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An interstellar craft is decelerating after its century-long voyage. Its destination is V538 Aurigae ?, a now-empty planet dominated by one gigantic megastructure, a conical mountain of such height that its summit is high above the atmosphere. The ship's crew of five hope to discover how the long-departed builders made such a colossal thing, and why: a space elevator? a te An interstellar craft is decelerating after its century-long voyage. Its destination is V538 Aurigae ?, a now-empty planet dominated by one gigantic megastructure, a conical mountain of such height that its summit is high above the atmosphere. The ship's crew of five hope to discover how the long-departed builders made such a colossal thing, and why: a space elevator? a temple? a work of art? Its resemblance to the mountain of purgatory lead the crew to call this world Dante. In our near future, the United States is falling apart. A neurotoxin has interfered with the memory function of many of the population, leaving them reliant on their phones as makeshift memory prostheses. But life goes on. For Ottoline Barragão, a regular kid juggling school and her friends and her beehives in the back garden, things are about to get very dangerous, chased across the north-east by competing groups, each willing to do whatever it takes to get inside Ottoline's private network and recover the secret inside. Purgatory Mount, Adam Roberts's first SF novel for three years, combines wry space opera and a fast-paced thriller in equal measure. It is a novel about memory and atonement, about exploration and passion, and like all of Roberts's novels it's not quite like anything else.


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An interstellar craft is decelerating after its century-long voyage. Its destination is V538 Aurigae ?, a now-empty planet dominated by one gigantic megastructure, a conical mountain of such height that its summit is high above the atmosphere. The ship's crew of five hope to discover how the long-departed builders made such a colossal thing, and why: a space elevator? a te An interstellar craft is decelerating after its century-long voyage. Its destination is V538 Aurigae ?, a now-empty planet dominated by one gigantic megastructure, a conical mountain of such height that its summit is high above the atmosphere. The ship's crew of five hope to discover how the long-departed builders made such a colossal thing, and why: a space elevator? a temple? a work of art? Its resemblance to the mountain of purgatory lead the crew to call this world Dante. In our near future, the United States is falling apart. A neurotoxin has interfered with the memory function of many of the population, leaving them reliant on their phones as makeshift memory prostheses. But life goes on. For Ottoline Barragão, a regular kid juggling school and her friends and her beehives in the back garden, things are about to get very dangerous, chased across the north-east by competing groups, each willing to do whatever it takes to get inside Ottoline's private network and recover the secret inside. Purgatory Mount, Adam Roberts's first SF novel for three years, combines wry space opera and a fast-paced thriller in equal measure. It is a novel about memory and atonement, about exploration and passion, and like all of Roberts's novels it's not quite like anything else.

30 review for Purgatory Mount

  1. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    I have mixed feelings about it, and I feel cheated somehow. I will explain. It started a bit like Clarke's "2001: A space odyssey" reloaded, meaning we have a megastructure on a faraway planet, and we also have hal. A crew of five enhanced humans are on the way to research this mountain, which doesn't seem to be natural. Up until 20% my interest gradually grew, and I couldn't wait to see what is it with that structure. I've built up scenarios, waiting to see which one will materialize. Then sudden I have mixed feelings about it, and I feel cheated somehow. I will explain. It started a bit like Clarke's "2001: A space odyssey" reloaded, meaning we have a megastructure on a faraway planet, and we also have hal. A crew of five enhanced humans are on the way to research this mountain, which doesn't seem to be natural. Up until 20% my interest gradually grew, and I couldn't wait to see what is it with that structure. I've built up scenarios, waiting to see which one will materialize. Then suddenly, the story shifts 180 degrees and we find ourselves in a raging civil war which devastes the United States. We follow a 16 years old geek girl and her friends, which are hunted by two different suspicious agencies for something which apparently can change the course of war. Then in the last 20% we are back in space, on that faraway planet and its misterious mountain. Two entirely different stories, which at some point do have a minor connection to bind the space story to the dystopian one in the middle, but not the other way around. And it was not enough to relate the two to a satisfying conclusion. I can't give more details without spoiling the ending, all I can say is that the climax was not there for me; the journey was not enough this time. However, the premise of the first story was great; too bad (view spoiler)[it was not developed and lacked a proper ending (hide spoiler)] . The middle story was better from this pov, and I got really surprised by the twist which I did not see coming. I especially appreciated the mocking of smartphone addicts; it's bitter and funny at the same time. I think it could have been much better as a story on its own, because it has nothing to do with the other. But this is Adam Roberts we are talking about, and his works are never what appear to be. As much as I love his articles and reviews, I just can't not feeling dissapointed by this book. The philosophic musings, the references to religion, Dante's works mixed with Middle Earth's hints were hard to process. It's a social and philosophical allegory disguised as a sf story, and for readers which like philosophy more than science, it could be a more appealing read than it was for me. >>> ARC received thanks to  Orion Publishing Group / Gollancz  via NetGalley <<<

