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The Thing Itself

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  1,250 ratings  ·  207 reviews
Adam Roberts turns his attention to answering the Fermi Paradox with a taut and claustrophobic tale that echoes John Carpenters' The Thing. Two men while away the days in an Antarctic research station. Tensions between them build as they argue over a love-letter one of them has received. One is practical and open. The other surly, superior and obsessed with reading one boo ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published December 15th 2015 by Gollancz
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Average rating 3.64  · 
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 ·  1,250 ratings  ·  207 reviews


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BlackOxford
Applied Kant

Immanuel Kant is known among philosophers as the All Destroyer. He undermined most of the philosophical systems which preceded him; and more or less set the agenda for those which followed - either to confirm, deny or modify what he had to say.

One of the things Kant had to say was that human intellect has a severe limitation. Because our physical make-up operates using certain ‘categories’ - space, time, cause/effect among others - we inevitably apply these to not just interpret wha
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Scott
Sep 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Adam Roberts is the wielder of a megaton-range imagination, allied to a nano-sharp ability to fashion engaging stories populated with interesting characters - he is an author unafraid of taking a concept to the edge, of exploring genuinely challenging ideas.

The Thing Itself continues this conceptual exploration, and while it isn't as brilliant as Roberts' Bete or Stone its still a damn fine novel, with some very interesting things to say. I love stories that explore the Fermi paradox (Cixin Liu
...more
B Schrodinger
Jun 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
What a troll!

If you have read my reviews for a while, you'll know my hate of book blurbs and how they often spoil a book. Adam Roberts is not quite on my buy-it-without-reading-the-blurb list (not a real list, but I should make it), so I did read this blurb. And it completely spoils the first two pages! And it sets the book up to be an homage to 'The Thing' which it isn't at all!

Yes, it starts with two scientists doing a SETI project during the long Antarctic night. But that is soon left behind
...more
Terry
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: horror, sci-fi
3.5 - 4 stars

At first glance this book seems easy to characterize with a catchy tag line, to wit: the philosophy of Kant meets the cosmology of Lovecraft in a story inspired by John Carpenter's 'The Thing'. Fun, no doubt, even if it was simply that, but once you've made the journey through the book you will find that Roberts is doing something a little more subtle than that tag line implies and even turns many of these tropes on their head.

The main story thread takes place in the present and det
...more
Ellie
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi
Wow, well I’ll try and do The Thing Itself justice, but you’re better off just reading it and marvelling in its mind-blowing awesomeness. The blurb would have you think it’s a version of John Carpenter’s The Thing (a film I love) but really only the first part deals with the isolation and ensuing madness of Antarctica. There’s philosophy, a shady organisation, artificial intelligence, a shoeless man on the run and whole raft of stories throughout time.

At the heart of the book is the theme of how
...more
ashley c
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love it. What a marvelous mash-up of things any reasonable person will probably enjoy. Okay, that may be a bit too presumptuous, but really, Roberts made this action-packed, cosmic horror take on the Fermi Paradox - with a hat-tip to our dearest Kant - work wonders. It all ties in together - Kant's rationalism and relativism (? I only took one introductory module in university so please excuse me) as a way to explore the Fermi Paradox. I don't want to go too much into what these two ideas are ...more
Thomas Wagner
Jan 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
One might think of philosophy as a vital intellectual endeavor, or little more than fodder for rambling late-night conversations in a college dorm, enhanced by assorted chemical stimulants and some Pink Floyd dialed up on Spotify. But it has provided a dazzling fever dream of a foundation for The Thing Itself, a book in which Adam Roberts quite possibly achieves Peak Adam Roberts, mixing such elements as mad scientists and helicopter chases over Arctic wastes with the curious spectacle of a time ...more
Liviu
As the recent two Adam Roberts novels did not quite work for me for various reasons, I was a bit wary of this one though the general feeling from the description was positive as the book seemed to go on the "big philosophical" issues side and in most A. Roberts books, the thematic tends to determine my interest more than anything else (there are of course exceptions in his few adventure like novels).

