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Stone by Adam Roberts

Gollancz, 2004, 303p, plus 13p glossary.

This is an epistolary novel unusual in that the addressee of each letter is the stone of the title.

In a space-faring society known as t’T where crime is all but unknown Ae starts her narration awaiting execution in a seemingly inescapable jail situated in the upper atmosphere of a star. The death sentence is carried out by the removal of her dotTech (nanodevices which repair any deleterious damage and render humans effectively immortal.) However, having struck a bargain with mysterious would be liberators to kill the inhabitants of an entire planet she is soon sprung from her confinement. Unfortunately we do not get to this climax for a long part of the book as Ae travels the galaxy and meets with various people fascinated by the injuries, illnesses and scars she suffers as a result of her lack of dotTech.

She kills one who has begun to suspect her status as an escapee – this is a necessarily laborious process because of their dotTech and is gone into in detail – yet later takes a lover. A lot of discussion centres around a galactic phenomenon known as the Great Gravity Trench, an anomaly where space has been bent back on itself like a ruffled sheet. Indeed it sometimes seems as if Roberts is using his story to present a primer text on quantum theory. The faster than light mechanism works by means of simultaneous quantum adjustments but is constrained by mass – effectively anything larger than a human is debarred – and also by the volume of space involved; fast-space allows up to 3000c, slow-space up to 3c and sub-light space only Einsteinian travel. These areas are seemingly influenced by the Gravity Trench.

To portray a mass murderer in any sort of sympathetic light is a difficult trick to pull off. While Roberts does not quite succeed in this he nevertheless draws the reader in to the story. In many ways I felt I was reading a 1950s or 60s piece of SF, here. The characters seemed a bit wooden, but of course they were being filtered through Ae’s consciousness.

It is a neat authorial trick to get round the information dumping problem by having the narration couched as what is effectively a confession but also as a translation (supposedly from Ae’s language GlicĂ© into Amglish) complete with footnotes. Under a psychiatrist’s suggestion Ae is telling her story to a stone due to her inability/reluctance to communicate with other humans.

Stone is an interesting read but with some longueurs. I’ll look out for more Roberts.

(However there was a span, shrunk and miniscule count of 1 each.)

Minuscule

Yes, that is how you spell it.

It is not derived from the Latin for smallest, minimus, and hence should not be rendered as miniscule.

In my Shorter Oxford Dictionary its first definition is as a small letter in a 7th century cursive script. Secondarily it means lower case in general, then extremely small.

Its derivation is from French, after the Latin minuscula (littera), meaning minor letter.

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