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Splinter by Adam Roberts

01/02/2010. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Splinter in the USA - or Buy Splinter in the UK

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pub: Solaris. 227 page enlarged paperback. Price: 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84416-490-5.

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A question often asked of writers is, 'Where do you get your ideas from?' This usually elicits a groan from the author, but as can be seen recently over this Christmas period TV scriptwriters get their ideas by updating other people's books. It is even better when the original text is out of copyright. No accusations of plagiarism then. When authors re-write and update a classic novel, they call it homage. 'Splinter', then, is a homage to Jules Verne.

In 1877, Jules Verne published a novel that is usually printed in English under the title 'Off On A Comet'. In this novel, a meteorite striking the Earth sends a chunk of Africa off around the solar system with a small group of people aboard. Adams has taken the same idea and brought it up to date using scientific principles to try to explain what has actually happened. There are, however, a lot more questions remaining at the end than are answered.

The approach to the novel is experimental in that the three parts are told in past, present and future tenses. It begins with Hector returning from France to California to visit his father. The old man, Hector Senior, has converted an old ranch into a self-sufficient commune and tells his son that the world is about to end and that this is the only safe place. He even makes him read the Verne novel. Young Hector, being a man of the world, is convinced that this is arrant nonsense. That night, the ranch is struck by an earthquake and in the morning the surroundings are obscured by fog. Hector Junior does not believe his father when he tells him that the rest of the world has gone. Setting off in his car he finds no end to the fog and the ground begins to rise. Eventually, the hill is too steep for the car to get up. The explanation, he is told, is that the ground curves up around them to form a cup in which the atmosphere is held. Hector is convinced that his father and friends are playing tricks with his mind. The fact that his mobile phone does not work and there is no reception on the wind-up radio is irrelevant. It is all part of their plot.

This is not just a re-working of the Verne novel with scientific explanations. It is also about the relationship between father and son and between faith and belief.

Although the explanations for the situation are plausible, they are also fantastical. The third section, written in future tense, also becomes very surreal. The concept is intriguing and the relations between characters realistic but ultimately it is difficult to take the plot completely seriously.

Pauline Morgan
January 2010

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