There was a lot I appreciated about Robert’s elegantly crafted Jack Glass, but I definitely didn’t think it succeeded at everything it set out to do.
The middle section of the novel, for instance, offers a classically structured whodunnit and — skirting spoilers — I think Roberts is trying to get the reader so far in the head of his few-centuries-hence characters that the reader misses a relevant detail that would be obvious in a contemporaneous setting. Clever. But unfortunately, the particular gimmick hinges on something that even his future characters would never have done; it’s fundamentally inconsistent.
One of the novel’s protagonists has supposedly been bred for superhuman political acumen, but misses a staggeringly obvious plot development. (And to ensure the reader sees how obvious it is, Roberts inexplicably reveals it to the reader with a flashing red neon “here’s a big honking clue!” sign.) The protagonist is very young, but Roberts goes to some lengths to suggest the issue is not one of emotional versus intellectual intelligence; she just seemed not nearly as smart as everyone in the book gave her credit for being.
I also think the notion that a mere rumor of a truly radical technology could disrupt societal equilibrium is intriguing, but perhaps not very realistic. Reportage of cold fusion did not cause panic among energy providers.
Finally, there were elements of the milieu that I think a “hard” science fiction novel should address more thoroughly. The book perhaps has a bit of a cake-and-eat-it-too problem: an economy very much driven by scarcity and unequal resource distribution, but one featuring at least some “magic” technologies for manipulating mass. (No one seems to worry about the costs of matching velocities, as they do in, say, John Barnes’ Losers in Space.) This isn’t necessarily inconsistent, but it’s not easy for the reader to figure out what’s cheap and what’s not, and what constraints the “magic” tech operates under. It always niggles at me when a future incorporating significant advances on some fronts shows little evidence of artificial intelligences even as sophisticated as current technology without any explanation. And although the novel eventually addresses the issue of hacking systems, the characters in the whodunnit subplot completely ignore the possibility that the electronic records of e.g., who left or didn’t leave the premises could have been compromised.
However, my criticisms should perhaps be taken with salt, because I also fundamentally didn’t like the book. It’s (intermittently) more violent than I care for, but more than that, it has an embedded pessimism about life so fundamental and severe that I found the novel’s worldview repulsive. So my objectivity may have been compromised.
And if nothing else, the novel certainly provoked a lot of thought. It’s taken me more than a week to wrangle my reactions into anything remotely coherent.