B.O.S.S. Elevated Electro Ephemera #000000000018
“Literature, from the very beginning, has had a single enemy, and that is the restriction of the expressed idea. It turns out, however, that freedom of expression sometimes presents a greater threat to an idea, because forbidden thoughts may circulate in secret, but what can be done when an important fact is lost in a flood of imposters, and the voice of truth becomes drowned out in an ungodly din? When that voice, though freely resounding, cannot be heard, because the technologies of information have led to a situation in which one can receive best the message of him who shouts the loudest, even when the most falsely?”
- Stanisław Lem (His Master’s Voice, 1968)
For if one was to somehow get over how alarmingly prescient such a thought was fifty years ago, if one was to somehow muster up the confidence to parse through the increasing omnipresence of technology in our lives (or perhaps our lives in technology), for if one was to somehow hang on long enough to understand the extent and overlap of cold, hard science with one’s own emotions, one might find:
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
And reading it is going to be cool for the following reasons:
- Lem is often regarded as the writer who best encompasses the overlap of science fiction, philosophy, and literature, using a lifetime of works to continually push himself into different definitions of what that combination can mean. His early works were often characterized by humor and playfulness, somewhat akin to sci-fi era Vonnegut, only so much more heavy on the technical details. Take this excerpt from The Cyberiad as proof:
“ Aye, Your Aliennesse! Listen and attend . . . There are legends, as you know, that speak of a race of paleface, who concocted robotkind out of a test tube, though anyone with a grain of sense knows this to be a foul lie . . . For in the Beginning there was naught but Formless Darkness, and in the Darkness, Magneticity, which moved the atoms, and whirling atom struck atom, and Current was thus created, and the First Light . . . from which the stars were kindled, and then the planets cooled, and in their cores the breath of Sacred Statisticality gave rise to microscopic Protomechanoans, which begat, Proteromechanoids, which, which begat the Primitive Mechanisms. These could not yet calculate, nor scarcely put two and two together, but thanks to Evolution and Natural Subtraction they soon multiplied and produced Omnistats, which gave birth to the Servostat, the Missing Clink, and from it came our progenitor, Automatus Sapiens . . .”
- Later explorations became even more philosophically heavy (see the journeys of his recurring space adventurer Ijon Tichy as examples still wielding playfulness, but diving into deep questions) and even more technical. The latter category can be seen in His Master’s Voice, an in-depth thought exercise on the story of trying to decipher an alien transmission that becomes less about the communication itself and more about what exactly communication is. His later novel, Fiasco, pushes these technical details even further—or to technical tedium, depending on your taste—mixing multi-page descriptions on relativity and space travel with discussions on game theory and the adaptability of religion in a future where reanimation and physics become dogma.
- Solaris is his most known work, perhaps striking the most equal balance between his competing tensions of deep scientific detail, philosophy, and literary prose.
Solaris is a shorter work, which means we’ll shoot for a single meet-up on this one in the mid March timeframe.
With black holes and blacker hearts,
B.O.S.S. Department of Maybe We Should Try to Read Some Sci Fi
Post-script: If you’re interested in some extra-curricular material, we will be also be doing podcasts on Fiasco, as well as an episode discussing how the novel Solaris compares with its 1972 and 2002 film adaptations.
Post-post-script: The artwork for this round has been graciously created by SF designer Talin Wadsworth.