’s what science does: it says, look again and you’ll see you’re not special. But economics? Economics is also a science. And what does it say? Ask my fathers, and they’d tell you. It says: there is energy, and there are raw materials, and that’s the cosmos. But without us the energy is random and the raw material is inert. It’s only labour that makes the cosmos alive. It’s only us that makes economics happen at all. And that makes us special.
Your Correspondent, Always in favour of the conceptual disorientation of the familiar