The Thing Itself consists of a main narrative following Charles Gardner some decades after his t
...more
Edward  Goetz
I wanted to like this book more because it has such a great premise (which I won't spoil), but it just didn't totally click with me. Finishing it was a struggle.
Chris Berko
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The cleverest most mind blowing novel I've ever read.
Andrea
Jan 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Well, I started this book very dubious because of some negative reviews, but I trust Tudor's assessments and plus I've loved all of Adam Robert's other works.
And I was immediately drawn in, dazzled and delighted at the scope of this ambitious, and in my eyes, successful work on the nature of reality according to Kant. The narrative is puzzling at times, but all becomes clear and relevant eventually after many twists and leaps backwards and forwards in what we experience as time and space.
We star
...more
Blair
Rare, these days, for me to bother reading a reasonably long book only to give it such a low rating. I kept trying to like this, but by the end it actually made me angry, partly because it could have been so good. A brilliantly original and intelligent concept wasted on a dreadful protagonist, terrible humour, and constant, pointless, infuriating, exhausting, BORING sexism.

TinyLetter | Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr
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Tudor Ciocarlie
Oct 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Another great Adam Roberts' novel. The first 100 pages will be a real surprise for the reader because The Thing Itself certainly defies expectations. Among others, this extremely clever novel, written by an atheist, tries to prove the existence of god. Let's say it partially succeeds, but in order to do this, Roberts uses some of the most crazy science-fictional ideas I have ever read. And I'd say that if you need to use extreme speculative ideas in order to prove the existence of god than certa ...more
Wakizashi
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2018-reads
5★ for me, and I don't hand these out often.

The Thing Itself is a science fiction thriller about two men working for SETI on an Antarctic research base in the 1980s. It tells the fascinating story of what happens to them one long south-polar night, and the repercussions of this event. It does this through the intertextual lens of Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, the Fermi Paradox, a dash of James Joyce, some H.G. Wells, a sliver of John Carpenter, and more. (A lot more references than
...more
Alisha A
Dec 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
A book filled to the brim with interesting concepts, as all good Science Fiction should be. Within these pages, Adam Roberts takes us on a wild ride that leads from 18th century philosophy to Artificial Intelligence, time travel, aliens, telekinesis and a plethora of other off-the-wall topics. The downside is that there's no heart to the story. While we may love the ideas, we do not love the characters. This, along with the disappointingly forced experimental style of the historical narratives w ...more
fromcouchtomoon
Feb 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I'm not sure anything will ever be as rich as the splendid and insightful Bete-- which is something completely different and one of my favorite SF novels ever-- but this satisfies that craving for something smart and funny and full of SF and literary love, which is what I've come to expect from Roberts.
Brian Clegg
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This latest book from the master of intellectual science fiction, Adam Roberts, is a mind-bending delight - and nothing like the combination of the title and the cover suggests (yet even this deception is not entirely straightforward). Anyone versed in the genre would instantly make the leap, with the combination of 'The Thing' and a polar setting, to the classic science fiction film The Thing - and indeed Roberts does make a passing bow to this in the opening of the book. However, the monster i ...more
Andreas
Aug 01, 2018 rated it did not like it
What I thought I would be getting from this book: slow, creeping, crippling cosmic horror bathed in a deserted, inhospitable and cold landscape.

What I actually got out of this: a slow and boring over explanation of Kant’s philosophy wrapped in a poor David Mitchell “lots of narratives converging” facsimile.
B. Rule
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this highly entertaining. It's a kinda funny pitch, in that it's basically Eli Cash saying, "Everyone knows Kant's metaphysics of the Ding an Sich is a metaphorical attempt to describe reality; what this book presupposes is: maybe it's literal?" Roberts then turns that into a twisting, turning, philosophically spitballing SF/eldritch horror story about AI, (maybe?) aliens, time travel, Arctic madness, and crazy reality-warping super-powers. It's also very funny, mind-bending, and ultimat ...more
Robert Spencer
Jul 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Astounding novel. I didn't expect too much because it was such an unusual premise for a sci-fi novel, I figured he would wring 400 pages out of that and job done. But there is so much richness to the storytelling here, great inventiveness in prose style throughout and genuine humour peppered across the present-day storyline particularly. Then throw into the mix an explanation of Kant that I actually felt I understood properly for once, and you get a very satisfying experience. I hadn't read Robe ...more
Kate
Such a fabulous clever novel. While I can't claim to have understood every bit of it (at least not on this first reading), Adam Roberts' wonderful, wonderful writing made sure I enjoyed every page of it.

