What is it with science fiction writing? Why does the writing have to be so bad? This is not to say the premises aren’t compelling, just the writing. William Gibson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury start their stories well enough, but then there’s a problem with the prose. It just plods on, as if science fiction publishers and readers only care about the premise and sleep through the rest. Many of the vaunted greats of the genre – Frank Herbert’s Dune, Robert Silverberg’s Tower of Glass, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – all fall into the same black hole.Some books do have decent literary moments, such as Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris or Ursula K Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. However it remains a struggle to get through all of the background science stuff – histories of planets, theories of evolution – all of it jammed in like a manual. Science fiction, it would seem, is like sports: a lot of frightfully dull banter, and only every once in a while worth the wait.
Continuing in my science fiction research, I have begun Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris. Made into a film by both Andrei Tarkovsky and Steven Soderbergh, it is the story of a planet with a living consciousness, Gaia in the extreme. Although the writing is dense at times, the narrative is artfully dream-like, almost in a trance. Most impressively, the notion of a living mass conscious comes across as an effective precursor for what we are heading for here, our collective and unspoken mission to be eternally plugged in.