Sunday, 15 January 2012

Eden by Stanislaw Lem


Here's a good thing about getting a kindle - you can download a stack of science fiction from behind the Iron Curtain which would otherwise be pretty hard to find in Aberdeen.  I've got a job lot of Lem and the brothers Strugatsky to plough my way through now.

First up is Lem's Eden from 1959.  A spaceship crashes on an unexplored planet and the first part is really enjoyable as the crew (known only as "the Captain","the Cyberneticist," etc) try and figure a way out of the upended ship.  Things get a lot weirder when they find a way outside.

Where this book really works is in the unfathomable strangeness of the place and its inhabitatants.  The crew theorise about what they're seeing, but they also know they could be projecting their own human experiences on things they have no frame of reference for.

There's an unsettling mood to much of their explorations, but unfortunately (for my tastes, at least) it never takes a turn for the horrific.  Instead it becomes political.  They finally communicate with one of the inhabitants, who describes a system not unlike communist Poland in the 50s.

This is all interesting stuff, but the problem is there's no plot, or at least no forward momentum.  The exploration of the alien landscape is just that - exploration.  They don't have any specific goals except looking around.  The repair of the spaceship is, again, very interesting, but it does seem pretty straightforward.  I especially liked one bit where the Engineer's having problems moulding a new plastic control panel - something I'd never considered before in SF, but I guess you don't want to be dealing with a lot of bare wires when you're up in space.

I suppose I've got lowbrow tastes, but I'd have liked a bit more peril.  None of the crew are injured (aside from some coughing at poison gas) and you never feel like they're in any danger.  A missed opportunity for some Lovecraftian unknowable terror, but praise at least for the depiction of a truly alien world.

Right, I'll have another couple of reviews soon.  I've finished another two books and I'd better get them done before I forget what they're about.


Ed said...

Is this before or after Solaris? I'm not a huge sci-fi fan (book-wise), but that one is imprinted on my memory.

Joe said...

Solaris was 61. I've heard that's pretty outstanding. Eden would make a good film as well actually, but it would have to be very slow, cerebral and Slavic.

Ed said...

I think it's brilliant yeah - slow-paced and cerebral, but so good at conveying a sense of otherness and of the vast incomprehensibility of alien life. Creepy too. From what you say about Eden, it sounds like a blueprint for Solaris.

Noyus said...

Ah, this is one of the Lem's I've always wanted to read but never have... no one does ALIEN OTHER like Lem...