Summary: There is no way to really describe this book.
I have never heard of Adam Roberts prior to this book. But he has written several books as a sci-fi novelist and he is a professor of 19th century English literature at the University of London.
Both John Wilson and Alan Jacobs spoke very highly of The Thing Itself (John made it his book of the year for 2016), so I added it to my list. Anything that both Alan and John highly recommend I will read.
It is not a traditional scifi book. While it deals with science fiction concepts (time travel, Artificial Intelligence, conspiracy theories, etc.) it also spends a lot of time discussion philosophy, especially Kant. Adam Roberts is an atheist. John Wilson has a quote from Roberts in his piece, “As an atheist writing a novel about why you should believe in God, I have taken more than I can say from the eloquent and persuasive devotional writing of my friends Alan Jacobs and Francis Spufford, Christians both.”
That line was enough to make me pick up the book. But when I read Alan Jacob’s piece again (linked above) after I finished, I am reminded that there is often much more going on in a book than what is immediately obvious to the average reader. I am not a well read Kant scholar. I feel like I need to read a book on Kant and then go back and re-read The Thing Itself again. I understand the basic book, but I do think I missed a lot.
That being said, the whole first 1/3 or so of the book is intended to bounce around and not really make any sense. It is only about half way through the book that the threads start to weave together enough that you can sort of figure out what is going on. If you like reading books where you don’t really know what is going on, this is a good one. If you don’t, I wouldn’t pick this one up.