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By Light Alone

3.28 of 5 stars 3.28  ·  rating details  ·  497 ratings  ·  73 reviews
In a world where we have been genetically engineered so that we can
photosynthesise sunlight with our hair hunger is a thing of the past,
food an indulgence. The poor grow their hair, the rich affect
baldness and flaunt their wealth by still eating. But other hungers
remain ...The young daughter of an affluent New York family is
kidnapped. The ransom demands are refused. Years
Paperback, 488 pages
Published August 18th 2011 by Gollancz (first published August 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,529)
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Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
This is sort of two novels for the price of one.

First there's a scathing satire on the unequal world we live in, on how the privileged insulate themselves from the sufferings of the rest of the world, but also from themselves, from any real feeling. A wealthy couple's daughter is kidnapped while the family is on a ski holiday at Mount Ararat. There is much sending-up of conspicuous consumption, vacuous promiscuity, fad psychology and also of the way the wealthy pay others to ratify their own de
Andrea McDowell
Why haven't I heard more about this book?

As topical and timely goes, it can hardly be surpassed: a novel about food insecurity as food becomes scarcer worldwide, a novel about income inequality in the year of the Occupy movement, and a novel about unintended consequences of benevolent ideas as we watch climate change unfold around us--why isn't it being reviewed in every newspaper and magazine from Iqualiut to Brisbane? Add to that a smart, well-written novel with well-drawn characters of litera
Motivated to read this after reading several really good short stories over recent years I was quite pleased with this although it is a somewhat challenging read and I can see how it wouldn't be for everyone.

The author must have asked himself what fundamental discovery might allow even more extreme levels of inequality than our already unequal world entails? A new kind of hair that allows people to draw nourishment from the sun is one possible answer to this question and the author explores the
Tudor Ciocarlie
I thought that after Land of Headless, Adam Roberts had completed his literary evolution. I was wrong, his voice is still evolving into totally new and interesting ways. This is a story of a world in which the need for food was eradicated because the hair was genetically engineered so that it can photosynthesise sunlight. You think that this is an utopia. Wrong, in the hands of Roberts this book is a dystopia, in which the poor grow their hair and become poorer and the rich shave their heads, co ...more
I finished By Light Alone and it's one of the few books I read that I cannot truly make my mind about it since the ending utterly baffled me structure-wise.

It is hard to discuss why without spoilers, but the book's structure and direction do not really balance with the ending so By Light Alone feels unfinished; on the other hand the ending in itself has power and a sense of conclusion but not for this book so to speak, but for a book that would have consisted of (an expansion of) its last four
Adam Roberts is a master of the High Concept, which means a high degree of experimentation and no two novels that are alike. Hence By Light Alone is totally different in tone and style to New Model Army, for example.

BLA is a peculiar novel, an old-style dystopia/utopia discourse like Le Guin or Delany might have written, teasing out the socio-political implications of a different world that refract deficiencies in our own.

Except Roberts has chosen as main viewpoint characters a couple at the pri
Zack Hiwiller
A great Science Fiction conceit, but the author doesn't really seem to be concerned with developing his conceit. Or his plot. Or his characters. The first third is a truly awful satire of the rich carried along only by the promise of an interesting world beyond what the main characters are doing. It honestly felt a lot like Hemingway-rich people doing things that are hard to care about. The final third of the book is more interesting than anything before and a twist certainly pays off, but like ...more
Catherine Siemann
High-concept bioengineering -- human hair can be artificially altered so that it photosynthesize sunlight into energy -- fails to resolve human inequality as expected, but rather, increases it still further, as the wealthy shave or crop their hair and eat real food as a luxury, and the poor are exploited in new ways.

The story centers around a spoiled and wealthy New York couple, George and Maria, whose daughter Leah is kidnapped from a hyperlavish ski resort (one of its slopes is made of ice cre
Dark Matter
This and more reviews, interviews etc on Dark Matter Zine, an online magazine. This review was written by Nalini Haynes for Dark Matter Zine.

George and Marie, a wealthy couple holidaying at an elite ski resort with their nanny and two children, are completely self-absorbed, unsympathetic characters making a game of adultery.

