Land of the Headless – Adam Roberts

On Tuesday a genetic materials test confirmed my guilt (but of course this confirmation was only a formality) and on Wednesday I was beheaded.”

What a brilliant hook – such intrigue! The premise is even more fascinating: not only is our narrator beheaded in the opening line, he’s not only still alive, but part of a culture where such ‘headless’ are commonplace. Turns out the book title is meant literally!

We find ourselves in a super-religious culture where all crimes – that is, adultery (and that’s anything outside marriage), murder, blasphemy – are punished by beheading. But that’s okay: said culture is also super-advanced (!) so no need to kill anyone. No, their consciousness can be captured and continue via technology, and the headless person can go on with their ‘lives’ thoroughly (!) chastised. Shame the headless are so scorned by society, right enough, but hey: mercy!

Alas, I just don’t feel the scope of that premise is lived up to in the story. I would have loved more exploration of the culture’s background, but instead we get a really downbeat, self-involved pity-trek from said narrator, who is, quite frankly, a whiny git (and a poet. Says it all!). His obsession with a girl (!) drives him through varying trials, until – right at the end – we’re told “But this isn’t my story…”. Urm, really?!

No, really: the ending is a hint at the far more interesting tale – that perhaps should have been told? As it was, I’m sure the themes of religion and morality, and memory, were fascinating to dig into – but I couldn’t get over the narrator’s whinging.

This is the second of Adam Robert’s books I’ve read (the first was On), and I think the problems are the same: great idea, really grating, downbeat telling.

HB: 275 pages, 4 parts each with ~8 chapters each
Finished 17th June 2015

My rating: 4/10

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