Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Top Ten Classic Bizarro Sci-fi novel #2 A polish classic!

Over the summer I did a ten week countdown of my favorite horror novels of all time. I had fun doing it and it seems based on the numbers that a lot of people were reading them. I enjoyed the discussions and so I decided to do another top down. So here are some rules, one book by each author because in this list it runs the risk of becoming the Philip K.Dick list. The second rule is nothing published in the 21st century. There are great gonzo sci-fi novels released in the last thirteen years for sure, The Skinner by Neal Asher and Dr. Identity by D.Harlan Wilson are great examples. They are great but we are talking old school now. The more weird the better, they can be serious or totally funny, the most important thing is that they are bizarro and awesome.

10.Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

9. Transmaniacon By John Shirley

8.Void Captain’s Tale By Norman Spinrad

7. Beyond Apollo by Barry Malzberg

6. Software by Rudy Rucker

5. Always Coming Home by Ursala K.Leguin

4. Two Hawks from Earth By Philip Jose Farmer

3. City by Clifford Simak

Number 2 is:
Released: 1961 (Polish language )

The Plot: Solaris is most well known as a boring George Clooney movie, which is most often considered a Steven Soderberg remake of a Classic Russian Science Fiction movie from the 70's. The source material however is the super amazing masterpiece by polish Science Fiction author Stanislaw Lem. I am a fan of the Russian film, but it is hardly a faithful adaptation, and the Clooney movie despite having a really filmmaker just straight up fails to capture the book. I wanted badly to like that movie but couldn't.

Oh yeah, the plot. Kris Kelvin is a scientist sent to the planet Solaris to study it's ocean. You see the planet is teaming with life, but not life as we know it. Is the ocean alive? Who is researching who? This novel is a great exploration of the idea of first contact, done in a thoughtful way.

The Weirdest Aspect:

The aliens in this novel are not lizards, or humans with a funny ridgeline. This is one of the greatest examples of totally alien intelligence in a novel. Kelvin goes to Solaris to study this world and basically by the end of the novel it becomes clear he is the one under the microscope. The alien intelligence in this novel is so strange that it is hard for the researchers to understand, and thus the novel requires a great deal of imagination on the reader as well.

In some respects this is a a more frightening novel than many horror novels. I mean really I respected Soderberg enough that I didn't think he would boil this awesome concept into a tragic romance, but he did.

What does it say about our world?

It says less about our world than it does our humanity. Our place in a universe that is bigger and wider than our small imaginations normally push. This book should expand your thinking. It should make you consider things you never thought about before. Maybe you had thought of these things before, if so then you'll read it saying “Dude Lem was rocking these ideas in 1961 behind the red curtain.” That is cool.

Bottom line is it good?

Solaris is a fantastic novel and an absolute undisputed masterpiece of Science Fiction worthy of being taught in schools as an example of the genre transcending. With a concept like this, many sci-fi writers of the era got cute with the ideas and totally forgot about the characters. Lem balances the feelings of guilt and exploration of humanity perfectly with otherness and alien nature of Solaris.

Written in polish, translated in French and most English paperbacks are translated into English from the French version. It is reported that Lem hated that translation. Lem did before his death approve a direct polish to english translation that is used in the audible audio book. Luke Barrage of the Science Fiction book review podcast reviewed all the different translations (and both films and BBC radio drama) on a n episode of his podcast. He spends a lot of time explaining how that translation is much better. I read the English to French and thought it was great, but you should consider the audio book.

The Author:

I admit I have only read two Lem novels and they are both amazing. The other being “His Master's Voice.” That is also a first contact story more in the SETI radio signal vein. I read both of them when I was living in Syracuse in the 90's. I read them back to back, and not sure why I have not read more. I will do that soon. He has been published in over 40 languages, but Solaris having been made into two movies is his most known work. I have been intending

Honorable mention of the week:

Crompton Divided by Robert Sheckley

David Agranoff is the author of two published novels the Wuxia Pan style horror fantasy crossover "Hunting The Moon Tribe," and the satire "The Vegan Revolution With Zombies. He is also the author of the Wonderland award short story collection "Screams From a Dying World." His next novel Boot Boys of the Wolf-Reich is due to be released soon by Deadite press.

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