  2. 5 out of 5

    Susanna

    Purgatory Mount is a complex and philosophical science fiction novel one would expect from a professor of English literature. It’s also a terrifying image of near future USA and an imaginative vision of far future of the humanity. This is not a simple read. It presupposes a working knowledge of Dante, medieval Christianity and modern Catholicism—particularly the ideas of original sin and purgatory—the pantheon of ancient Greece, and the Lord of the Rings. It’s not an easy concoction and it doesn’ Purgatory Mount is a complex and philosophical science fiction novel one would expect from a professor of English literature. It’s also a terrifying image of near future USA and an imaginative vision of far future of the humanity. This is not a simple read. It presupposes a working knowledge of Dante, medieval Christianity and modern Catholicism—particularly the ideas of original sin and purgatory—the pantheon of ancient Greece, and the Lord of the Rings. It’s not an easy concoction and it doesn’t always work. This could be, as the author tells in the afterword, because the elements from the Middle Earth had to be replaced with the Greek pantheon for legal reasons, but I don’t think it would’ve made a great difference for the reader. What we have is non-Christian entities philosophising about Christianity, which doesn’t make for an easy first chapter. The story is told in three parts that, according to Roberts, reflect Dante’s vision of afterlife: hell, purgatory and heaven. Of the three, hell and heaven exist outside time, and the purgatory in the temporal world, i.e. is subject to change. This isn’t immediately obvious to the reader—or even after reading the afterword—but time does play a role in the story. The first and last parts take place in far future on a generation ship orbiting a dying planet that features an enormous tower. It has lured five entities forty lightyears from earth to study and profit from it. They call themselves human, but they have a lifespan of tens of thousands of years, bodies that are more machine than organic, and the ability to bend time to their will. Consequently, they consider themselves gods. They are named after Greek gods Zeus, Apollo, Dionysius, Hades and Pan, although the omniscient narrator of their chapters is quick to point out that the names are only for the reader’s benefit. However, apart from Pan, the names don’t really reflect their characters—they don’t really have any personality—and it wouldn’t have made any difference if they had been named after the wizards of Middle Earth as was the author’s original intention, or with numbers even. Living on the ship are people who also think of themselves as humans. They have short lifespans of maybe forty years, and they’ve been living on the ship for generations. They have a complex culture and religious life that revolves around the gods running their ship, and no true understanding of why they are on the ship—or what is a ship—and what their purpose is. For the gods, they are food. The gods call them pygmies, and the few descriptions of them gave me a notion that they might be some sort of evolutionary form of pigs. Their entire existence becomes under threat when they are told that they have reached the journey’s end. Is it the end of the world? From among them rises B who is the only one curious enough to find out what is going on—for what good it does to him. The middle part, which is about twice as long as the other two, takes place in the near future USA. It has descended into a civil war between various states, government agencies and private militias, with no-bars-held warfare. It’s technologically far more advanced society than one would suppose of 2030s. There are some interesting innovations, like a system for uploading operational memory into iPhones, which is mostly used for helping people suffering from a grave memory loss due to chemical warfare. And the country is riddled with enormous towers, eSpires, that no one knows what they are for. A group of teenagers, fed up with the government surveillance, have developed their own private net. But their system holds a secret, which all the warring factions want and will do anything to get. We follow Ottoline who is captured by a nameless government agency and plunged into a journey of survival through prisons and warzones. The secret Otty and her friends are trying to keep took me by surprise, and not necessary in a good way; a bit more information would’ve gone a long way to understanding how a sixteen-year-old would be able to withstand everything that was thrown at her. Once the secret is out, it takes over and the world as Otty knows it basically comes to an end. I read the entire book trying to figure out how the two stories connected, and failing. According to the afterword, the book is about memory and atonement, which … I really don’t see. The loss of memory plays some role in the middle part, but mostly on the background, and it doesn’t guide the actions of the characters in any way. The pygmies have their collective memory, which has corrupted over the long journey, but it doesn’t really play any role either. And the gods remember everything. Atonement is even more difficult concept to accept, because as far as I can see, nothing is atoned. The purgatory itself is a system of atonement, but for all the talk about Dante and afterlife, none of the characters really go through the purgatory; Otty hasn’t even done anything that would require atonement when she goes through her ordeal. Pan has a crisis of conscience when it comes to the gods’ treatment of the pygmies, but they don’t really atone either; they abandon the pygmies to their fate. Instead of atonement, there is revenge: Otty’s collective revenge on humanity for harming her friends and Pan’s revenge on the other gods for disrespecting them. Otty uses an AI as her instrument of revenge, Pan uses the pygmies. If either of them atone their actions, it happens outside the narrative. What really connects the two stories is the tower. Not as an idea that has travelled lightyears to inspire Dante, as Pan suggests, but a different biblical concept entirely: the tower of Babel, (human) hubris and inevitable downfall. The towers, eSpires and the Purgatory Mount, don’t have an active role and we never really learn anything about them, but they are why the events of the stories take place. On earth, the fear that the towers spy on them causes the teenagers to build their own network, which eventually leads to an apocalypse of sorts. On planet Dante, the tower is the reason why the ship is there and the cause of the strife between the gods that leads to Pan’s revenge. And it may well have been the downfall of the people who built it too, leading to the planet dying. Purgatory Mount is a complicated book, but it’s not difficult to read. It’s perfectly possible to enjoy the two stories for what they are without trying to find connections between them. They’re slightly uneven in scope, but both are interesting and good. I liked Otty and B the pygmy who is caught in Pan’s revenge, and if the gods were pompous and not very approachable, their end was satisfying. And for those readers who like to challenge themselves, this is a perfect read. I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Grey

