Splinter by Adam Roberts. Review by Andrea Johnson
Will the world end in fire? Or in ice? How about a possibly sentient comet that communicates with earthlings before bashing into the planet and tearing it apart? And what does everyone do to pass the time after the world ends?
Think it sounds far fetched? Hector thought it did too, until he ended up at his father's ranch, an earthquake came, and the planet blew apart. The residents of the ranch must survive their new reality, stranded on a splinter of the earth that is trying to settle into a new orbit around the sun. Thanks to Hector Sr.'s visions, the ranch compound knew this event was coming, and they stockpiled food, coffee, medical supplies, everything they thought they would need. Hoping for a relaxing weekend during which to make amends with his father over an old argument, Hector is now stuck with a foster family of strangers who see his father as their cult leader.
In denial for most of the story, Hector Jr. often tries to convince his ranch-mates that this entire thing is an elaborate hoax created by his father, and as soon as the strange fog lifts, they will be able to drive back to California and go back to their lives—never mind that he can't get a cell phone signal, all the radio frequencies are dead, and the sun is rising and setting every few hours. There isn't much to do after the world ends other than play cards, so Hector has plenty of time to think about his predicament, and where to go from here. How can he possibly accept this as reality, where everyone he's ever known is dead? How can he accept that no matter what he does or says, his father is not going to change, or ever magically become the father figure Hector is looking for? How much is he willing to grow up and accept his life as it is?
As would be expected from a highly educated author who has studied the classics and currently teaches literature, Splinter has its share of references to art history and Shakespeare alongside modern pop culture references, giving the novel an enjoyably light-hearted "life imitates art" feel, although this is not a light-hearted story. It helped me relate to Hector when he made reference to events and personages that I am familiar with, and I laughed too.
Roberts fleshes out his characters with all the raw emotions: jealousy, hate, shame, want, and fear. The things that deep down, on that animal level, make us human. Splinter is very smart, very subtle. Roberts starts the narrative in past tense, segues into present tense, and by the end has transitioned in future tense—unusual and unexpected way to keep the story interesting, and the reader guessing. Readers looking for hard science fiction with lots of action should probably skip this character centered emotional novel.
I didn't know it until I read Robert's afterword, but Splinter is a clever homage to "Off on a Comet" by Jules Verne. I'm sure I missed out on plenty of classical literature references, but I still very much enjoyed Splinter, and now I'm interested in reading some Jules Verne as well!
Andrea Johnson lives in beautiful southwestern Michigan with her husband, and spends as much time as possible reading and enjoying science fiction and other speculative fiction. She is an administrator and book reviewer at Worm's Sci Fi Haven and an official reviewer at Multiverse.