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The arena is a barely habitable planet called Salt. Colonists have made the 37-year journey from Earth with their starships tethered to a comet “like seashells on a child's necklace string” (Gollancz, trade paper 2nd edition, ISBN 0575068973, c.2000, p.2). Each is autonomous, ranging with shared political, social, and religious belief systems to completely contradictory ones. Even before landfall, conflict is inevitable as salt in the ocean.
The narrative is handled by see-sawing between two 1st-person protagonists. Each is a critical member of the opposing forces. It is a fantastic set-up for equivocal storytelling with both men convincing the reader of the propriety of their cause. War seems a foregone conclusion.
Unfortunately, I never made it to the battle. I got too bogged down in scientific data and the plodding details of establishing the colonies. But the real spine-breaker for me was that the author appeared to favor one viewpoint over another. Gone was the mystery and puzzlement over who was telling the truth and what initiated political and/or socio-religio systems would inevitably prove worthy against almost insurmountable odds of survival. I admit that concurrently with this reading, I was watching the HBO series Rome nightly and fascinated by its characters that surged with serpentine quicksilver of moral ambiguity, to the 21st century mindset, at least. I had also just finished The Year of Our War and probably overlaid my pet fascination with the elusive narrator onto these two, opposing voices.
This is the author's first published novel. He has written several more since. In some cases, latitude should be extended to artists' debut works, especially if further efforts are recognized.
Or, the inability of the critic to get his head into the game.
So there, Mr. Roberts , please accept my apology on dumping your book at page 67 out of 248.