    Do you like Dante's Inferno? Would you like to read reflective criticism of Inferno disguised as high concept science fiction? If you do, then boy do I have approximately one tenth of a book for you. Purgatory Mount is a rather strange novel that mashes together the themes of three of Roberts' earlier novels into a lopsided treatise on sin and redemption that's never quite as good as the sum of its parts. It begins with a riff on avant garde transhuman in the vein of STONE, as a crew of five more Do you like Dante's Inferno? Would you like to read reflective criticism of Inferno disguised as high concept science fiction? If you do, then boy do I have approximately one tenth of a book for you. Purgatory Mount is a rather strange novel that mashes together the themes of three of Roberts' earlier novels into a lopsided treatise on sin and redemption that's never quite as good as the sum of its parts. It begins with a riff on avant garde transhuman in the vein of STONE, as a crew of five more or less immortal humans-turned-demi-gods explore an alien megastructure found in the far reaches of space. Shortly after we're introduced to the character B, a member of a tribe of pygmies or baseline humans that exist as part of the ship's ecosystem and as an occasional snacks for the "gods." This kind of primitive man interprets advanced technology as magic narrative is very similar to the Roberts' excellent and divisive ON. Finally it dips into New Model Army territory with the story of Otty and Gomery, two teens fleeing competing government agencies during the onset of a second American civil war. This narrative makes up the bulk of the novel, and is easily the most fleshed out of the three. Roberts charts the decline of the US into anarchy and slaughter with a an eye for detail and a wry sense of humour. Unfortunately the remaining storyline feel perfunctory, despite their massive increase in scope. If you're hoping to find out exactly what the megastructure is or how B comes to terms with the gods he worships being his distant cousins, you'll come away disappointed. Serving as both the intro and coda of the novel, these narratives feel more like short stories tacked onto a more traditional story, and while they do an admirable job of conveying the thematic climax of the story, they do so at the expense of bringing it to a satisfying conclusion. Ultimately, Purgatory Mount is a little more introspective than Roberts' usual razor sharp Sci fi work, but it still retains the pessimism and wry irony that makes his work standout. Just don't expect to come away from this one entirely satisfied.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Trevelyanwright

    Adam Roberts’ work often has a big concept upfront: Snow (what the snow just keeps falling); By Light Alone (what if people could photosynthesise through their hair); Gradisil (what would orbital habitats be like if they organised as a country). So...this opens on a generation starship. Fantastic, Roberts’ take on this trope. Then they arrive at their destination pretty damn quickly, and there’s a Big Dumb Object waiting. Great, Roberts’ take on the inscrutable alien BDO. Hold that coffee. We’re Adam Roberts’ work often has a big concept upfront: Snow (what the snow just keeps falling); By Light Alone (what if people could photosynthesise through their hair); Gradisil (what would orbital habitats be like if they organised as a country). So...this opens on a generation starship. Fantastic, Roberts’ take on this trope. Then they arrive at their destination pretty damn quickly, and there’s a Big Dumb Object waiting. Great, Roberts’ take on the inscrutable alien BDO. Hold that coffee. We’re winding back from the far future to around ten years from now. The story-within-a-story takes place in a US where the worst 2020 predictions of the death of democracy, informal warfare, and gun-nuttery have progressed ten-fold. Which is in many ways a shame as the elements of Roberts’ post-Trump apocalypse feel less original than the first far future section of this novel. Weaponised neonicotinoids, iphones plugging directly into people, artificial intelligence, shadowy and paranoid government agencies, malware, VPNs…it’s a convincing mix of horrors, but not quite on the level of On (idea: what if gravity operated at 90 degrees). This is not to say that the central section of Purgatory Mount is not a satisfying read. It is. The protagonists, chiefly 16-year old Ottie, are a likeable bunch and their struggles to survive as the US falls into civil war are told with an urgency that will have you racing through this book. It’s just that teenager-in-a-dystopia is a well-mined vein of fiction right now, and Roberts’ story is well-told without being as original as some of his other work mentioned earlier. We return at the end to the far-future in the final section of the book - where he does connect his two stories - and Roberts’ concerns with revenge, guilt and atonement surface more explicitly. There are references to many belief systems including the Greek gods, medieval Catholicism, cargo cults,the singularity, and post-humanism. The abrupt gear-changes continue as the final resolution is more to do with arriving at a philosophic position than resolving or explaining the plot. Lots to enjoy, and even an postscript explaining some of his thinking, without this novel cohering into an entirely satisfactory whole.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    I was kindly given an ARC of this book by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. IRobot vibes! 3.5*** This book was an enjoyable and easy read. I found myself flying through the pages and enjoyed the writing style. There are two stories in this book. The first story features technologically advanced humans, that are godlike, lording over other species (and talking cows)! They go on a quest in a giant spaceship to investigate an alien structure. I really liked the names and personalitie I was kindly given an ARC of this book by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. IRobot vibes! 3.5*** This book was an enjoyable and easy read. I found myself flying through the pages and enjoyed the writing style. There are two stories in this book. The first story features technologically advanced humans, that are godlike, lording over other species (and talking cows)! They go on a quest in a giant spaceship to investigate an alien structure. I really liked the names and personalities of these characters but found myself wanting to know more. It was such a short part of the book overall but I felt it was the most interesting part. I wanted to know about their lives on Earth, their ideals, life on the ship etc. In the second story there's not too many characters which keeps things nice and simple. The characters are believable and the world itself was set in reality. This is a Dystopian world set in a not too distant future where technology has taken over even more of our lives. There's relatable references to covid, Donald Trump and Taylor Swift which grounds you as a reader, giving you something to relate to. In this story a group of teenagers have created something the government wants. It features millions of people, who are essentially walking vegetables, who if not literally connected to an iPhone cannot function as a human being. Poisoning of the brain has become weaponsied and the new warfare. The story was interesting but at times the immaturity of the teenagers was a little frustrating as an adult reader (just listen to the people not killing you?!) I wanted to know more about Wesson and the aftermath of their creation. It would have been especially good to hear how story two's world become story 1. I'd have loved to know how that happened as it felt that the 2 stories were just a bit too distant for me. All in all an enjoyable read. I scrapbook all of my 5 star reads on my Instagran - green_wonderland_home:

