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Swiftly (SF) - Adam Roberts ***

As usual with Roberts this is an exploration of an audacious idea - in this case, we are in a world where the various species from Swift's Gulliver's Travels (see what he did with the title?) are real and encroaching on business and life in Victorian Britain. Of itself this is wonderfully imagined - the abuse, for example of Lilliputians (or their neighbours Blefuscudians, who have to repeatedly point out they aren't Lilliputians) to perform extremely detailed work in factories is brilliant. And the employment in war by the French of giants from Brobdingnag who reluctantly help them to partially conquer the UK, helped by Babbage engines with a twist, is equally clever.

However, Roberts also introduces other layers, going bigger and smaller than Swift's variants, with a destructive ultra giant in a spaceship and a plague caused by tiny creatures that wipes out large swathes of humanity. As is almost always the case with disaster stories, the result is a depersonalisation of the storyline where I find it hard to identify much with what's going on. And though the main characters survive the plague, they too remain a little distant and untouchable, in part because Roberts in probably trying to give them period sensibilities, which mix with some more modern viewpoints that sit a little uncomfortably. In the end, the latter part of the book, a seemingly endless trek from London to York for what felt like no good reason, dragged a lot. I'm glad I read Swiftly, but I can't imagine reading it again, where most of Roberts' books are high on my list for repeated consumption.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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