Their daughter Leah is stolen, resulting in what appears to be the first real discomfort either parent has ever experienced. Marie flees, retur
Dopo aver letto 'Never let me go', che ho amato molto, si è riacceso in me l'amore per i romanzi distopici, che avevo messo provvisoriamente da parte per dedicarmi ad altri generi.

Futuro. Il divario tra ricchi e poveri è sempre più marcato, specie dopo l'invenzione dei Capelli che, se impiantati nel corpo umano, provvedono nutrimento assorbendo la luce solare. I ricchi, disgustati, mostrano fieri la loro calvizie e mangiano a più non posso, mentre le popolazioni più povere e ferventi gruppi rel
I made it to chapter 20, I found I was not invested in any of the characters, and then the biologist in me rebelled- not in terms of the hair, that's great- its the blokes 'content simply to loll in the sun.' while the ladies are motivated to do everything. This would not be the case- guys would want their offspring to get the best chance in life too, so why wouldn't they help? Also if they did, the ladies would pick them over other chaps who do nothing, so very quickly the whole lying around th ...more
Photosynthetic hair is a pretty silly idea. The rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is too trodden in scifi and journalism. I read this book because I've always found Roberts enjoyable -and I wasn't disappointed. The folly of the rich is heavy handed, but it is used to set the stage rather than carry the story. The hair is still silly, but Roberts uses it to explore some very clever consequences.

Early in the novel, I struggled with the character of the mother. As the father grows fro
Sarah Louise Leach
A very interesting premise thought out to its logical conclusion. The novel is science fiction at heart but is written with such panache and grace, Roberts has a lively philosophical and inventive mind. He reminds me of Doris Lessing. He has a lot to say about the world we live in now as the future he imagines is only very subtlety different to today.
A strange, beautifully written, ambitious novel, both satirical and post-apocalyptic. The setting, in spite of its detail (the near-future world is completely altered by a virus that grows photosynthetic hair, thus allowing the poor to live pretty much without eating; a severely socially stratified world of poor-with-nothing/workers/the very rich who have everything and can do whatever they want -- including eat and drink for fun and status) to me lacked verisimilitude; as a reader, I couldn't s ...more
Zachary Jernigan
Nuh-uh. Another one I just couldn't do, prose-wise. If this is how all Roberts' books read, I have no future in reading his work. Oh, well; I like his reviews, so there's that. He seems like my kinda dude, so whatever.
Look: this book, like every other Adam Roberts book I've read, is bleak, bizarrely plotted, and crammed with unlikeable people. That might not be your thing. It is so completely my thing.
I found this book tedious to finish. I don't enjoy the language at all and I find most of the main characters annoying, some so much that I'd like to punch them. It's a shame, because the setting and the ideas its built on are truly interesting. Great world, terrible writing.

I also didn't approve of the way he chose to portray Leah. It seems quite clear that he doesn't like her and that the reader's supposed to agree with him. Yeah, teen culture may seem stupid and shallow, but that doesn't excl
'By Light Alone' is the second novel by Adam Roberts that I have read, and I am sad to say that this time, it was a bit of a disappointment. Although the concept is really intriguing (the creation of a new, photosynthesising plant-like hair that eliminates the need for 'hard food') and the ideas potentially fascinating and thought-provoking (how this New Hair does not end world poverty, but in fact exaggerates it), overall I found the story a rather boring and dissatisfying read, both emotionall ...more
By Light Alone is a prime example of what is so great about the current crop of excellent Science Fiction writers. A simple idea slowly becomes just a small piece of what is a much more layered and complicated story than you first thought. As I have grown to expect from Adam Roberts' novels, the use of brilliant language really helps the story move along smoothly, despite the frequent changes of perspective. This is also hard hitting stuff, asking some big questions, which mirror some of the pr ...more
Another novel read whilst recovering from a stomach bug. Not Adams’ best in my view, although it contains elements in common with his other novels (unreliable and unsympathetic narrator, story structured around strikingly original technological conceit, emphasis on gap between rich and poor, etc). In this case, I found the pacing undermined my fascination with the central conceit, of the poor having photosynthetic hair that means they needn’t eat. The implications of this technology were explore ...more
The last book by Adam Roberts that I read, Yellow Blue Tibia, I did not enjoy. At all. So I was a little dubious about reading this one until I saw the cover, and I am willing to admit here and now that in this case at least, the cover totally sucked me in. An art deco sensibility is definitely the way to at least make me interested in starting your book.

