Bête. Book Review

beteBÊTE by Adam Roberts
Gollancz, 311pp standard p/back, £8.99
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (@mangozoid)

Regular readers will know that Adam Roberts has never been high on my ‘must-read’ list, but despite this, I still respect the hell out of him – he is a smart, clever, talented genius who just so happens to be a very good writer too, even if some of his concepts/ideas do occasionally grate…

That said, Bête is a craftily compiled, well-written tale that tackles the somewhat thorny issue of inserting AI chips into animals to give them powers of speech in an effort to enhance their rights and prevent mankind’s continued abuse and extermination of them. And if that sounds like a barmy idea, when I tell you the whole story kicks off with a farmer shooting one of his cows after arguing with it over whether or not it’s going to be slaughtered today, you can rest assured that what follows is a black comedy full of immense wit and some of the darkest of dark humour.

This is the kind of thing that Roberts is (in)famous for – taking a single concept and seeing it through to the bitter end –wherever that may lead– and in this instance, lead is a choice word, as this feels like it’s meandering all over the place at times. Written mainly from the point of view of Graham, an angry, flawed protagonist (the aforementioned farmer who seems to hate everything and everyone — and whatever you do, don’t call him Graham!), this tale explores many facets of being human, self-determination, social order, and of course, the plight of animal-kind.

By turns satirical and cynical, in the same vein as Orwell’s Animal Farm, this is a biting, intelligent novel which begs the reader to think again about what it is to be human and our place in the order of things. Surprisingly, it doesn’t pain me to say that Bête is an impressive, sublime piece of work, and you’d do well to snap this up and buy or read it next time you’re in the market for something a tad different to the norm…