A weird mix, and maybe kind of a failure as a straightforward science-fiction novel--but so full of intriguing ideas, suggestive and ambiguous attention to social problems, often-dazzling wordplay, and (on occasion) compelling battle scenes.... NMA
deserves some attention.
In the near-future, the flash mob finds new footing (through extrapolated trends in wifi and wiki tech) as flash army; a great "Giant" coalesces to attack the "feudal hierarchies" of the UK and its traditional army, hired by the Scots in a plea for independence. Roberts takes a page or two to walk--or, rather, talk--through the motivations, but he seems uninterested--or, rather, his protagonist seems uninterested *and* a bit under-educated--about the social and political realities. This is one problem, a serious one, with the novel. Its grasp on the social context is flabby, a bit flip. (It bugged me to no end that the protagonist was constantly quoting pop culture, particularly musical references, that I know. When he compares the thwap of helicopter rotors to Johnny Marr's guitar work in "How Soon is Now?" I got to thinking that I have students--who will be older than the narrator when the date of the novel comes to pass--who believe that Stone Temple Pilots are classic rock. This is a minor complaint, but... the implication is that the guy is my, or Roberts', age... and no late-game dialogue about how the protagonist "doesn't like any music after 1979" will persuade me that this choice works.) But I came to realize that Roberts is not only not so concerned about the "future" (a not atypical generic ploy--to attack the now through elaborations of an imagined soon-to-be), he is more intrigued by certain philosophical problems.
Certainly why war. The implication of the "true democracy" of the New Model Armies is that we all thrill to and thrive on war. Or one implication. There are a lot of implications: to the nature of "democracy" and social order, to the possible societal impact of certain technologies, on the nature of consciousness, on morality and choice. . . Every few pages there are riffs which get better as the novel goes--the voice of the narrator stronger, the problems knottier. I liked that Roberts doesn't have a Big Thesis. He's got a firm grasp on a few central problems, but he doesn't have conclusions--he uses the novel like some of the guys (Rabelais, Swift, Sterne) he explicitly and implicitly quotes throughout, a stew of stories and moral conundrums and language games and social satire and...
... and yet. And yet it's never able--unlike the NMA Pantegral--to cohere compellingly in purpose, or impact. It seems fragmentary, rather than fragmented. He is, or should be, a justly-important figure in the science fiction scene, but I wouldn't start here. (Go try Yellow Blue Tibia