January 03, 2016

"This latest book from the master of intellectual science fiction, Adam Roberts, is a mind-bending delight..."

Now Appearing: ...and nothing like the combination of the title and the cover suggests (yet even this deception is not entirely straightforward). by Brian Clegg

'Anyone versed in the genre would instantly make the leap, with the combination of "The Thing" and a polar setting, to the classic science fiction film The Thing - and indeed Roberts does make a passing bow to this in the opening of the book. However, the monster in the movie is about as crude as they come - here, what we experience as alien is both horrible and transfigured as a possible reality for the concept of god.

'Another classic theme we meet in the book is SETI - the search for extraterrestrial intelligence - but, once again, Roberts subverts the standard genre concepts. Here what is alien is not just not-human, but involves a different perception of the universe itself.

'The way that Roberts makes this near-impossible portrayal of something truly alien come to life is to invoke the work of Immanuel Kant, where the "Thing Itself" in the title is not so much a monster in the manner of the movie, but Kant's concept of the "Ding an sich", which seems to be rather like Plato's world outside the cave where we only perceive via the shadows we see in the cave. However, in Kant's case this is taken to an extreme, where human perception of aspects of the universe like space, time and causality are simply our veneer on the underlying "thing itself" which could be perceived totally differently by an alien species.'

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