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    A story in two parts that is beautifully told, especially the section set in a near future in which chemical warfare has robbed many people of their memories and the world is on the edge of collapse. Otty, a 16-year-old girl, is our main character and she is a wonderful creation. Adam Roberts' science fiction always works on multiple levels, several of which you can bet I won't fully get, but his ideas are amazing. My only issue here is that I didn't properly understand how the themes of atonem A story in two parts that is beautifully told, especially the section set in a near future in which chemical warfare has robbed many people of their memories and the world is on the edge of collapse. Otty, a 16-year-old girl, is our main character and she is a wonderful creation. Adam Roberts' science fiction always works on multiple levels, several of which you can bet I won't fully get, but his ideas are amazing. My only issue here is that I didn't properly understand how the themes of atonement and memory tie the two stories together or tie together the alien Purgatory Mount with Earth. Nevertheless, the novel worked really well for me on a more mundane pure enjoyable read level! Review to follow shortly on For Winter Nights.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ollie Bowdoin

    Purgatory Mount is apparently the first Scifi novel from Adam Roberts in 3 years (Standard calendrical human time) and the first of his books I’ve had the opportunity to read. I found it A strong SF, huge in scope and could only be written by someone who is unafraid of taking risks and is willing to re-write the rulebook. It is split up in 3 distinct parts that had me wondering how the heck it’s all going to connect. Though it’s clear what connects everything on a kind of base level, the bigger Purgatory Mount is apparently the first Scifi novel from Adam Roberts in 3 years (Standard calendrical human time) and the first of his books I’ve had the opportunity to read. I found it A strong SF, huge in scope and could only be written by someone who is unafraid of taking risks and is willing to re-write the rulebook. It is split up in 3 distinct parts that had me wondering how the heck it’s all going to connect. Though it’s clear what connects everything on a kind of base level, the bigger picture is multidimensional. There is a lot going on, from the future humans arriving on a distant world, to a group of teenagers living through an America that could be 10 years out and frankly, was frightening as seen through the eyes of a 16 year old kid who just wants to take care of her bees, and hide whatever creation her and friends are makes up a story that was full of tasty little SF tidbits and chunks of sweet and juicy SF imagualizations. Before I read this, I took time to search through Adam Roberts previous books. He had slipped through my radar successfully until now. I came across info about the upcoming release of Purgatory Mount, and with its awesome cover, I was on the hook. He is Australian and has been recognized constantly over his career for his unique writing, mostly in a scifi and speculative nature, even non fiction work. A vast panorama of a science fiction story split between three unique parts. In the first, a small group of very advanced humans have reached the end of a long voyage to uncover the mystery of a tower structure on an uninhabited planet, and discovered by a drone that scanned the anomaly and sent the info back to be evaluated. As the ship nears the destination, we get to be the fly on the walls (with this kind of setting, let’s say it’s an AI controlled, nanotech built fly) to the unique planning and philosophical implications of a structure that punctures the atmospheric boundary of this planet and yet remains steadfast. Those that built it have been long gone, and it remains elusive as to what’s inside, or even what it’s built of, with no weathering over hundreds of thousands of years. These Dvanced humans in charge ofbthe mission have managed the decades long voyage by adjusting their perception of time and are now bringing themselves back to a more natural rhythm in order to get the work done in what they are hoping is 100 years or less. These advanced humans running the mission hope to gain the technology that was used to construct the tower, and then profit by selling the tech back home. In Part one, we also get a feel for the less advanced creatures who handle the more menial tasks that an intersteller ship that spends 100+ years conducting a mission. They live in the moment and naturally, without the ability to adjust, or dial up (or down) their experience of time. The differences in reality are vast, and this first part of the book was my favorite. They have families, duties, arguments, love, loss, and culture. Their lives are almost completely separate, and cut off from the bigger reality. This becomes a major point of the book down the road and opens up philosophical and morality questions I found myself thinking about. The first part of the book alone makes for an amazing read. These simpler type of human, having short lives see the ship as a world. Because the advanced people can manipulate the time experience, they are considered God’s. As they walk the ship passages, they look frozen in time to the simpler ones, even though they are moving, just very, very slowly. The act of reaching down to flip a switch might take multiple lifetimes from the normal perspective. Unique, intelligent, thoughtful, strange. After reading Purgatory it’s clear that all of those characteristics are overflowing in his writing.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Peter Baran

