Notes on Land of the Headless

I’d forgotten my rucksack (I was bereft without it, like losing an arm or a h…) so I didn’t have my notes on Adam Robert’s book. I don’t think I did justice to my views at the meeting so I am posting my notes here. Feel free to attack them. They are only my subjective opinions.

Land of the Headless by Adam Roberts  Gollanz, 2007

Notes by Geoff Nelder

(Ironically the reader doesn’t experience the actual land of the Headless much)

Although the premise of a headless person surviving with his brain data transferred to an ordinator (the French call a computer an ordinateur) at the top of their spine, I found it hard to take seriously, to be involved.

I like the way Roberts uses elements of Game Theory eg the Prisoners’ Dilemma*; follows logically the consequences of Jon Cavala’s thoughts, even if flawed initially; the biology of someone without a head, even if not completely; and the writing style, which is an easy read with homage here and there to great writers and poets. The last is suitable as Jon was a poet. Eg near the end p233 “The air is cool but contained within itself the promise of the day’s heat yet to come.” (Wordsworth – This morning gives us promise of a glorious day).

Writing obscure in places eg p75 the military van. “Its wheels, though narrow, as tall as the chassis and angled slightly at an upwards taper.”

I like “Curled in sleep like an amplisand”.

Army training going up and down an artificial hill could be a homage to The Hill (1965 film with Sean Connery set in Libya)

Annoying repetitions of speaking to the reader with This is not my story but the story of Suizan Deluge who lost her head… Obvious that she didn’t even after meeting a headless woman who doesn’t deny she is her. Once Jon finds who he thinks is a headless Suizan it isn’t logical to persist in killing Mark Pol and then himself because it wouldn’t stop her being headless and his death would cause her distress.

Favourite line is from p11 “Though we speak to one another, you and I, perhaps,” I said, “are having different conversations.” This applies to our Book Group in Chester a lot of the time!

The biological consequences of losing a head is followed well. Loss of pituitary, pineal glands and hypothalamus are described and countered by a chemical pouch. Pineal is said to provide melatonin and so controlling the circadian rhythm. Headlessness would lead to Insipid Diabetes (producing excess urine normally controlled by the hypothalamus). Doesn’t mention much the lack of balance (middle ear function). Although the headless have prosthetics such as sensors for eyes, ears and speech, it doesn’t mention until the ‘vision’ about having a prosthetic head.

Fun consequences – no need for glasses including sunglasses, sunhats.

Irritated by plot. A plot hole seems to be that if Suizan didn’t want to name her rapist then why would she go to the police in the first place? Jon and the other two should have reasoned that the policeman was bluffing and called his bluff. I am irritated by Jon’s assumption the rapist was Mark Pol rather than Gymnaste and is so convinced with no evidence that he would go to such extremes as kill Mark Pol and himself. To me it’s not good enough to use this irrationality as a consequence of being headless because other afflicted individuals are not so stupid. Having said that I accept that everyone might react differently.

Science

Ch 8 p 141 in the spaceship. Asserts that when going faster than light, you go back in time and thus lose some memory. I can’t find this anywhere else. It’s referred to again later and diminished as a kind of temporary and brief effect.

Yet another war story set in a future and space with thousands being killed and hurt with no ethical or emotional consequences. OTOH quite a good demonstration of how even intelligent soldiers trained to be mindlessly obedient can kill and follow orders without knowing why.

The book intrigued and annoyed in equal measure. Best aspect of the book is that it generates many ideas worth thinking about.

*Prisoner’s Dilemma in Game Theory Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The police admit they don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain (ie a deal with the devil). If he testifies against his partner, he will go free while the partner will get three years in prison on the main charge. Oh, yes, there is a catch … If both prisoners testify against each other, both will be sentenced to two years in jail.

Asimov’s Nightfall

Robin asked for Nightfall to be discussed at a future meeting – May? I found it freely available to read online such as <removed link as it might have been pirated.>

Being a short story (20 pages) is it presumptious of me to suggest we extend the discussion to any other Asimov shorts? Or would folk prefer to add one of his novels? If so which one?

Neverwhere

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is on radio 4 – in six episodes. We discussed the book last year and most of us liked it – more-or-less.

The link is http://www.radiotimes.com/episode/vrgvf/neverwhere–series-1—1-london-below and you’ll be able to listen to it repeated elsewhen.

Terrific cast ie Benedict Cumberbatch, James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, David Harewood, Sophie Okonedo, Anthony Head, David Schofield, Bernard Cribbins, Johnny Vegas, Andrew Sachs and Christopher Lee.

Having listened to the first episode I’m not sure I’d have been able to follow it well had I’d not read the book already. But then the beginning of the book was unclear too. 😉