FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Illustration of Revolution

by JAVIER SETHNESS CASTRO

Adam Roberts, By Light Alone (London: Orion House, 2011)

NB: This review examines most of the plot of By Light Alone, and thus some (but not all) major events of the text are revealed—as fair warning.

The opening of By Light Alone anticipates the book’s fascinating and shattering developments and conclusion only negatively. For nearly the first hundred pages, Roberts focuses his attention almost exclusively on a satirical depiction of the indulgent excesses of the bourgeoisie of the future: specifically, the family of George and Marie Denoone, wealthy Manhattanites whose daughter Leah is abducted while on holiday in Doğubayazit, located in mountainous Kurdistan near the borders with Armenia and Iran. Roberts’ characterization of the Denoones is intentionally unsympathetic and distasteful; indeed, while reading this first section, I distinctly recalled Frankz Kafka’s The Castle. Given his writing style and the subjects he considers, Roberts can likely be to said to share Kafka’s anarchist proclivities: George and Marie are shown to be Rapunzels. Before their daughter’s kidnapping, they had “lived a childlishly spoilt existence in which every whim was indulged and which no actual hardship had interrupted.” In their life in New York, the Denoones have friends fly over in their supersonically exclusive “flitters” to have lunch together, only to cross the Atlantic once again after the meal is finished; in Kurdistan, the family employs an iCar Armoured in its search for Leah. Privileged and parochial, George and Marie have no evident understanding of the extreme social inequalities which grip the contemporary humanity Roberts considers in his future sci-fi account. It is not until Leah’s capture near Mt. Ararat that the couple has “first contact” with the other side of late, “advanced” capitalism: the life of the world’s social majorities, who in large part must toil to survive.unnamed

Compellingly, Roberts shows the future world’s proletarians as benefiting from a technological breakthrough discovered by scientist Nic Neocles, one that makes human hair capable of performing photosynthesis, such that the need for nourishment from external sources—i.e., diet—is nullified. Naturally, such an innovation has much liberatory potential, for it truly allows for the subordinated to free themeslves from dependence on lords or capitalists for income and sustenance. Indeed, Roberts explains that Neocles’ life work was greatly influenced by his reading of Percy Shelley’s poem “The Mask of Anarchy,” in particular its following famous lines:

“Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you—
Ye are many—they are few.”

Fortunately and unfortunately within the confines of established capitalism, the results of applying such new technology proves variable: on the one hand, many light-hairs are shown to enjoy a tranquil existence, freed from the necessity of production and representing an embodied utopian socialism—in the text, Roberts depicts multitudes of light-hairs as taking to the seas and living there indefinitely—while many female light-hairs find themselves continuing to perform feudal labor in exchange for provision of the extra nutrients they require in states of pregnancy. Though it can provide for much of human life, photosynthesis from the “New Hair” seemingly does not yield enough for mother, fetus, and infant, in Roberts’ vision.

Considered alongside other important examples of sci-fi exploration—including Andrei Tarkovsky, Octavia Butler, and Ursula K. Le Guin, to name only a handful of luminaries—By Light Alone can be said to be similarly stimulating in its effect on the socio-political imagination. Through his inspired examinations of the radically different lifestyles of the world’s light-hair social majorities, Roberts presents alternatives to the horrors of hegemony, which in his text are in no short supply: there are a number of passing references made in the book’s first three bourgeois chapters to the brutal repression meted out by the State against light-hairs. At Triunion (precise location unknown), a mass-protest by light-hairs is seen to be put down by military quad-pods suggestive of the AT-ATs of Star Wars, and another massacre of marine-residing light-hairs is prosecuted off the coast of Florida. Readers learn about this latter atrocity by encountering the fascistic new partner Marie takes after separating from George, Arto, who previously had been discharged from the military for psychiatric reasons after participating in the Florida “operation.” Joining with Arto, Marie takes on the hobby of tending to her expansive “Queens Gardens,” located in New York’s Queens district, which had apparently been cleared of light-hairs some time ago by capitalist security forces. Queen Marie’s eco-fascist “green” colonization project is swiftly put to an end through a mass land-occupation performed on the grounds of the Gardens by light-hairs. This reappropriation coincides with street-fighting throughout much of New York.

