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Gradisil by Adam Roberts

01/07/2006. Contributed by Laura Kayne

Buy Gradisil in the USA - or Buy Gradisil in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 457 page hardback. Price: 18.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-575-07587-2.

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Half a century from now, Klara Gyeroffy's father tells her the Viking myth of the great Yggdrasil tree or Gradisil as Klara hears it. In an era of a new wave of space exploration, of orbital planes owned by individuals with enough money, of human desire to escape the Earth's gravity and for those wealthy enough to live in its orbit in what becomes known as the Uplands, Klara's fascination with space travel and with the 'Gradisil' grows. A woman called Kristin Janzen Kooistra asks Klara's father to hide her in the Uplands - a unique country without boundaries, without a legal system, without treaties or politics. It leads to her father's death and the introduction of revenge into Klara's family, something very alien to the concepts of freedom and co-operation which first bought the Uplands into being.

Some years later, Klara names her daughter, Gradisil, linking her forever with the Uplands and the image of the tree rising up from the Earth to support this new nation. Meanwhile, the Uplands grow from twenty people to several hundred, all living in floating metal tubes and strapping themselves into sleeping bags on the walls in order to sleep. But Klara does not forget Kooistra and when she meets her in the most unlikely of places, takes the opportunity for revenge in the coldness of space.

Living up to her name, Gradisil becomes the first, unofficial, president of the Uplands, working on bringing its inhabitants together into a real nation as the 'country' comes under threat from the US who want to turn it into American territory. A siege takes place and a war. Gradisil eventually wins, giving birth to a strong nation, but the causalities include her family, her marriage and eventually her life. She is captured by the US and shot while attempting escape.

Another thirty years later and the cycle turns to Gradisil's sons, who want revenge on their father for his part in her capture by the Americans. By this time, there is finally an official Uplands government and even an American hotel. The two men reflect their grandmother as they too take revenge within the vacuum of Earth's orbit and prove that, even as humanity changes and develops, the human spirit remains the same.

'Gradisil' is an intriguing book, one that can be read on varying levels. First, there is the vision of the future, details of how people live in orbiting metal homes and develop the first non-Earth-based country and how the world's social and politics make-up has changed, such as a connected European Union wherein each country is called England-EU or France-EU. These details flow through to the characters' attitudes and knowledge, even the language used, for example there are many more contractions and slang. Adam Roberts is very comprehensive in putting this into the very text of the novel and bringing his image of one possible future directly to the reader. It also develops further as time progresses throughout the narrative, with the book being split into three sections, three generations and told from four different viewpoints. There is the action and the story of war and political struggle. An exciting, futuristic novel.

On the other hand, there is the exploration of character, both of individuals and of human character in general as it deals with war, politics, new frontiers, life and death and revenge. There is the sense that some things never change and certain ideas and attitudes surrounding family and revenge cycle from grandmother to daughter, across to son-in-law and down to grandsons. These intricate human relationships are played out across the backdrop of an ever-changing, future society. This works to draw the reader in as well as the action does, bridging a gap between what the reader will recognise and what they won't. Well-written and rather unique, 'Gradisil' is worth a read.

Laura Kayne

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