Tag Archives: science fiction

Book Review: Solaris

Book Name: Solaris
Author: Stanislaw Lem
First Published: 1961

Stanislaw Lem was born on September 12, 1921 in Lwow, Poland. He was Jewish, but he and his parents were able to survive the Nazi occupation during World War II by using falsified documents. He was raised as a Roman Catholic, but later would turn from this faith and declare himself to be agnostic. Lem was quoted as saying, “for moral reasons … the world appears to me to be put together in such a painful way that I prefer to believe that it was not created … intentionally.” He worked as a science research assistant during his college years and it was during this time that he began writing his stories. Later, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, he worked as a mechanic and welder, becoming active in the resistance. When the Polish territory Kresy became part of Soviet Ukraine, he and his family moved to Krakow. His father, a doctor, wanted him to study medicine at Jagiellonian University and Lem enrolled but he intentionally failed his finals to avoid being forced to become a military physician.

Lem began writing poetry, stories, and essays while working as a research assistant. The Man from Mars, his first science fiction novel, was released as a series in a Ukraine magazine called New World of Adventures. During the Stalin regime, when works had to be approved by the government before publication, he had to include in his books content that put socialism and communism in a good light. When the de-Stalinization period in the Soviet Union started the “Polish October”, Poland celebrated a rise in political free speech. Free of the shackles of having to bow to the promotion of communism in his writing by the Soviets, Lem wrote 17 books from 1956 to 1968. It was during this time that he met and married Barbara Leśniak, a radiologist, in 1953. Their son, Tomasz, was born in 1968.

One of the novels during this busy writing period was his highly popular novel Solaris. In the book, Lem presents the recurring theme of how futile it is for humans to understand things that are extremely alien. Solaris has had three screen adaptations: a two-part Russian TV film in 1968, a full-length Russian film in 1972, and a 2002 Hollywood film.

In 1973, despite being ineligible due to his non-american status, The SFWA awarded Stanislaw Lem an honorary membership. Lem accepted the membership at that time, but thought of American science fiction as ill thought-out and poorly written, being created to make money instead of the formation of ideas or new literary forms. After Lem’s work was published in America, and he became eligible for a regular membership, his honorary one was rescinded. It was thought that this was intended to be a rebuke toward Lem and his contempt for American science fiction writers, certainly Lem seemed to think that it was. Many SFWA members protested Lem’s treatment, including Ursula K. Le Guin, but Lem declined the regular membership, even though the membership fees were offered to be paid by a fellow member.

Starting the 1980s, he focused more on philosophical essays and over the years became critical of science fiction and pessimistic about modern technology. He also had a falling out with his previous agent Franz Rottensteiner, who contributed in introducing him to Western readers. In 1996, Lem was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest decoration of merit for civilians and military personnel.

Lem died on March 27, 2006 of heart disease. The urn containing his ashes was laid at Salwatorski Cemetery. Although he declared himself an agnostic, Lem’s funeral was conducted in accordance with Roman Catholic rites at his family’s request.

Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed. – Stanislaw Lem

The planet Solaris is covered by a vast ocean that is possibly a giant, sentient organism. Scientists, referred to as Solarists, have been studying the planet and its ocean for decades. They have been recording and elaborately classifying the complex phenomena that happen on the ocean’s surface but they do not really understand what those activities mean. The psychologist Kris Kelvin travels from Earth to the Solaris Station, a research station hovering near the planet’s surface, and meets Snow and Sartorius, two of the scientists there. He finds the station in chaos and the scientists near madness. Another scientist, Kelvin’s acquaintance named Gibarian, has killed himself just hours before.

The crew has aggressively bombarded the ocean with high-energy X-ray as part of an unauthorized experiment shortly before Kelvin’s arrival. The ocean has responded by creating exact copies of people from the scientists’ most painful memories. These mysterious human-like beings with superhuman abilities are in the ship and are psychologically tormenting the researchers. The visitors and the real humans differ from each other sub-atomically – the visitors’ bodies are made of stabilized neutrinos that give the visitors great strength and regeneration capabilities.