In positive dialectical terms, Roberts’ relatively uninspired focus on the Denoones gives way in the book’s final third to an marvelous “Odyssea” undertaken by a young female light-hair named Issa. Issa is first encountered as she burns down and flees the effective jail-residence in which she is held by a local village waali (governor), Abda. Escaping into the surrounding environment and surviving by means of her New Hair, Issa travels on foot, coming to reach the Black Sea in time. As a feminist and a refugee, she there links with members of a Spartacist political movement which seeks to involve subordinated light-hairs in revolutionary direct action against the super-wealthy profiting from the oppressive capitalist system. On the Black Sea, Issa joins a large barge of migrant light-hairs heading west through Istanbul and the Mediterranean Sea. Like many of their real-life counterparts today, however, the participants of the light-hair refugee barges suffer various disasters in the Mediterranean, given outbreaks of infectious disease and outright targeting for destruction by statist military flitters. Hence do Issa’s comrades encounter setbacks before the dominance of hegemony.

Nonetheless, following the barge’s passage through the Strait of Gibraltar and its successful crossing of the Atlantic, Issa joins with a coordinated multitude of millions of fellow light-hair Spartacists who reverse their fortunes by converging on Manhattan in a flotilla. With this massive move, the Spartacists seek to neutralize one of the principal bourgeois capitals of the world—this characterization of New York’s world-historical positioning being one which fits the social environment of both the novel and actual reality. While light-hairs advance a land-based insurrection which readers previously see mentioned at the end of the section on Queens Gardens, the seafaring refugee armada—true decolonial pirates—bombard the retaining wall that had previously been erected around New York in order to shield it from the increased sea levels which had already affected the rest of the world. Succeeding in such a truly revolutionary objective, the Spartacists let loose the waters of the Atlantic and so devastate the capitalist citadel, thus opening a major world-wide campaign to depose the capitalist hangers-on and overthrow class oppression together at a stroke—both, hopefully, for all time.

Javier Sethness Castro is author of Imperiled Life: Revolution against Climate Catastrophe and For a Free Nature: Critical Theory, Social Ecology, and Post-Developmentalism. His essays and articles have appeared in Truthout, Climate and Capitalism, Dissident Voice, MRZine, Countercurrents, and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. He is currently working on writing a political and intellectual biography of Herbert Marcuse.

Javier Sethness Castro, author of two books, has had essays and articles published in Truthout, Dissident Voice, Countercurrents, Climate and Capitalism, MRZine, Dysophia, The Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies, and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory. He worked as a human-rights observer in the Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca during 2010, and has just completed a draft manuscript of his political and intellectual biography of Herbert Marcuse.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious madness in Ulster
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
January 19, 2017
Melvin Goodman
America’s Russian Problem
Dave Lindorff
Right a Terrible Wrong: Why Obama Should Reverse Himself and Pardon Leonard Peltier
Laura Carlsen
Bringing Mexico to Its Knees Will Not “Make America Great Again”
John W. Whitehead
Nothing is Real: When Reality TV Programming Masquerades as Politics
Yoav Litvin
Time to Diss Obey: the Failure of Identity Politics and Protest
Mike Whitney
The Trump Speech That No One Heard 
Conn Hallinan
Is Europe Heading for a “Lexit”?
Stephen Cooper
Truth or Twitter? Why Donald Trump Is No John Steinbeck
Binoy Kampmark
Scoundrels of Patriotism: The Freeing of Chelsea Manning
Ramzy Baroud
The Balancing Act is Over: What Elor Azaria Taught Us about Israel
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail