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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review - Solarium

This was one of their promo photos. Cool, no?
Solarium. Takes it's name from Sol, our sun. Reminds me of a play I was almost in this past spring. Tried to squeeze it between a production of Patrick Marber's Closer and Peter Schaffer's Black Comedy, but couldn't do it because tech week would have conflicted with the first week of rehearsals for Black Comedy. It was an original production titled "Solace" produced by the Science Fiction Theater Company of Boston, about a genius wife whose husband, an astronaut, had been lost out in space, and her Orphean (is that a word? From the tale Orpheus and Eurydice?) means to get him back. All in all, I'm glad I didn't do it. Would've stretched me too thin, and the production was a bit lacking, produced at the Factory Theater, here in Boston, a venue which is a bit fringe of the fringe. But it was an intriguing script, capably performed. And especially since I just saw Cuaron's new film Gravity (which is amazing and you should see) I'm in the mood for a good space story, which, let's face it, I'm assuming this is. But I haven't been right once about the titles thus far (though to be fair, I may have been fooling around with Tex Bonaventure). Let's see ladies and gentlemen. Let's see!

Quick Take Review: An exquisitely written post-apocalyptic fantasy that I'm not entirely convinced benefited from being presented as a hyper-text story.
Wooh boy. Where to begin?

I guess we'll start with the plot. The story is told in both first and second person, simultaneously, though it's clear the first person narrator is our chief protagonist and that he writes to "you" in the same manner that romantic scribes penned love letters to far away companions, or perhaps a much better analogy would be akin to the way China Mieville uses both forms in his wonderful short story "Looking For Jake". 

Speaking of wonderful short stories: this is a wonderful short story. It details what at first appears like the aftermath of a global nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union circa 1955. You're in the yukon, and you strap yourself to this weird chair and through the use of alchemy you somehow elicit memories of your past. Your deep deep past. 

At first glance what appears to be a morality tale detailing the build-up to a global nuclear disaster (reminding for a brief while of Kurt Vonegut's Cat's Cradle and Happy Birthday Wanda June), but is soon revealed to be the machinations of a dread immortal spirit who has somehow possessed the people in charge into making a cataclysmic decision. Not that there's a lot of judgement to throw around as far as the demonic possessions are concerned as it's also soon revealed that you yourself are also a quasi-immortal spirit that's also been hounding this particular "angel". 

If this all seems a bit too much, be not afraid. The prose is written in an unusually competent and literary manner. I am not a big fantasy reader, but I am a big sci-fi reader and subscribe to Asmiov's Science Fiction magazine (if you haven't figured this out by now, I'm a big dork). I find, in general, that I greatly enjoy reading short science fiction to the often bloated narratives of novel-sized science fiction. And while this story was definitely more in the fantasy realm, what with the demons and the possessed archaeological pendants, it reminded me an awful lot of really well written science fiction short stories I've read throughout the years. 

I can not overemphasize how well this thing is written. It's truly the first entry in the competition to truly draw me into the world. I resisted for a while, but by the end, I was totally suckered into the story. The scenes and story are drawn so well and so beguilingly that I couldn't help but be drawn into the story and madness just as if I had been reading it from the pages of a well thumbed pint-sized magazine I regularly subscribe to.

And therein lies the rub. (Shakespeare for the win!) I'm not at all convinced that this benefited from being an "interactive story". The story itself is all told in flashback form and the only agency you have is that you have some degree of control over which aspects of the story are told first. It is possible that there is more to it than that. On a few occasions the story left me with some binary choices, but I'm not convinced that it had much to do with the ending or anything that came after. 

In fact, frankly, I feel like I probably would have enjoyed the story more if I had read it in a regular streamlined prose format. I would have more easily allowed myself to become immersed in the story, instead of constantly evaluating it, and I don't know if the end result would have been more appreciably different. Listen, the author is obviously incredibly talented. This is an awesome story. I would recommend it to anyone. But if I had a choice between a non-linear version of the text and a linear version of the text, I think I'd recommend the linear version. 

So, it's with mixed feelings that I review this work. For one, I think it's probably the most competently and most evocatively written piece of the competition thus far. At the same time, I question why the author thought that this was the best way to present the story. I could be convinced otherwise, but I'm not sure the form was the best way to tell this particular story.  

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