Kurt
Feb 20, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
One scientist tries to kill the other at a SETI research station in 1986, the reason: to get rid of the other's infringing consciousness, so that he might better experience "the Thing Itself", or the reality that exists "beyond" the human ability to perceive the universe. This violent event coincides with both men having extraordinary experiences, each attributing them to different causes (one being a true believer, the other a skeptic). Is this just a case of a mentally disturbed man losing his ...more
Steve
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Let me state up front that there were times when I said aloud that I wasn't smart enough to be reading this book. Part sci-fi speculative fiction in the mold of the Amy Adams' film, "Arrival," part meditation on Kantian philosophy, Roberts' book gives you a lot to chew on. In fact, I even nerded out a bit and listened to a few lectures on Kant's ideas when I started the novel to make sure I had a glimmer of what Roberts was talking about. Apparently, the central premise of Kant's "Copernican Rev ...more
Anna
Feb 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, philosophy, scifi
Francis Spufford recommended ‘The Thing Itself’ to me in The Guardian, although it didn’t need a very hard sell because I’d read seven of Adam Roberts other novels. Roberts is a brilliant high concept sci-fi writer: his novels always have some deeply interesting conceit at their centre, and generally experiment with structure in original ways as well. On the other hand, too many of his narrators fall into the narrow category of Crap Men, who generally don’t treat women very well. In this case, t ...more
Tung
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
People like to feel smart; and this is especially true of smart people. Now imagine tapping into that conceit by adding a creative story on top of a smart concept and disguising it as good fiction — that’s this book. Now, this might sound like a criticism; it’s not meant to be. I admire the audacity of it all. I mean, the book combines the Fermi paradox with Kant’s conception of the thing-in-itself with an XFiles storyline. Aliens, metaphysics, and sci-fi — what’s not to like?

Two men (Charles a
...more
Zack Clemmons
Jan 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fun entry in the "What if x was right all along?" genre, in which x = an opaque/much-debated philosopher or spiritual guru. This time, x = Kant, and the result is an inventive, perspicacious exposition on apperception and die (der?) Ding an Sich. The structure was interesting (Kant's 12 categories), and probably deserves more thought + attention, but I'm not sure it'd be wholly rewarding. The tacking back+forth between the main strait of the story and the formally disparate coves was, again, i ...more
Jon Norimann
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
After a bright promising start this book comes to a screaming halt before it really gets started. It ends up being a rather poor novel jumping from storyline to storyline. The underlying theme trying and failing to tie it all together is the philosopher Immanuel Kant. Quasi intellectual nonsense is what it ends up being. An origianl concept is the only thing saving this waste of time from getting 1 star.
Em "Reacher"
Mar 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: not-jack-reacher
As it turns out, The Thing Itself is less of a thrilling read and more of a spoonful of sugar that helps the Kantian philosophy go down. But I prefer to absorb philosophy like Jack Reacher absorbs his coffee: no frills, no cream, and definitely no sugar.
Victor Sonkin
Very good until some point when it deviates and starts to explore its philosophic agenda. However, still an interesting book that tries to deal with the existence of God (perhaps not very successfully, since the author is an atheist trying to make a different claim).
Matthew Richey
Interesting. A science-fiction novel written from an assumption of Kant's philosophical conclusions. Kant saw a distinction between the how human beings experience the world through our senses and categories of space, time, relation, etc., and actual reality ("the thing itself"). There is a reality beyond our experience, but there is no reason to assume that it matches the reality our minds have created. Our ability to perceive the "thing itself" is hampered by our inability to experience it wit ...more
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Can someone please explain chapter 4 to me?! 1 22 Mar 04, 2016 10:56AM  

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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
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