In his new solarpunk novel, The Roamers, Italian science fiction author Francesco Verso envisions a future where nanotechnology can free humanity from the scourge of famine. The technological breakthrough is provided by nanites, nanorobotic devices that can enter the human body and fundamentally change its physiology, in this case providing the organic molecules necessary for metabolic functioning without the need for individuals to consume food. The nanites thus provide a pathway to eradicate starvation, obesity, and all food-borne illnesses, while also eliminating the negative environmental impact of industrialized farming and food production.
The focus of The Roamers is on the Pulldogs, a group of early adopters of nanite technology who seek to escape their urban lifestyle to create a sustainable nomadic society. The title of the book refers to both the home city of the Pulldogs (Rome) as well as their desire to roam the countryside, freed from the stresses of urban life.
There are several contradictions at the heart of Pulldog philosophy. Although they are enthusiastic adopters of nanite technology, at the same time they reject most other modern technological breakthroughs to live a barefooted, nomadic lifestyle. There is a cult-like quality to the Pulldog organization. Although their health and environment-related goals are certainly noble, they engage in several types of clandestine activities and behave in an overly antagonistic fashion toward the Italian authorities.
The Roamers thus presents the embrace of nanites as fuel for a hippie-like countercultural movement rather than part of mainstream society. The physiological transformation enabled by the nanites is undoubtedly a huge step forward, but in many ways it also sends the Pulldogs back in time.
Francesco Verso mines a great deal of philosophical depth in The Roamers, envisioning the next stages of human evolution to be no longer purely Darwinian but rather enhanced by nanotechnology. Hence, the evolutionary process would no longer be restricted to random genetic mutations, but rather a more intentional, accelerated progression through the fusion of biology with nanotechnology.
Francesco Verso also does an outstanding job imagining the social implications of such drastic change. The near-present-day setting of The Roamers only enhances this impact, making it relatable to our everyday experiences as readers.
The Roamers was originally published in Italian and is translated to English by Jennifer Delare. Delare’s translation feels natural and polished. Verso pulled me in from the first page, building the story based on interpersonal relationships with just the right level of scientific and philosophical musings, although at times the author leans a bit too much toward telling the reader information directly rather than showing us naturally through the story.
Overall, The Roamers is a highly original and thought-provoking take on the role of nanotechnology in biological augmentation and its impact on society. The future envisioned by this solarpunk novel is not the utopian ideal, but rather one full of moral complexity as exhibited by the Pulldogs. In the end, Francesco Verso shows that although technology can alter human physiology, it cannot change human nature itself.