Every once in a while, we come across a book that sat on our shelves for years unread, only to later wonder how we could have by-passed such a gem for so long. Such a find is a book is Solis, by A.A. Attanasio the topic of this week’s retro review. Mr. Attanasio is also the author of another all-time Sci-Fi favorite of ours, Radix. Apparently, he has yet to write a bad novel, as evinced by this 80’s work of the distant future. All of Mr. Attanasio’s novels assume a sleek and sophisticated audience; rather than spoon-feed you an idea or concept, he allows the reader to piece things together. Solis is a twist on the old Rip Van Winkle theme in Sci-Fi; this motif has a lineage way back to Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but also has its contemporaries in works such as Larry Niven’s outstanding Out of Time, which will also be a subject of review one day. Perhaps only Robert Silverberg’s Son of Man beats out Solis in its sweep and scope of social commentary.
The key protagonist and window into this future realm is Charlie Outis, a 21st century man who had his brain cryogenically frozen in the hopes that future technology could one day reanimate him. This concept isn’t entirely fiction; the Alcor Foundation out of Riverside California promises just such a hope for its customers. Of course, there is much controversy surrounding the concept, as it’s hard to quickly freeze neural tissue without any cell wall rupturing or damage, but in Solis, a future technology has found a way to reverse and repair this, albeit at extreme cost.
However, the parties responsible for Mr. Charlie’s revival turn out to have less than benign motives; instead, they install his brain as a slave controller for an asteroid harvester. Much of the motive for this and the subsequent tale stems from Mr. Charlie’s legal status; being that he was technically “dead” thousands of years prior, his standing in this twisted future technocratic society is little more than that of hardware or property.
Mr. Charlie’s disembodied brain is able to summon Munk, an android with a seemly superfluous sub-program that gives him an affinity for archaic humans, and Jumper Mei Nilli, a spacer with a thirst for adventure. The tale that unfolds on and around future Mars is one of journeying towards cognizance and what it truly means to be human. As they escape and encounter more fellow travelers of their elk, Mr. Charlie and his band must overcome a menagerie of menaces both personal and external. This lends itself towards a very Odyssean-style tale. Their goal: Solis, a mythical haven for humanism deep in the Martian desert. A parallel could also be drawn between Solis and The Wizard of Oz; each character is on an individual quest of self-fulfillment; Mr. Charlie to become human again, and Munk looking to understand human motives.
The “Bigfoot” Dewar whole body containment system. (Photo Courtesy of the AlcorLife Extention Foundation).
Like Radix, some of Mr. Attanasio’s wonderful prose is really allowed to shine through in Solis; you actually care about what happens to his characters, and he paints a future universe of autobots, andrones, and neo-sapiens that is totally convincing. I would even put Solis in the select realm of books that are worth re-reading, high praise in this short time span we have on planet Earth.
Read Solis and dig up an undiscovered gem by an under-appreciated author. I would love to see more adventures in the Solis universe, but Mr. Attanasio doesn’t seem to lack a new and unique backdrop for each tale he pulls out of his fertile imagination. I’d also love to see Solis make the big screen one day… are you listening, SyFy?
Note: At the time of posting this, Astroguyz will be live and underway at the STS-132 NASAtweetup… now’s a good time to hit that Follow Me button on this page as we track space shuttle Atlantis’s final mission. A full after-action post will be the topic of next Friday’s review!