The visitors of Snow and Sartorius are anonymous but Kelvin encounters Gibarian’s visitor, a “giant Negress”. Kelvin also meets his own visitor: a duplicate of Rheya, his lover who has injected herself with poison when he left her. Rheya does not know that she is just a copy. Kelvin feels conflicting emotions upon seeing her but decides to lure her into a shuttle then eject her into space to get rid of her. A second Rheya appears with no memory of the shuttle and this time, Kelvin decides to stay with her because he is still in love with the original Rheya. The second duplicate, however, hears a recording made by Gibarian and learns that she is just a copy and is not really human. She drinks liquid oxygen to end her life but her body heals itself. The other Solarists work to discover a way to destroy the visitors but Kelvin decides that he will protect Rheya no matter what happens. Later, the researchers decide to record Kelvin’s electrical brain impulses and beam them into the ocean. Nothing happens at first, then Kelvin begins having weird dreams. Several weeks later, a strange ocean storm occurs and Snow sees a possible way for humans to communicate with the giant alien organism.

Solaris-bookcoverMy interest in the author began when I saw the 2002 movie Solaris, staring George Clooney. It intrigued me and I went on to read the novel and look at other works by Stanislaw Lem. He has a literary style to his writing that conveys deeper ideas than many science fiction novels do today. If you haven’t checked out work by this classic science fiction author before, Solaris would be a good one to sample first.

Author Interview: Kate Wrath

Kate Wrath lives in the desert Southwest and writes science fiction and fantasy novels. I’m pleased to welcome her here on No Wasted Ink.

Author Kate WrathI’m Kate Wrath. I’m a writer and an artist. I live in the Southwest with my husband, my two girls, and my big dog (he would be upset if I left him out).

When and why did you begin writing?

I started writing fan fiction with my friends when I was twelve. It quickly became an obsession, and before I knew it, I was writing my own stories. I had written thousands of pages by the time I started high school, and it just kept adding up from there.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

That’s a difficult question. I know a lot of writers who have different milestones they feel they need to reach to be considered a writer—paying the rent with their writing, getting an agent…. I think I’m more in the camp that I just am a writer, because that’s who I am. It defines me. People who don’t know I write don’t know me at all. I’ve felt that way for so long that I couldn’t tell you when I first thought of myself that way.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

Yes! I have just released E, a dystopian novel about a girl who has been “erased”. She’s lost her memories, her family, her whole identity, and she is thrown into this harsh world where everything is set against her. It would be really easy for her to just give up and die, but she won’t. She does what she has to, and she manages to scrape a life together, but that’s only the beginning. Everything she loves is endangered by conflicts that are happening around her, and if that’s not enough, her unknown past is also calling to her. There’s a lot of action, but the story is character-driven, so prepare to get attached to the cast. E is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster ride through danger, romance, friendship, despair, and love in its purest form. I am continuing the story in a second book that I hope to have out by the end of the year.

What inspired you to write this book?

E was entirely subliminal, at least to start with. Most of the time I work off of inspiration. An idea strikes and I run with it. With E, I wasn’t planning to write a novel. I’d been working on another long-term project, and was feeling a bit burnt out on it. One night, I just felt like writing. For me. I had no idea what I wanted to write or what it would be about. Just that it was something new. I sat down with a pen and notebook and began writing, literally not knowing a single thing that would come out on the page. Needless to say, I was a little surprised. For a few days I just went with it, and let the story take me where it wanted. Several days in, I sat down to type it up and thought, Wow, I’d really better figure out where this is going. So I approached the rest of it in a more organized fashion, though I wanted to keep the spontaneity of it, so I allowed myself a lot of freedom, and wrote with a lot of unknowns.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I write a broad range of things, but the one thing that is common in all my writing is that it is character-focused. When I read a book, I want to know the people in it, and if I finish the book and I don’t, I feel unsatisfied. Plot is important, yes, but I feel like the most intriguing plots are born out of the intricacies of the characters and how those all play together. I really know my characters—sometimes too well—and I think that my readers will walk away feeling like they are real people. They are complex and they have reasons for what they do, and they’re not the canned stereotypes you find everywhere. I mean, seriously, there is nothing I hate more than the villain who wants to bring misery to the world “just because”, or the hero who cannot be corrupted. I’ve never met anyone that flat, and you won’t meet anyone like that in my novels either.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