And then I read the blurb, and decided that this could indeed be a book for me.

One of the great answers to "how would you change the world" in
Steel Beach by John Varley explored what happens when scarcity is no longer a problem. In that novel, the fundamental problem is that no one has anything they need to do -- entertainment is the only industry.

By Light Alone takes a different approach. The photosynthetic hair has solved the problem of hunger for the poor, but removed much of their motivation for work. If anything, scarcity is a bigger issue than in the past. As a result, the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever (there is e
Melissa Lutzenhiser
Science Fiction is really not my thing. I had the opportunity to meet the author who said that he tends to write books with no likeable characters. This book was true to his word. The characters are really hard to like or even tolerate reading about. This book is about the same class struggle it seems that every age has only this time the wealth is food. We are not told how the wealthy became wealthy and when I asked the author about this he basically said that it wasn't relevant to the story bu ...more
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Nicholas Whyte

In By Light Alone, humanity has become universally able to photosynthesise enough energy to stay alive through their hair by virtue of a drug which is freely available, and has consequently collapsed into a Gatsbyesque dichotomy of the super-wealthy and the poor. The plot concerns a couple who are holidaying in an exotic resort, whose obscenely comfortable world is upended when one of their children is stolen - not kidnapped, no ransom involved; we then
Someone has solved the world food shortage issue. By genetically engineering hair so that people can photosynthesise Rich people show off by shunning the treatment and going bald, while eating enough hard food to be hideously obese. Some of these rich people go on holiday, and their daughter is kidnapped.

I loved this. The world is well conceived, and Roberts does a very good job of dripfeeding the necessary info for you to envisage it. It's split into 4 parts, each focussing on a different playe
Not totally the book I was expecting really. The premise of a world where hair could be used to photosynthesise energy from the sun seemed really interesting, as did the idea of class being defined by a choice to continue eating 'real' food. The story centres around a wealthy family who suffer the kidnap of their daughter and who later have doubts about if the correct child has been returned to them. It is split into three sections with each focusing on a different member of the family. The conc ...more
Simona Bartolotta
"There's no such thing as revolution. Revolution is just another way for things to stay the same."

Unbelievably wonderful premise, such a poor development. Boring, repetive, the opposite of cathcing. Claiming to be deep and profound, the book ends up being none of that.
It is divided in four parts; the first three were acceptable, too long winded and repetitive but stil not a complete write-off. Also, they didn't satisfied me because their total lack of detailed explanations concerning the Hair an
Reading the reviews and comments posted here makes it clear that this book is not for everyone. Certainly it is a dark novel and can make one feel quite uncomfortable. But the author is an excellent writer and I think this is a very good novel. I do not think that the main premise or agenda or whatever is primarily political though it does express the increasing pessimism of Westerners about the possible futures that may await us. I think the genius of this novel is the author's profound underst ...more
I'm continually confused by Adam Roberts. Each of his novels contains moments of genius, but each has some aspect which ruins them for me as complete stories. As another reviewer said, this is a dual-story, and each are interesting and faulty in their own ways. The story of the adults is interesting for its depiction of future class-based decadent society and the emotional malaise it causes the well-off. But there are chapters and chapters of nothing! Yes, the author manages to put us in the pos ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

Adam Roberts (born 1965) is an academic, critic and novelist. He also writes parodies under the pseudonyms of A.R.R.R. Roberts, A3R Roberts and Don Brine. He also blogs at The Valve, a group blog devoted to literature and cultural studies.

He has a degree in English from the
More about Adam Roberts...
Jack Glass Yellow Blue Tibia Stone The Soddit: Or, Let's Cash in Again New Model Army

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“And after night comes day, or more night, depending on the particular time-frame you choose to apply to your perspective.” 4 likes
“To say a word once is communicative, to say it twice is emphatic, but to say it twenty times turns it into a trippy floating nothing.” 0 likes
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