The novel “Kiteworld” by Keith Roberts was published for the first time in 1985 by fixing-up some stories published previously.
The Badlands are watched by the Corps of the Observers, who uses Kites to address the possible dangers that might threaten the Realm. There are many legends about who or what lives in the Badlands and it’s difficult to understand what’s true about them. Airships patrol those areas but encounters with their inhabitants are rare.
According to the Church Variant, the Badlands are inhabited by demons and not conforming to the will of the priests constitutes a sin. The relationships between Kite Pilots and the Church Variant are not always easy and there are religious fundamentalist factions that make the situation more complicated.
In 1982, Keith Roberts published the short story “Kitemaster”, which won the British Science Fiction Award as the best short story of the year. It introduced Kiteworld and in subsequent years the author added other stories that he then fixed-up to form the novel “Kiteworld”.
Keith Roberts remains vague about the setting. There are some hints about a destruction connected to the existence of the Badlands and the strange creatures that inhabit them, considered demons but without real explanations. Eventually, it’s the book’s blurb that it’s explicitly stated that the novel is set after an atomic war that devastated the world.
Since the beginning of the novel, made up of the first short story written by Keith Roberts, the author shows that he’s interested in telling stories focused on various characters living in that post-apocalyptic society. The civilization that developed becoming Kiteworld is just a frame that only provides some information needed to create the stories.
Even concerning the Badlands and the creatures that inhabit them, Keith Roberts merely gives some hints connected with some sightings by Corps members and the fact that they’re mentioned as demons by the religious oligarchy. It can be deduced that these are mutants but Kiteworld lost the scientific knowledge accumulated before the atomic apocalypse so there are references of that kind.
The first stories are autonomous and share only the setting in Kiteworld. Only the last ones form a single story focused above all on the character of Rand and his complicated relationship with Janni and Velvet. The relationships between men and women in that decidedly male-dominated society is the main theme of the whole novel.
My problem with “Kiteworld” is precisely in this setup by Keith Roberts. Basically, I had little interest about learning about the complications in love or even just sexual relationships that existed in that society while I would have liked to know something more about the rest of the world, beginning with what was really happening in the Badlands.
Kiteworld is a theocratic dystopia I found not very interesting perhaps also because Keith Roberts focused mainly on stories that all in all are ordinary. The fragmentation in separate stories of varying length covering very different time frames didn’t help because only the characters of some stories are really developed.
Things improve with Rand’s story, not only because there’s a sort of novella within “Kiteworld” but also because the characters’ story is developed in a plot that also involves changes in the Realm and the existence of other humans in other parts of the world. That’s something but for my personal tastes not enough.
In the end, the problems I had with “Kiteworld” are very subjective, deriving from my tastes. If you’re interested in stories of people living in a society somewhat different from ours and the fact that there are some autonomous stories don’t bother you, you migh like this novel.