After a collision with an asteroid, a splinter of the Earth is knocked free and floats through the solar system. As one of the very few humans left, Hector must come to terms with his survival among a cult-like group led by his father, who had visions of the coming impact. After reading Polystom and Gradisil, I was very eager to read this book. Unfortunately, I really disliked the story and had to struggle to get through it. And at just over 200 pages, that’s not a good thing.
The first thing that struck me was how much I didn’t either didn’t care for or wasn’t interested in any of the characters. Hector (Jr.) pretty much spends the entire book wallowing in self-pity and viewing the surviving women through the eyes of a frustrated adolescent. His father leads a cult-like group who are preparing for the end of the world when Hector arrives. Hector Sr. really doesn’t have much to say, except for ‘Yeah’, unless he’s having a ‘vision’. Everyone else is secondary to the story, and they aren’t really fleshed out and follow Hector Sr. almost blindly, and for no apparent reason.
Hector Jr. is the only skeptic amongst the group, even after the collision, answering the question, “What happens if the world ends and no one notices?” Even though a splinter of Earth has apparently broken off, there is still air and the ranch the group is staying on still has food, water and electricity. In fact, aside from perpetual cloud cover and a five hour day/night cycle. Nothing much has changed, which fuels Hector Jr.’s belief that everything they group is experiencing is a hallucination. I suppose that could be possible. Hector Sr. does hand out white pills to everyone every day, but Hector never stops taking them to check that possibility out. Why not? Hector Jr. really doesn’t do anything to try and figure out what is going on, he just drifts through post-impact life, becoming more and more remote from everyone else. Eventually, even he begins to have very strong visions.
Many other things aren’t explained either. The explanation for the ‘asteroid’ is a rather interesting SF-nal idea, but Roberts doesn’t really go anywhere with it, he leaves it hanging. The whole survival of the splinter itself is also glossed over. Sure, there are speculations by the group on why there is still gravity and such, but nothing concrete. There also appears the be a few other survivors left, but nothing is really done to find them. In fact, the story avoids explaining much about what happens and why the people were ‘chosen’. After awhile, the ground becomes covered with a moss-like growth that is difficult to remove and grows quickly. Eventually, a very bizarre setting is created from this moss, for no apparent reason. The story left me wondering a lot about just what the asteroid is what the reasons were behind a lot of what happened.
The other thing that bothered me was the structure. Hector Jr. is prone to going off on flights of memory, for pages at a time. We learn a lot about him and his past through these Proustian digressions, but I felt they really didn’t add much to what we already know about Hector Jr. But then, when Hector Jr. starts having visions of his own, we get the ending to book, which is basically Hector Jr. having a vision his future self remembering the events that lead to the ending of the story. This whole section is told in future tense and clashes with the rest of the story, giving Hector Jr. even more of a passive participant feel, whose future is set in stone. Just very odd. And while I see what Roberts is doing with the ending, I didn’t like it as it leaves too much unanswered.
Roberts does have a long-ish Afterword that explains the genesis of the story. Apparently, he had written a short story for an anthology of stories that were riffs or re-tellings of Jules Verne stories. Roberts chose one of Verne’s lesser known stories, Off On A Comet, Or Hector Servadac. Roberts chose to riff on this story and added the theme of becoming an adult to his story. Indeed, in Splinter, Hector Jr. is forced to grow up throughout the ordeal, and Roberts’ focus on this over the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the story could have been great if the characters weren’t so dislikable.
Given Roberts’ previous books, I was disappointed with Splinter. It wasn’t what I was expecting and the characters served to drag the story down.