Sunday 14 October 2018

Solaris - Stanislaw Lem (1961)

Rating: Sublime

A year or so ago a close friend gifted me a copy of Solaris, telling me that it was among the greatest novels he'd ever read. His words were certainly true, Solaris is a brilliant science fiction novel, and is up there with the great novels from any literary genre. Lem's prose style is beautifully precise and absolutely compelling. It is certainly one of the most psychologically intense novels I have read, with the protagonists life aboard the station hovering above the theoretically sentient 'sea' on the planet of Solaris portrayed in claustrophobic detail. Lem presents a highly believable premise in which humanity grapples with the possibility of first contact and yet struggles pathetically to comprehend the 'sea' of Solaris and the 'visitors' that are generated from their own minds. 

Lem managed to both expose humanity's hubris and also create a presence that is truly alien. The 'sea' broils with creative intent, whilst the visitors torture the crew with their cruelly demanding presence. Solaris has inspired two feature films, one by the Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky and more recently by Steven Soderbergh, both of which are satisfying in their own ways, but in my opinion neither came close to capturing the brilliance of Lem's novel.

Monday 1 October 2018

Permutation City - Greg Egan (1994)

Rating: Excellent

I can't believe that it has taken me this long to read a Greg Egan novel, after all he is a fellow resident of Perth and has been writing quality science fiction for decades. Egan is notorious for never attending conventions, participating in book signings and has managed the near impossible feat of never having a picture of himself published on the web. For all I know I could have mingled with him at one of the many parties I went to in the 1990's around the University of Western Australia area (where Egan studied mathematics). Previously I have read Axiomatic (1995), Egan's collection of brilliant short stories, and Permutation City is just as amazing. The novel is conceptually brilliant; perhaps being the best depiction of what it would be like to be a self aware copied simulation of a human mind in cyberspace I have ever encountered. 

Permutation City is endlessly fascinating and inventive, including a feasible depiction of what it would take to bootstrap a self perpetuating universe out of the nebulous reality of cyberspace itself. I came close to awarding Permutation City a sublime rating, however it was only let down by some stylistically flat sections and some slightly one-dimensional characters; however these are only minor quibbles when considering the mind-bending thematic scope of Permutation City. The novel is a total must read for science fiction devotees and I'm definitely going to read another of his novels' sooner rather than later.