    [So the review posted below has a massive error someone messaged me to note (see below). Namely Adam Roberts, is not Dan Simmons - who wrote Hyperion and whose identity is pretty central to my train of thought in this review. I don't think it changes the substance of what I liked or didn't like about the book, and if you liked Dan Simmons then I think you would like this, and the fact I thought it was should be taken generally as praise. But gosh I feel stupid...] Adam Roberts, Adam Roberts.... I [So the review posted below has a massive error someone messaged me to note (see below). Namely Adam Roberts, is not Dan Simmons - who wrote Hyperion and whose identity is pretty central to my train of thought in this review. I don't think it changes the substance of what I liked or didn't like about the book, and if you liked Dan Simmons then I think you would like this, and the fact I thought it was should be taken generally as praise. But gosh I feel stupid...] Adam Roberts, Adam Roberts.... I'm sure I've read some but... Three pages in when the ultra advanced humans with generationally relativistic time awareness in their iceberg spaceship go to visit a giant mountain on a planet which they have whimsically decided to name after Purgatory in Dante's Inferno I remembered. Who else melds classical allusions with diamond hard sci-fi but the writer of Hyperion? I loved Hyperion, but my mileage on the four books definately wavered. Same too with Illium et al. So once I twigged, and very much enjoyed the opening chapter setting up potential tales class warfare between the humans and their sentient livestock (Pygs, which may be short for Pygmies which can be taken a number of ways), I was set to have my mind stretched in the ways he had done previously. And then suddenly we are on Earth. Near future America. A civil war is brewing between MAGA factions and the liberal cities (California secedes at some point). We are with smart kids in a run down Philadelphia, who have somehow angered the authorities and will be picked up by them. And this is the lions' share of the book. The hard conceptual sci-fi is shelved for this slang ridden first person near future war scenario. I couldn't for the life of me see the connection. But that was OK, because whilst I liked the framing story, I really liked this Philadelphia story. Because it is Roberts, I couldn't help but think about the book as a Trojan horse. Was the trip to Purgatory Mount the trick to grab the kind of sci-fi reader who doesn't want politics in his sci-fi thank you very much, and thrust them fully into a gripping story of governmental abuse, private prisons, torture and refugee displacement? If so, job done. There is a stretch of Purgatory Mount where our protagonist Ottoline is arrested, tortured, left in solitary, moved to an inappropriate prison, released and becomes part of a a group of displaced people shot upon and bombed which was compellingly real. Its odd thinking about the political moment the US is currently in, and how even a month after the attack on the Senate this all feels a little far fetched, and yet that passage - even when pinched by mild absurdist satire - conjures up a parallel empathy for other displaced people. There is a run around with another of the kids which is less successful (showing a successful escape after showing how harrowing it is the be trapped in the system leads to diminishing returns), and then we reach the science fiction point of the body of the novel. In itself a strong idea, but not one that links so well to the far future and Purgatory Mount, which we return to for a literal culmination of the Dante plot. I am torn on Purgatory Mount, which is usually my response to Roberts. Yet again, when he is good he is very, very good, and the strength here is that empathy in the captivity section. I like the framing device as its own piece but I don't think they link anywhere near as thematically as he does. Minor niggles as well but I can't see any group of American teens, no matter how nerdy, naming themselves after an Enid Blyton book, and that's before we get to the biscuit barrel - cookie jar if you have to have one. Minor issues aside, I'd take this for the novel inside the framing device, and the framing device as an equally interesting short story. And whilst the ambition is still there, like I have thought before with Roberts, stop letting the formalism or the allusions get in the way of telling the human (sentient) story. [NetGalley ARC]