E was my working title, meaning it came to me quickly and out of the blue. Several people have commented on it. Peculiar. One letter for a title. Shouldn’t I give the audience more? The answer is: no. I like its ambiguity. It’s a very important letter in my novel—it’s almost too obvious what it stands for. But the truth is it means a lot of things. And I like things that mean a lot of things. J

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

There is not so much a message, but there are some important themes. As a writer, I put a lot of thought into the decisions I make in my writing, and it is always exciting when someone really “gets” what it’s all about. But often readers aren’t looking for that stuff. Maybe it makes it through subliminally. But I think that’s the thing about a good story—you can enjoy it on a lot of different levels. With E, I think there is an entertaining read and a moving story on the surface, but for readers who want more, there is definitely more to find.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

No, not directly. But it would be impossible to write a novel that doesn’t draw on my own life journey, so in a way, yes.

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

I have to say, recently I read Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, and I was just blown away by all the depths of it, and the poetry of the language. I also adore Suzanne Collins for wrapping up The Hunger Games trilogy the way she did. She didn’t take the easy route, or even the most sellable story, but she said what she had to say, and she did it without preaching. I think the books were so much more powerful and profound for that decision. I really respect that.

When I was growing up, I read a lot of different things. My mom read us a lot of the classics, and those were very happy times. I love Shakespeare, for the language, and the many layers, and the great switcheroos. I could talk a lot about all the books I love, and how they have influenced my life, but I can’t say I ever thought much about authors or truly appreciated the craft of their works until I became one myself.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor? Why?

If I had to choose… I’d say Wendy and Richard Pini (even though I don’t know much about them), because I got my start and found my passion writing Elfquest fan fiction… ah so many years ago. So in a way they are responsible for me becoming a writer.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

Me! It took days on end, lots of coffee, and it is a wonder my computer survived. I really think graphic designers must be the saints of all saints. They must have endless patience. Or maybe they just know what they’re doing.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Keep writing! Haha, that’s actually a joke because when you go to a writer’s conference you hear that so many times you just want to choke on it. But yeah, really, keep writing. The more you write, the better you get. Also, don’t worry too much about taking advice from other authors (like me), or trying to fit yourself into a box that someone else has contrived. One thing I’ve learned from talking to other authors is that the author experience is different for all of us. Do what you’ve gotta do. Do it why you’ve got to do it. And do it in your own timeframe. Oh yeah, and develop a thick skin, and be as dogmatic as a rabid pitbull, because there is no one else out there (no matter how much they love you) who is going to believe in you as a writer as much as you do. So yeah. Keep writing! Rawr!

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Thank you. Authors are not authors without readers. *Big hugs*

E Book CoverKate Wrath
Southwest, USA

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Book Review: The Children of Men

Book Name: The Children of Men
Author: P.D. James
First Published: 1992

Phyllis Dorothy James, commonly known as P.D. James, was born on August 3, 1920 in Oxford. She studied at the British School in Ludlow and Cambridge High School for Girls. Her father, Sidney James, was a tax inspector.

Due to financial constraints and her father’s belief that girls did not need higher education, James left school when she was 16 years old. She worked for several years before she married army doctor Ernest Connor Bantry in 1941. The couple had two daughters, Jane and Claire, but when her husband returned from World War II, he was mentally ill and was placed in a psychiatric institution. James was forced to be the family breadwinner until her husband died in 1964. She studied hospital administration and worked in the National Health Service from 1949 to 1968.

James began writing in the mid-1950s. Two years after her first novel Cover Her Face was published, she began working in the criminal section of the Home Office in the UK. She continued being a public servant until her retirement. James used her work experience in many of her novels. Much of her work feature UK’s bureaucracies, such as the National Health Service and the criminal justice system.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Society of Literature. She has won several awards for her writing and was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1983. She became a life peer in the House of Lords in 1991 and President of the Society of Authors in 1997. In 2008, she was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame at the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards.

P.D. James is most popular for her detective series starring the policeman Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard. In the 1980s, several of James’ mystery novels were made into television shows and aired in the UK as well as in other countries such as the USA. Her dystopian novel, The Children of Men, was adapted into a 2006 feature film starring Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, and Michael Caine.

