Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Heart of Mars Chuck Rosenthal (A)

The Heart of MarsThe Heart of Mars is a spectacularly creative glimpse into a far future, written from a point of view of a detective who is learning to write in a world where all writing is done by machines. This little gem will appeal to those who love such classics as Solaris and Return from the Stars or anything else by Stanislaw Lem.

A must have for the serious science fiction reader looking for something more creative, visionary, and intellectual than the mainstream efforts currently on the market.

Rosenthal is obviously an experienced writer, take for instance this bit:

My robot swept the Gift Moon's surface, then hovered over the travel-navel, dropping its umbilical through the ice layer to the port of entry on the service dock. Umbilical travel from ship to surface is always intriguing, a lonely, slow slide of a mile or sometimes more through blackness and stars, an undulation, like birth, through the long, translucent cord of flesh; the sides of the chambers fluctuate with a hum, the soft music of cells murmur something earlier and more primal than your own life. And so, inevitably, you must land like a child out of the womb.

If this reminds you of birth, or some other biology, you're not far off as in this vision of the future, all technology has been replaced by biologic rather than the mechanical, a result of the Return.

The narrator's quest begins with the theft of a billion fish, which sends him on a journey to the moon of Europa, called in the distant future the Gift Moon. There he interacts with the strange species called Pets who treat him to a welcome dinner, during which he samples such things as kelp wine, which is one of the many exotic elements that make the story unusually creative.

As the investigation proceeds, the protagonist uncovers the existence of a rebellion among the Orca, the pirates of Gift Moon. The conflict that the rebellion embodies is one between the freedom to "contribute" and the freedom of the open sea and it becomes clear that the apparent benefactors are not as benevolent as they seem and writing itself is a form of resistance as is learning from books written long ago.

Once can't help but be reminded of Lem's science fiction, a kind of literary variety of the genre that's not much practiced these days in the US. However, if you like Lem's classics such as Return From the Stars and Solaris, you will like Heart of Mars.


DED said...

I haven't read those two Lem stories but I did see the Clooney re-make of Solaris, which I thought was good. Yes, I know: books do not equal movies.

I read The Cyberiad, a collection of Lem's short stories. I really didn't like it. Originally published in 1967, it read like 1960's sci-fi. It felt dated. I remember reading an interview with him about how he felt that most sci-fi was lame (paraphrasing) because it didn't push the envelope. Well, I didn't find anything about The Cyberiad that pushed the envelope, even for the 1960's. But what made matters worse was that his characters were flat and the stories were boring. The experience was so disappointing that I've been soured on him ever since. If someone can definitively say that Solaris in print is far better than The Cyberiad, I'll give it a shot.

Let's put it another way: that one paragraph Podler quotes from Rosenthal was better than anything in The Cyberiad. But maybe the English translation from Polish didn't do it justice. Maybe.

Greg Mandel said...

You're right when you guess that Chuck Rosenthal is an experienced writer. His "Loop" trilogy (Loop's Progress, Experiments With Life and Def," and "Loop's End") is a beautiful, hilarious, heartbreaking, gorgeously-written work(s). Rosenthal deserves to be recognized as one of our great writers. For the life of me, I have never been able to figure out how he's managed to remain so obscure.