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The Roamers
by Francesco Verso

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted May 15, 2023

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I first became aware of Francesco Verso a few years ago with the story collection Future Fiction, which he co-edited with Bill Campbell, and which was named for an Italian magazine Verso edits. The Roamers is an English translation of just the first part of his 2018 book, I Camminatori (The Walkers, according to Google translate), that part being "I Pulldogs." That doesn't translate as anything other than what it means in the book, Pulldogs being a group of rickshaw drivers in Rome, although we later learn there are other such groups in other cities and countries. It is set in the very near future where 3D printers, here known as Public Matter Compositors, have become so ubiquitous, and later made available in smaller versions for personal use. That happened during and after a major power blackout, when looters stole the smaller compositors and began manufacturing them for wider distribution. People used to stand in long lines at PMC depots, pay for what they wanted made, then wait a short time for it to be printed. Now all they need is the design specs for what they can print at home, and that includes anything from furniture to clothing, complete books, even food and medicines.

Another major plot element revolves around nanotechnology, with characters surreptitiously acquiring copyrighted nanites which they hope will alleviate or cure a person's paralysis after a work related injury, one for which the company disavows any responsibility. The nanites, once ingested or injected, would supposedly be able to move throughout the body, analyze which systems needed repair, then reconfigure their nature in order to enact the repairs. The book is in three major parts, focusing on three different characters; Miriam Farchi, Nicholas Tomei, and Silvia Ruiz. Miriam is the mother of Alan, the one injured in a warehouse accident. Silvia Ruiz is the Pulldog that transports him to the hospital. She is also a childhood friend of Nicholas, so different parts of her story are included in all three sections. Miriam devoted a lot of time and energy taking care of Alan, who in the beginning is depressed and angry most of the time. She put herself in jeopardy several times, first when she purchased the proscribed nanites, then later losing her job and having to sell her apartment and move in with Alan. His recovery is not detailed enough, but rather several years are skipped over, to the point where he was able to get around on crutches, which is when he reconnects with Silvia, then later regaining full mobility. That covers about two years in less than a third of the book.

When reading a translated work from a language you do not know, it is difficult knowing if problems, what I consider short-comings in the plot, are the fault of the translation or the original text. Mainly, I had a hard time sympathizing with Alan, a real dick to his mother in the beginning, then an arrogant proselytizer who pulled Silvia away from her life. She and the Pulldogs lived communally in Serra Spino on the outskirts of Rome, where they grew their own food and raised a variety of livestock. Alan convinced her and other Pulldogs to move to an abandoned, never completed bridge, the Garbatella-Testaccio viaduct. That is fictional, but might be a stand-in for the Ponte dell'Industria, which burned but then was rebuilt in 2021. It is near several sections of Rome mentioned in the book. Another character that didn't appeal to me was Nicholas, and not just because of his physical condition. He was a "fragrance designer," working for his father's company Rendezvous. He is obese, and no matter what diets he had tried, he had failed to curb his obsession with food. He has learned of the nanites, that one of the side-effects of their use is the body becomes more efficient, needing less food to replenish and maintin energy levels. He schedules a meeting with Miriam to obtain them, but she is arrested just before they were to meet. He finds out about Alan and Silvia, and works to insinuate himself into their lives, which he hopes will lead to them granting use of the nanites.

Remember this is very near future, sometime between present day and 2030. It's hard to believe such changes to human habits could happen in such a short time. I mentioned above that people could print their own food, and even if they purchased their food, it was mainly "nutraceuticals," the most unnatural of junk food, no matter that it might be delicious. Since those could be manufactured at home or bought inexpensively, restaurants are endangered, including one owned by Silvia's parents. It's one of the reasons the Pulldogs grew their own food, to have a source of fresh fruits and vegetables. Yet the nanites were supposed to eliminate the need to eat? However, more water had to be consumed to counteract the bodily heat produced by the nanites. That's not even mentioning how Nicholas redesigns nanites for an even more revolutionary (evolutionary?) change in human physiology. I know it is possible certain technological breakthroughs might be just around the corner, but these were hard to accept in such a tight time frame. Maybe if I cared for the characters more that wouldn't have bothered me as much. I wish more time had been devoted to Miriam, but she's in jail for most of the book, and Alan and Nicholas are both self-centered, expecting others to follow along in the far-fetched schemes. Silvia is a more sympathetic character, and gets plenty of attention, but she is at the mercy of both Alan and Nicholas too often. I don't know if we'll get to see the second part of the original book, which was titled "No/Mad/Land." I thought the English title of this part might refer to the nanites, as they roamed around the body making their repairs, but apparently it's about what Nicholas wants to do, to leave Rome and become a nomad. If Sivlia is involved, I might want to read that, but if not I'll be less interested.


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Francesco Verso

First Italian Ed. (as "I Camminatori"): April 11, 2018

English translation: May 9, 2023

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