Charm is often despised but I can never see why. No one has it who isn’t capable of genuinely liking others, at least at the actual moment of meeting and speaking. Charm is always genuine; it may be superficial but it isn’t false. – P.D. James

It is the year 2021. The world population is steadily decreasing and there is mass infertility. People last gave birth in 1995 and humanity is facing imminent extinction. In desperation, people are treating newborn animals as their babies. The members of the youngest generation, called “Omegas”, are now all adults but are spoiled, violent, and contemptuous of their elders. Nevertheless, they are prized for their youth and are thus treated to luxurious lifestyles and are never punished. The British Omegas are prohibited from leaving the country but workers from poorer countries are lured and made to do the undesirable work then sent back once they reach 60. The old and the sick are considered a burden, with only the privileged ones given care while the rest are encouraged or even forced to kill themselves in a legalized mass drowning called Quietus.

The rich and influential Xan Lyppiatt is the self-appointed Warden of England and has replaced democracy with an egalitarian regime due to the people’s lack of interest in politics. Dr. Theodore “Theo” Faron, a historian at the Oxford University and Xan’s cousin, is approached by Julian, a female dissident who belongs to the group Five Fishes. The group wants Theo’s help in asking Xan to implement reforms before they start a revolution. The rebels want Xan to bring back democracy, to shut down the isolated penal colony on the Isle of Man, and to stop the mass suicide of the old and the infirm. Theo agrees but his meeting with Xan ends up being a meeting with all the five members of the Council of England, the country’s governing body. The meeting is a failure as Xan does not agree with the demands. Xan suspects that Theo’s suggestions come from others and plans to move against the dissidents.

The State Secret Police visits Theo and the latter tells Julian about the visit before traveling around Europe for several months to see the continent before it becomes overrun by nature. When he returns, he finds out that the dissidents have continued the revolution by distributing pamphlets and sabotaging wharves and that one of them has been arrested while attempting to blow up a mass suicide facility. Theo also learns that Julian is pregnant. At first, he thinks Julian is just delusional, but changes his mind when he hears the baby’s heartbeat. The group now struggles to keep Julian and her baby safe during their flight.

My first exposure to PD James was via the motion picture The Children of Men starring Clive Owen and Micheal Cain. I found the storyline and concept of the movie to be unique and later, I went on to read the book that the movie was based on. I discovered that the film and the book are rather different. The movie had plenty of suspense and action, while the book delved more into the political makeup of this futuristic England and had long passages of description that perhaps could have been shorter and to the point.

The Children of Men Book CoverThe idea of the Omega generation is chilling. The thought that this was the end of humanity and no more after us, is heartbreaking. I can see some of the behavior of the women in this book in today’s culture. Many people are child-free and do dote on their pets as if they were children, just as the characters in James’ book would push dolls around in prams or christen their cats. After I finished the book, I confess that it was good to see our neighborhood kids playing outside as usual. Global infertility has not quite reached us yet.

Dystopian science fiction lets us see into a dark possible future, but shining a light into those shadows is often a way to avoid the pitfalls ahead. I recommend reading The Children of Men, it is a classic that should be experienced.

Speculative Fiction: Learning the Genre

Plunge into Space (1890)Speculative Fiction, the overall genre that encompasses Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror and all their sub-genre niches, is my genre of choice. Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of novels in this genre. Even so, it is difficult to keep up with the trends of present day writing. To keep informed, I frequent many sites, guilds, blogs and forums on the subject. If you are an aspiring speculative fiction writer, you will find these sites to be a good resource for you. The only way to learn about a genre is to dive in and read about it. I’ve made a list of some of my favorites below.

SFWA is the site for the Science Fiction Writers of America. This is a guild for published authors only. They have strict guidelines for joining based on where and the dollar amounts that you have sold. SFWA has a newsletter, hosts the Nebula and Hugo awards and members are able to vote for the winners. As an aspiring science fiction and fantasy writer, it is a place to be aware of and consider joining once you have a few publishing credits to your name.

Del Rey Suvudo A site dedicated to the latest news and happenings in the science fiction universe. There is plenty to read here, from the fan to the professional. You will spend hours reading many great articles about books, television, movies and all things speculative fiction related.

Tor Books is a publisher of science fiction and fantasy. Their site is an enormous resource of blog posts, links, original fiction and more. I find the book and television reviews to be particularly good. Reading them gives me a better grasp on current trends in the genre.

Locus is the trade magazine of the science fiction and fantasy publishing world. If you are an author in the genre, subscribe to keep up with what is going on in publishing.