  9. 4 out of 5

    David Harris

    I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of Purgatory Mount via NetGalley. The eagles are coming! The eagles are here! Adam Roberts is one author I'll always, always take time to read and I'd been sp looking forward to Purgatory Mount. I thought I knew what it was going to be about, and it was that... but also it wasn't, it turned out to be something much bigger and very different and thoroughly ramified. It does, though, rather defy a neat review. I could just say, buy this, and stop a I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance e-copy of Purgatory Mount via NetGalley. The eagles are coming! The eagles are here! Adam Roberts is one author I'll always, always take time to read and I'd been sp looking forward to Purgatory Mount. I thought I knew what it was going to be about, and it was that... but also it wasn't, it turned out to be something much bigger and very different and thoroughly ramified. It does, though, rather defy a neat review. I could just say, buy this, and stop at that but I really want to persuade you, so let's try that. Opening as a city-sized interstellar exploration ship, the Forward, arrives from Earth at a distant planet, V538 Aurigae - gamma, we seem to be in hard SF territory with a description of the long voyage, the peculiar emptiness of space in the interstellar "Local Bubble", the ice-encrusted ship itself (the ice provides both a shield and fuel), the crew - who are able to alter their perception to live faster or slower, surviving the generations long (for their livestock) voyage - and the mysterious alien artefact that has drawn Earthly attention. No, not an obelisk - an immense spire so high that it soars beyond the planet's atmosphere (indeed, beyond the original, deeper atmosphere long eroded by the local star). What is the spire made of? What is it for? Where did the makers go? Just as we might think we know what's coming - Roberts will describe the crew's exploration and tease out these mysteries - he knocks the reader sideways by adopting a different genre, the near future thriller, and location, the USA a few years from now. That country is on the edge of civil war ('The problem is - there are plenty of people real keen to shoot their guns and run around in combat gear'). Ottoline (Otty to her friends, who call themselves the Famous Five in a reference which I suspect isn't to be found in the cultural life of the typical American teenager, now or near future) is fleeing from the adults. From government law enforcement. From the gun-toting militias. From a mysterious third faction. The description of the rending fabric of a modern state is terribly compelling and oh so convincing, particularly in that there isn't an overnight collapse. Otty sees a bureaucracy staggering, still trying to function, but losing its coherence and purpose. Even at the level of the combat, the increasingly dislocated refugees, the writing is terrific (in both senses) and remembering the turmoil on 6 January, I couldn't help compare this vision of a USA that has begun eating itself to that coverage on CNN of the swamping of the Capitol by an army of grotesques. That conjunction, which couldn't have been foreseen, makes this book seem prescient in detail, seem predictive, to an extent that may distract the reader from what I think is more fundamental, and intended, a sort of moral prescience which becomes clearer towards the end. But still, the idea of incipient civil war, of rage and destruction spraying in all directions, the urgency with which Roberts captures the violence, the unholy beauty he finds - look at the description of a coach being blown up ('Boom, boom, shake the room. Crush, crush, flip the bus') - all of this makes the book absolutely, grabbingly, compulsive. Roberts pulls out all the cultural stops in characterising this process, from the explosion 'like a colossal door being slammed shut somewhere in Hell' (yes, we know what that would be) to the queue jumping mob ('wearing Old Glory jackets and red MAGA caps') who try to barge onto the bus to the sharp eyed lawyers and journalists who prowl through the ruins trying to make a turn from the chaos. It's a purgatorial landscape for a sixteen year old to find herself traversing and there are no more answers as to why all this is going on than there are to why Otty is being targeted. We see a limited explanation from one character, that it's all about the money (in New Model Army, Roberts posited an almost cheerful, open-source approach to urban warfare, with some idealism driving it, here the mood is a great deal darker, more despairing). I started reading this near-future section thinking, what's this - when do we get back to the Forward? - then found myself more and more drawn by the hectic story, the scrapes, the sheer guile and courage of a young woman whose life has been upended. We don't know, for most of the story, why Otty is on the run. She's far too canny to reveal that, to us or her interrogators. But her pursuers are clearly bad, tainted in some sense by an association with the chaos and destruction raining down and slowly, surely, they push Otty to a desperate place and to an act with unforeseeable consequences. We do return to the Forward again, eventually, for a final act in which the connection between the two timelines is made clear. Otty's experiences turn out to be foundational to the existence of the Forward and its crew, but also to the position of others on board - to the creatures known as "Pygs" who worship the Crew as gods. And they drive the actions of both in a moral sense, Roberts invoking the concepts of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory - sidestepping the hard physics question of how that incredible, planet-topping spire was built and how it stands up for the more interesting question of what it means and what that means for those who have travelled so far to see it. That feels like a place I could stop - Purgatory Mount an utterly compelling book, fiercely intelligent and unconventional SF rife with ideas yet completely approachable and fun to read - but I think I also have to point out a couple of further things. First, Roberts' writing is glorious, subtlely varying to fit its subject - for example look at the down to earth, dryly humorous, opening section, even amidst all that science-y exposition, or the beauty he often evokes ('the sky was starting to blush strawberry and yellow-orange, with bars of luminous cream-coloured horizontal shine layered over the top of it'). It can also be mischievous, or mischievously inventive, as with the word 'sidegoogling' which occurs a few times (I NEED that word!) or references to the Forward's 'hal', its AI. And how about 'her heart was beating in her chest like Animal from the Muppets playing the drums'? Which reference brings me to the second thing I wanted to mention here (and then I'm done, I promise). This book is drenched with Lord of the Rings references and comparisons. Most broadly, there's the whole device of telling us, as Roberts does in several places, that names or cultural references used to describe the ship or its crew have been translated into terms we can relate to from something utterly strange that we wouldn't get. (In fact the most blatant example of this didn't, as the author tells us in an afterword, survive copyright issues - he wanted to give the five members of the Crew the names of the five wizards from The Lord of the Rings and indeed Pan, the one we meet most, 'a figure gifted with magic (in the Clarkean sense of the word) and given responsibility over beats, birds and plants...' would make a fine Radagast). There is also lots of detail, such as tree trunks which 'shuddered and moaned like Ents' at the force of an explosion, way bread, or all those references to eagles - The eagles are coming! The eagles are here! - but also 'Somebody would come to rescue her and she would fly away on the back of a Johannine eagle'. The latter bridges the gap between Tolkienish references and the Christian ones behind Purgatory Mount, with its themes of offence, of sin, redemption and atonement. In short, this book is a glittering achievement, Adam Roberts in full splendour giving us a novel of ideas, of fun, of beauty. Go and get it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Peter Hollo

