Un-su Kim, The Cabinet (2021)

Author: Un-su Kim

Title: The Cabinet

Format: E-book

Pages: 400

Series:-

Among my recent reads this novel turned out to be the strangest one; for me, it resembles mostly an early attempt at a Frankenstein’s monster: sewn together from disparate parts it ends up having three arms, one leg, and an off-color head tacked on back to front. The first 60% were highly enjoyable, but afterwards, an inexorable downward spiral got me in the end to a disheartening feeling of “wtf did I just read?”

It’s a pity, really, because the premise of Kim’s novel is quite promising, with a lot of potential: the life in modern cities became so unbearable for humans that their evolution accelerated rapidly, creating first cases of a post-homo sapiens species. The mutations don’t seem to be adaptive, at the moment, but as evolution works through trial and error, we might see some that would become highly effective.

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Stanisław Lem, The Truth and Other Stories (2021)

Author: Stanisław Lem

Title: The Truth and Other Stories

Format: E-book

Pages: 344

Series: –

Other: Short story collection

Stanisław Lem is one of my absolutely favorite SF authors, as you probably already know from here and here. His brain really seems to have been wired differently, perceiving correlations and consequences and possible outcomes that not many others – or none – had seen. He’s also a very pessimistic writer, at least when it comes to humans and human cognitive and moral abilities – and reading Lem is a bit like gazing into a very unflattering mirror, one from Andersen’s tale The Snow Queen. In our times full of wilful denial and escapist pleasure, though, I contend that Lem’s passionate critique is something sorely needed. 

This collection gathers stories from different periods of Lem’s life, from 1956 to 1996. Many of them have never been translated to English before. This anthology offers a great opportunity to acquaint oneself with the key themes and topics of Lem’s writing: artificial intelligence, first contact, human psychology and cognitive limitations, ethical problems inherent in human perception of the world. Even though some of these stories are nearing their seventieth year, apart from the odd outdated technological detail they seem as bold and fresh as written today by the greatest in the field. Lem was particularly preoccupied with the concept of Otherness – and this, maybe more than any other theme, makes his writing so enduring and important to his day.

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Nina Allan, The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories (2021)

Author: Nina Allan

Title: The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories

Format: E-book

Pages: 224

Series: –

Other: Short story collection

I am partial to collections of short stories. I very much like the format, which for me works as a beginning of a conversation between the writer and the reader. A story comes into being as an idea: it may be not fully thought through, unpolished and raw, but it’s scintillating enough that cannot be left alone; it needs to be shown to the world and elicit a reaction. I read short stories to be intellectually challenged, however minutely or extensively. There are always some good or even great stories in collections and anthologies, but sadly, the opposite is also true: rarely a collection of disparate stories can hold up an exceptionally high quality level throughout. That said, it’s the gems I hunt for among the sand, and I’m always happy to find new favorites.

I confess I requested Nina Allan’s collection on a whim; I have never read anything by her and decided short stories are a good place to start. And indeed, The Art of Space Travel and Other Stories is as varied a collection as one could wish for. The stories, arranged chronologically, span about two decades and showcase both the continuity and evolution of thought, as well as a development of skill.

As usual, I’ll present a short review and rating for each of the stories, and give an overall summary at the end.

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Ada Hoffmann, The Fallen (2021)

Author: Ada Hoffmann

Title: The Fallen

Format: E-book

Pages: 400

Series: The Outside #2

I wanted to read something by Ada Hoffman for a while, as her books have been praised as  both a good representation of neurodivergence and as solidly written stories. So when I saw this at NG I jumped at the opportunity, especially because the blurb was promising some cool hard SF, AI elevated to godhood, and a brewing human revolution on a distant planet. Not once had it mentioned that it’s a sequel ;). My bad, I guess, I should have checked the specs on other websites – though to be fair, I think this is one of the sequels where I’m better off not having read the first installment; the sequel explains all the previous events in detail.

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Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

Author: Frank Herbert

Title: Dune

Format: Paperback

Pages: 528

Series: Dune #1

Everything’s been written about Dune many times over, so forgive me if my review will be somewhat off beat this time. I don’t feel the need to detail the plot or the worldbuilding. 

Dune is unequivocally a masterwork of SF, a SF at its best, openly acknowledging its ties to myths and the belief in universal truths of human cognition. But Dune also reaches way beyond SF, having become one of the few absolutely crucial works of fiction of the 20th century. And yet, and yet, while I admire it with passion, it’s a book I cannot love. It leaves me cold and uncaring. It leaves me wanting to pick it apart, and dirty my hands in its bloody insides, and emerge holding the offending element in my palms, triumphant in finding what fault exactly makes me less than welcoming toward it.

But the truth is, I suspect I know it already.

Nice opening, huh? So now I’m going to subvert your expectations, and launch into a lengthy consideration of the socio-ecological ramifications of Herbert’s universe. Kidding!

Though not entirely.

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