Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review of Haven by Adam Roberts

With the size of the current genre tsunami on the market, it could be said nearly every major sub-genre is likewise inundated. Zombies, grimdark, dystopia—all have more than a few examples on the market to say the least, let alone their parent genres of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. I haven’t done any research, but post-apocalypse/catastrophe is likely to be one of the top two or three motifs, I feel. Like a pair of brown loafers, it seems to fit with nearly everything—zombies, grimdark, and dystopia included. Running with the zeitgeist, Solaris have commissioned what for now are two novels in a shared, post-asteroid strike England. Adam Robert’s 2018 Haven is the second of these.

An unknown number of years after the Sisters (a group of asteroids) have struck Earth, the people of England look to pull themselves out of the proverbial mire and organize something resembling civilization once again. Davy is a thirteen year old boy living on a farm in a small community. Troubled with epilepsy, a rare condition few if any understand, his reputation as a visionary or mystic spreads beyond his small farm, including a territorial, women-only community in Wycombe. The leader of Wycombe wronged in the past, her main rival is a group led by Father John, an aggressive man who would seek to organize everyone under his authority and no one else’s. Both sides believing Davy holds answers for them, little does the thirteen year-old know of storm of possession he is about to be tossed upon when heading out for a walk one day.

Haven is written firmly in the tradition of Richard Cowper’s Road to Corlay or John Christopher’s Death of Grass. Catastrophe novels, they portray the wider damage and resulting dramas of their cataclysmic events through a handful of carefully placed characters and scenes representing the wider whole. (J.G. Ballard did the same in his catastrophe novels.) Roberts (being Roberts) is sometimes digressive for la-la’s sake and his prose is not as consistent as Cowper or Christopher’s (though he is fully capable). His aim in the story is nevertheless power structures and the importance of power to some (even some who won’t admit it), as well as the plight of the little guy caught in said power struggles. Standard, non-innovative stuff. This leads to: something that I initially thought was a gimmick, Haven is subtitled Book Two of the Aftermath. (Roberts is not above such games in his novels.) It turns out that Haven is indeed book two of a series (David Hutchinson having written the first, Shelter), meaning the book is commissioned in the sense that a themed anthology of short stories is, hence the familiarity—the standard quality—of the material, potentially.

In the end, Haven is not the strongest of Roberts’ ever-lengthening oeuvre (twenty-eight novels and counting), nor is it the strongest post-apocalyptic novel ever written. The novel not seeming to have been taken too seriously, prose and focus are at times sloppy, not to mention Roberts does not imbue upon the reader a strong sense of place. Things just sort of happen, often in and for a straight-forward novel (i.e. no literary trickery here), it does not possess the most cohesive elements. (I sometimes wondered if Roberts was in fact playing with the publishing game, seeing what level of high school, pass-in-your-homework-late type of quality he could get away with: will people still praise me if I toss off something in a few days’ time?) The story is enjoyable enough for what it is; Roberts keeps the pages turning. But it just doesn’t stand out in any unique way from the rest of the catastrophe/post-ap books on the market these days. As stated, fans of Cowper or Christopher or John Wyndham may enjoy it.

1 comment:

  1. Seeing that Adam Roberts had written this one, I wondered what Dave Hutchinson was up to. And it turns out there's some good news. EUROPE AT DAWN, the fourth and final book of Hutchinson's FRACTURED EUROPE sequence comes out this week.