Print Written by Alister Davison



In a world where animals have been implanted with Artificial Intelligence chips, Graham Penhaligon is preparing to kill a talking cow. So begins Bête, the latest book from Adam Roberts. Graham’s dilemma – if the speech and self-awareness given by the AI means the animal should be treated more like a human being – forms the core of the novel, but this is much more than a discourse on man’s treatment of animals or a promotion for vegetarianism. From the very first page, it’s clear that Bête is something special. Despite the serious concept, there’s an opportunity for a laugh after only a few lines; that this humour comes from the cow only serves to deepen Graham’s predicament. 

Graham, as narrator, is a character we can all identify with, a man who knows his flaws and accepts them as part of who he is. It’s a pleasure to read about him and, thanks to the skills of the author, we’re immersed in his journey rather than simply being told about it. There are moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity, yet when Graham feels pain, we feel it too; when he hurts, we hurt along with him, to the point of sharing his sadness. Be warned – there may be tears.

As the novel progresses, society inevitably alters and adapts to the new animal intelligences and, while it’s all very believable, it’s not necessarily in the way the reader would expect. Ultimately, because Bête is about this one man, it’s all seen through his eyes; it feels post-apocalyptic at times until being reminded that society, however different, still exists. 

The greatest science fiction novels take into account the changes on the people affected by the advances in technology, and Bête ranks with the best of them. What could have been just quirky and satirical – it is both – becomes so much more through intelligent writing that takes the reader through a whole range of emotions. Bête is a wonderful book that, once begun, insists on being read in one sitting; darkly comic, it’s a deeply thoughtful, moving and uplifting story from a master of the genre.


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