Adam Roberts 2015. The Thing Itself. Gollancz SF: London. 358 pp.
From the Acknowledgements: “You’ve already noticed, for example … that the final section recasts Thomas De Quincey’s well-known account of Kant’s last days.” As one of the remaining 99% of readers who are not advanced students of Immanuel Kant’s life and thinking, this final section of the novel was opaque and gratuitous. Elsewhere, Adam Roberts shows further versatility by giving an impression of James Joyce, but I also found this an unnecessary indulgence, probably because I have not yet read James Joyce giving an impression of James Joyce. The point of these elements of the novel, I suppose, is to show that in Ulysses Joyce also epitomises Kant’s philosophy (roughly: that human minds structure and limit our experience and that therefore there is a true reality, “the thing itself”, that we cannot experience). I would have thought there were better examples of this in music; J.S. Bach and Bob Dylan, for starters. Anyway, it would have been a more enjoyable and accessible novel if Roberts had found a way of introducing this idea without so much self-indulgence. I guess it is OK though, he is clearly writing for himself. So am I.
But still worth reading. Lots of folk agree that Kant has a good point, and this novel is a frolic on that theme. To me the interesting core of the book was that AI, being non-human, could play a crucial role in accessing and navigating “the thing itself”, and not necessarily in a benign way.
I think I want to read The Real Town Murders, and maybe a couple of others of the same flavour as reviewed in The Guardian.