    4.5 stars. A lot about both the far future framing stories and the near future tale that makes up the bulk of the book is phenomenal. The writing is gorgeous and it's a compulsive read. The middle piece would be a wonderful novel on its own. Whether the two stories' themes and narratives really form a satisfying whole is a little harder to confirm. 4.5 stars. A lot about both the far future framing stories and the near future tale that makes up the bulk of the book is phenomenal. The writing is gorgeous and it's a compulsive read. The middle piece would be a wonderful novel on its own. Whether the two stories' themes and narratives really form a satisfying whole is a little harder to confirm.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tyler

    Purgatory Mount, the latest novel by Adam Roberts, has an unusual framing story set up - it starts off with a generational ship nearing an uninhabited planet to investigate a strange megastructure looming from the surface and into space. Then after about 30 pages it switches to the current United States, where war is looming and the story focuses on two friends (Otto and Gomery) who have been captured by the authorities. Then for the final ~40 pages of the novel it switches back to the planet se Purgatory Mount, the latest novel by Adam Roberts, has an unusual framing story set up - it starts off with a generational ship nearing an uninhabited planet to investigate a strange megastructure looming from the surface and into space. Then after about 30 pages it switches to the current United States, where war is looming and the story focuses on two friends (Otto and Gomery) who have been captured by the authorities. Then for the final ~40 pages of the novel it switches back to the planet setting. So after reading the first 30 pages it's a bit of a jolt to the next section, but luckily it was great reading - very fast paced and plenty of wry humour throughout as Otto is captured and processed through various prison systems, while outside the US descends into chaos. While reading this main middle setting I had no idea on how it links to the object on the planet, with only hints coming right towards the end. But then the ending - I was pretty disappointed overall; not a lot of payoff for such a big lead in, and we don't really find out exactly what the mountain is for. The reveal is more philosophical and metaphysical than a concrete storyline ending, involving links to Dante's Divine Comedy, and addressing issues of atonement and memory. I found it interesting in the afterword that the author explains what he was trying to say (to a degree), purposely making the links between the stories very grey - but to me I found it too grey. If the main middle section was one novel expanded out a bit, I'd give it 4/5 easy. But for the novel as a whole it's down to 3.5/5 at most I think.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    This is a complex novel, that combines two very different stories which on casual inspection appear to have very little to do with each other. Or do they? The title should clue you in that the novel takes some inspiration from Dante’s classic poem, but it also becomes clear early on that it is also in dialogue with classic SFF - there’s speculation about space elevators followed a few pages later by a namecheck for Arthur C Clarke, gullible misheard as Gully Foyle, and a frequent refrain of “the This is a complex novel, that combines two very different stories which on casual inspection appear to have very little to do with each other. Or do they? The title should clue you in that the novel takes some inspiration from Dante’s classic poem, but it also becomes clear early on that it is also in dialogue with classic SFF - there’s speculation about space elevators followed a few pages later by a namecheck for Arthur C Clarke, gullible misheard as Gully Foyle, and a frequent refrain of “the eagles are coming”. This idea of the past being inherent in the modern is also expressed in the preoccupation with original sin, memory and atonement that saturates the book. It’s also interesting that of the two story strands, the one set earlier in the timeline has a distinctly YA feel, while the later is slower, more philosophical and more adult (to use a poor but easy term). You could tease out something here about how we grow from youth to age, and go back once more to the idea that our past defines our now - without being too spoilery, the reason why characters in the later strand are in the positions they are is embedded in the earlier story. I might be making it sound very dry here, but it’s worth noting that for all the philosophical musing of one strand and the convulsive violence and upheaval of the other, the novel is told with a lightness of touch and a delight in wordplay and puns that make it a very smooth read. There are frustrations - certain mysteries are left dangling - but overall this is very readable and very thought-provoking. Recommended.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Whimsicaltails

