Adam Roberts. Jupiter Magnified. PS Publishing, 2003.

London academic Roberts has published a couple of well-received novels over the past couple of years (‘Salt’, ‘On’, and ‘Stone’) which have garnered praise and which are evidently quite original in concept. His criticism is of a high standard, as befits an English Lit academic.

Two short stories I have read by him haven’t really grabbed me. His other PS Publishing chapbook ‘Park Polar’ was ‘a bit of a head-scratcher’ as it was a fairly routine attempt at a techno-thriller. More recently his The Imperial Army in Spectrum SF 9 was an ‘ultra-condensed’ military SF story, which featured an onanistic beginning.

‘Jupiter Magnified’ comes across as a horse of an altogether different colour.

As the cover indicates, the story revolves around, and starts immediately with the sudden appearance in the skies of Earth of an image of the planet Jupiter. The reactions to this event, on the micro level with regard to the small cast, and on the macro level with the scientific and societal responses, are interwoven. The viewpoint character is Stina Ekman a Scandinavian poet, whose major series of poems on the theme of ‘light’ has currently stalled due to writer’s block.

Stina gradually unravels, her mental state disintegrating. An initial theory, that a cataclysmic collision between Earth and Jupiter in the future has sent images back in time, leads many to accept that the end of the world is truly nigh, and society begins to crumble.

However, with a bravado bit of chutzpah, Roberts throws in the real cause at the end of the story – an FTL vessel from another planet has passed between Jupiter and Earth and it is the distortion caused by that passage that has created the image of Jupiter.

And as an extra bonus, Stina’s poems are appended to the story.

Quite a different story to the two mentioned above, with a vivid image providing an unsettling backdrop to the human reaction to the event being portrayed.

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