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Jupiter Magnified

by Adam Roberts,
with an introduction by James Lovegrove

(PS Publishing, £8, 104 pages, signed limited edition paperback; hardback edition also available, published April 2003.)

All of a sudden one evening, Jupiter appears in extreme close-up, blotting out half the night sky. How would you react to such an cover scanocclusion? Would you theorise? Go mad? Join a cult? Jupiter Magnified follows seven months in the life of Stina Ekman, Swedish poet, as she tries to use this bizarre apparition to jump-start her stalled project, "Poems About Light".

Adam Roberts cheekily supplements this seventy-page novella with Stina's finished opus, and I found that the poetry said more about the story's theme than the story itself did. In 25 reflective pieces (pun intended), Roberts examines through his protagonist the phenomenon of light. Some of these poems have more of the technical than technique about them, but some of them are quite illuminating -- the image of a fly rubbing its eyes in wonder is a particular gem. The story too is an exercise in reflection, as Stina tries to reconcile her old, unfulfilled life -- and her old, unfulfilled project -- to the novelty of Jupiter's image. As the reader may expect of Roberts, it's all beautifully written, and the characterisation is excellent.

The reader shouldn't, however, expect a definite explanation for the titular phenomenon, and Roberts seems to mock such an expectation by throwing in a few theories on the matter from the "scientific community", all of them just a little too fanciful. I got a chuckle out of these rationalisations -- I suppose the unannounced arrival of Jupiter's baleful red eye overhead is one of those things we just shouldn't try to explain away. In any case it might detract from the wonder of the novella's device to be able to pin it down to anything concrete.

As enigmatic as its title suggests, Jupiter Magnified is about the fiction first, and the science second, and that suits this reviewer just fine.

Review by John Toon.

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