    This is a book of two stories and is structured into three parts. The first story which takes up the first and last part of the book is about a crew of five that set off from Earth on an interstellar ship to investigate and study some unusual terrain on a planet called V538 Aurigae. What they find is an empty planet and a large scale structure that resembles the mountain of Purgatory as described in Dante's Divine Comedy. I found this part interesting but complex. The second story which takes up This is a book of two stories and is structured into three parts. The first story which takes up the first and last part of the book is about a crew of five that set off from Earth on an interstellar ship to investigate and study some unusual terrain on a planet called V538 Aurigae. What they find is an empty planet and a large scale structure that resembles the mountain of Purgatory as described in Dante's Divine Comedy. I found this part interesting but complex. The second story which takes up the middle part and the bulk of the book is based in a near future America, a country in turmoil and disarray. A group of teenagers who call themselves the Famous Five develop a new private internet that they alone can access and control. The five find themselves at the center of unwanted attention by various agencies who are ruthless in their pursuit of stealing this new technology. This part of the book was less complex and an easier read, I was reading into the early hours of the morning unable to stop until i had finished it. I have to be honest and say I didn't see the connection between the two stories immediately and I found myself re reading the 1st and last sections of the book for a second time. Overall Purgatory Mount although complex in parts is an excellent read and I would recommend this book . #NetGalley #AdamRoberts #PurgatoryMount

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Two fantastic books smooshed together to somehow become less than the sum of their parts. The opening and ending far future section is brilliant and tantalising but ultimately goes nowhere. The middle bit, the vast majority of the book, works really well but a) "American War" did the same thing much better and b) personally I have a limited capacity for wanting to read about faceless governments interrogating teenagers, it's not a comfortable read over quite an extended period. I think this coul Two fantastic books smooshed together to somehow become less than the sum of their parts. The opening and ending far future section is brilliant and tantalising but ultimately goes nowhere. The middle bit, the vast majority of the book, works really well but a) "American War" did the same thing much better and b) personally I have a limited capacity for wanting to read about faceless governments interrogating teenagers, it's not a comfortable read over quite an extended period. I think this could have been a better book if the links between the two stories was developed a bit more or the far future stuff was fleshed out. I've read a lot of books recently that could have been shorter but this could really have done with another 100 pages.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cecily Winter

    I slowly became engrossed in this sci-fi-spec-fiction yarn that weaves its plot around Dante's INFERNO, though it might help a reader to scan the author's explanation of his premise (at the back of the book) before embarking on the read. I didn't and barely remember anything of Dante, but I caught on well enough. Mr. Roberts toys with concepts of time and boosts familiar religions to a whole other landscape or three. He populates his story with embattled teens striving to evade government oversig I slowly became engrossed in this sci-fi-spec-fiction yarn that weaves its plot around Dante's INFERNO, though it might help a reader to scan the author's explanation of his premise (at the back of the book) before embarking on the read. I didn't and barely remember anything of Dante, but I caught on well enough. Mr. Roberts toys with concepts of time and boosts familiar religions to a whole other landscape or three. He populates his story with embattled teens striving to evade government oversight, armed zealots of many stripes, brain-damaged warriors hooked up with memory devices, Greek gods, and sentient animals. It's something of a puzzler and, thus, a fascinating read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    John Mannion

    This is an odd read - starting off as far-future hard sci-fi and then switching to a near future dystopian vision of America. The picaresque central section reminded me of Snow and New Model Army but both sections grind to a halt from time to time so that characters can implausibly discuss Roberts' philosophical theses. Candide meets Arthur C Clarke. This is an odd read - starting off as far-future hard sci-fi and then switching to a near future dystopian vision of America. The picaresque central section reminded me of Snow and New Model Army but both sections grind to a halt from time to time so that characters can implausibly discuss Roberts' philosophical theses. Candide meets Arthur C Clarke.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christopher M.

    A dual narrative partly set on a spaceship on a future expedition and mostly following a teenage girl and her friends in an increasingly dystopian ten-minutes-from-now, this is both an entertaining adventure and a thought provoking allegory. Recommend.

  18. 4 out of 5

    matthew

    I don't often understand the micro of what Roberts is doing, but I usually grasp the macro. He's working at such a technical level that he may as well be working Clarkeian magic. I don't often understand the micro of what Roberts is doing, but I usually grasp the macro. He's working at such a technical level that he may as well be working Clarkeian magic.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer DeHeer

  20. 4 out of 5

    Gautam Bhatia

  21. 5 out of 5

    David Heath

  22. 4 out of 5

    Laura

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ross Macpherson

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jt

  25. 4 out of 5

    Duncan Brignell

  26. 4 out of 5

    Quinn

  27. 5 out of 5

    Carol Ann

  28. 5 out of 5

    Gavin Kurtz

  29. 5 out of 5

    GHA

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chris

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