Land of the Headless

January 14, 2008

Adam Roberts

Land of the Headless, by Adam Roberts.

Interesting one, this. A future sharia-style society where a particular world is ruled by religious extremism not dissimilar to the Muslim-based extremism of today. Almost any crime is ruthlessly punished by decapitation… but the twist is that the decapitated are then fitted with an electronic collar that regulates bodily functions and allows them to continue living, after a fashion, their sins expiated. The results of this, the Headless, are completely disenfranchised from society, the lowest of the low, and often have to resort to begging or menial work (fish gutting, sewer cleaning — perfect for a Headless because of the lack of olfactory senses) to survive.  

This is the story of Jon Cavala, who is ‘executed’ for the crime of consensual adultery and cast loose, minus his head, into a world where he has no senses save what are very basically duplicated via technology (monochrome electronic vision, no sense of taste or smell, basic touch: remember, the brain’s electronically encoded but realistically not there anymore). During his travails he becomes involved in a very ethical dilemma with another female wherein a similar crime to which he was decapitated may or may not have occurred, and it is this, and the quasi-extremist view of the worlds he fringes within, that drive a fascinating story.

Part Forever War and Starship Troopers (one of the few legitimate uses for the Headless is as cannon fodder in religious wars) , part searing religious/extremism commentary, part bizarre love story and part hard sci-fi, this one comes highly recommended. The slightly archaic language that everyone seems to use might grate a little throughout the first few chapters but persevere: it’s in keep with the ultra-theist methodology of the book and the world created anyway.

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