SSFWorld.com An active forum dedicated to all the latest news of science fiction and fantasy fandom. If you have a favorite SF television program, favorite author or just want to learn more about the genre, this is a great place to start.

SFF Net is home to many authors, publishers, media pros, and consumers of genre fiction. While the site is not as extensive as others, you will see many famous science fiction and fantasy authors connected with this site. It is worth checking out as a resource.

Science Fiction Chronicles is a United Kingdom based forum for science fiction and fantasy. It is a large and active forum with members from all over the world. They count published authors, editors and agents among their membership and have an extensive community of aspiring authors.

Science Fiction & Fantasy Novelists is a writing advice blog maintained by a group of successful genre writers. The posts are frequent and go back several years. It is a free source of information to learn more about the genre and the ins and outs of being a writer.

This is Horror is a UK based blog with many articles and interviews that feature the genre of Horror. It is a good site to help you keep up on the latest news in this niche genre.

The Horror Writer’s Association is a nonprofit organization of writers and publishing professionals from all over the globe who are dedicated to promoting dark literature and the interests of those who write it. There is an extensive amount of information on the genre that is available to the public at large, but if you intend to write in the horror genre, it would be a great place to network and get established as a horror writer. HWA is the sponsor of the annual Bram Stoker Awards for superior achievement in horror literature and they present an annual Lifetime Achievement Award.

Book Review: The Eternity Brigade

Book Name: The Eternity Brigade
Author: Stephan Golden
First Published: 1980

Stephan Golden was born in Philadelphia. When he was 13, his parents moved to California and he has been a resident of the Golden State ever since. He studied Astronomy at UCLA and this was the time when the first of his science fiction short stories began to publish. After he earned his Bachelor’s degree, he took work with the U.S. Navy as a civilian space scientist. The steady paycheck was good with the Navy, but his writing continued to take off. He began to publish his first novels at this time. After a few years with the Navy, he decided to write full-time. He took a job working as a writer and editor for a pornographic humor paper known as the San Francisco Ball. He has also worked as a game designer and manual writer for games. Mr. Golden has served as the editor of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Bulletin and has been their Western Regional Director. He is still busy writing novels and has over 40 titles to his name.

Mr. Golden has been married twice, first to Kathleen Sky and then to fellow author Mary Mason. He has co-written books with both of them and he and Mary are still working on a series of novels today.

Jack Hawker is an American soldier who has lived and fought in a war during a time near to our present day. He has no one to come home to, so when he is offered a chance to join a new army program where the soldiers are cryogenically stored until they are needed for the next war, he volunteers. When Hawker awakens, he is years in the future and disoriented, but he fights with his unit, bonding with his fellow soldiers. At the end of the war, he and the other soldiers of the brigade are stored again.

The story moves on through centuries of time where the methods of warfare and civilization itself changes beyond reason. The soldiers of the brigade are no longer frozen, their patterns and memories are captured in giant databases where they can be called upon at will to fight for who ever holds the keys to the machines. Eventually, the database is duplicated and Hawker finds himself fighting against versions of himself. Life and death loses its meaning since whenever a soldier falls in battle, he or she is recreated for the next battle with only the memories of that one battle lost.

Hawker has no life and he has been cheated of death. He longs to die for real, to end the madness of being a soldier at war for all eternity. He devises a plan to cheat the system and find his way out of the madness.

The Eternity Brigade Book CoverI understand that Mr. Golden has reworked this novel and has published a “final edition” of the novel in 2010. I have not read this edition of the book, but instead remember the original novel that was published in 1980. It is a story that has stayed with me all these years and one that I feel is worth re-reading today. It reminded me of Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and indeed, Mr. Golden does credit this author as inspiration for his own book.

The Eternity Brigade is a fast read with a chilling concept at its core. There is combat on Earth, in space and on other planets, plenty of sex, and the certain loneliness that soldiers in any time period faces. Sometimes the aliens seem more out of an episode of Star Trek than what we think of aliens in fiction today, but for all its small flaws, somewhat weak world building, and flat secondary characters, the story of Hawker and what he faces is a story that will grip you while reading and then stay with you for years. Give The Eternity Brigade a read. I believe it should be on the must-read list of science fiction aficionados.