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By Light Alone

3.25  ·  Rating Details  ·  589 Ratings  ·  85 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 1,802)
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A book whose central conceit and writing style make me want to be generous, even though there are all kinds of problems going on here. Our setting is a near future in which human civilisation has been changed forever by the development of photosynthetic hair: people can now spread their locks out in the sun and they never need eat again. World hunger is a thing of the past; but Roberts's insight is that, far from ending poverty, this might only make things worse. In the past, the poor had to be ...more
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
Brian Clegg
Jun 04, 2016 Brian Clegg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have only relatively recently discovered Adam Roberts, with the likes of Jack Glass and The Thing Itself, but every one of his books I've read has been excellent, so it seemed time to start filling in the gaps.

I went for By Light Alone because of its interesting sounding premise. It's a cracker (as they say). The idea is that science has produced a mechanism where people can get all the energy they need from sunlight, thanks to a bug that turns their hair into super-photosynethic light absorbe
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
Nicholas Whyte
Jun 16, 2012 Nicholas Whyte rated it liked it

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
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
Mar 16, 2015 Simon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf
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
Jan 11, 2013 Gerhard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013, favorites
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
Sep 15, 2014 Lizzy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: unfinished
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
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
Feb 04, 2014 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 24, 2012 Alexandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2012
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
Dark Matter
Jan 12, 2014 Dark Matter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
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
Aug 25, 2012 Éponine rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Mar 31, 2014 Zvi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jon Mountjoy
This would have been 4 stars if the book had a better ending. I felt unsatisfied. I'd eaten a meal, and I was left hungry. The meal was pretty pleasant - based on a great idea, with some well thought out consequences.
May 15, 2016 Stuart rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 21, 2016 Joseph rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Like other reviews have said, By Light Alone is a great premise that's ruined by a poorly told story. Although “story” is a bit misleading since there's effectively two or three separate story threads here that are then forced together in order to justify a novel.

By Light Alone is set in a world where hunger is no longer an issue, as new technology (that is only vaguely sketched out in the novel) allows people to effectively photosynthesise using their hair. Rather than reduce inequality howeve
Feb 21, 2014 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 28, 2012 Sarah Louise Leach rated it really liked it
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.
Aug 02, 2013 Zach rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Laura Yip
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
S.E. Berrow
Jun 30, 2015 S.E. Berrow rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
'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
May 20, 2014 Jonathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 25, 2011 Brett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 14, 2013 Ross rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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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...

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