Tuesday 15 November 2011

Quoth the Scotsman Abroad | Adam Roberts on Rich History

So I did my best to make it last - here's to two weeks of Halloween every year - but October, alas... October's over.

And you all know what that means, don't you? It's November now. Which is to say - there's no getting around it - the month before December is officially upon us, and in December I have to tell you all which of the year's new books were in my humble opinion the best of the bunch.

That means I've a whole heck of a lot of catching up to do, and I began, not least because I'd heard such great things about it, with the new Adam Roberts. That's the same Adam Roberts who wrote New Model Army, as challenging a novel as it was rewarding, which I read and reviewed here on TSS in early 2010. 

By Light Alone was... well, brilliant. Brilliant in such a way as to move me to think about all sorts of things differently. For instance history:

"Historians have hitherto worked from the premise that poverty is not as significant as wealth. But they don't mean that. What they mean is that poverty does not make for diverting narratives the way wealth does. They mean young people would rather watch a book with a sexy actress representing Anne Boleyn in a splendid dress, than watch a book about ill-clad peasants grubbing in the dirt. They mean poverty is dreary. And so it is! They mean that poverty is boring. And so it is! So, only understand this: historians look to history for entertainment, not for the truth. They go to be diverted and titillated, not to see how things really are. History [...] is like a study of a mighty forest of fir trees that only ever talks about some primroses growing on the extreme edge. History that talks about rich people is a lie. Taken as a whole, mankind has never been rich." (p.172)

A fascinating way of thinking about history that I'm afraid to say simply hadn't occurred to me before I began By Light Alone. Admittedly I've never been one to pay history much mind - in my experience, what is is difficult enough to pick a path through, never mind what was as well - but now that there's this whole other side to it? Now you never know.

Anyway, if ever I needed reminding, this - this right here - is why I read. To wit, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the latest to come from the great and terrible Adam Roberts figured into Top of the Scots somehow, come the reckoning.

For the time being, it just so happens that my review of By Light Alone went up yesterday as a guest post on the inimitable SF Signal. Do click on through to read the thing; I'm really rather pleased with how it turned out.

Next up on this Johnny come lately journey through some of the year's most overlooked (by me) books: I expect either The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht or The Wise Man's Fear by he of the beard. And I know which of the pair I'd rather read. On the other hand, I have a sneaking suspicion you guys would rather hear what I have (or have not) to say about the other one. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Please, do!

1 comment:

  1. As a historian myself (as well as massive sff nerd), I agree that "rich" history is misleading and perverts the wider picture of historical experience. Yet there are many historians who spend their careers devoted to the mundane and grubby aspects of the everyday, because they know and appreciate its importance. Thus let us not chastise history as a whole, only those who practice the discipline badly!

    Keep up the good work Niall!