Book Talk: 'The Invincible' by Stanisław Lem - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk: 'The Invincible' by Stanisław Lem

Alexander Wallace visits Regis III.
Science fiction, as a genre, is filled with stories of exploration. Star Trek called space ‘the final frontier,’ and the show was pitched as ‘wagon train to the stars.’ Oftentimes, these stories are very American in their character; ‘space western’ as a term exists for a reason. This tradition has given us works like Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama or Greg Bear’s Eon or Andy Weir’s The Martian. Here, we shall turn to an example of one of these stories from a country we in the Anglosphere don’t usually think of as having a science fiction tradition: Poland.

Stanisław Lem notably had a disdain for American science fiction, which he found to be overly commercialized and not particularly daring; he singled out only Philip K. Dick for praise. Knowing this, it is strange, then, how much Lem’s novel The Invincible reads like something from the Golden Age of (Anglosphere) Science Fiction. This is a novel that could have passed through John W. Campbell’s editorial desk without too many changes. It is that older style of novel with relatively thin characters and blunt, practical prose.

The Invincible is titled for the namesake exploratory vessel deployed to the planet Regis III, a barren and lifeless backwater world, to find the Condor, another exploratory ship that was lost on-planet. The book then follows the exploratory team as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery.
If I had to pick a word to describe the atmosphere of The Invincible, I would use ‘lonely.’ These are people in a dusty wasteland millions of miles from anything resembling civilization. Lem describes the environment of Regis III with sparse prose befitting the sparseness of the landscape. You’ll shiver, but not out of awe. You’ll shiver because of how cold this miserable place is.

Like some other books I’ve written about, The Invincible is a bit hard to write about because the truly impressive parts are massive spoilers. I will say that Lem has taken the concepts that he’s playing with and worked them out to an impressive degree. You’ll have that ‘sense of wonder’ that good science fiction has, albeit it will be somewhat scarier than the emotion that the term usually implies. This is good old-school science fiction, even if Lem would have strenuously disagreed.

And when I say it is old-school, that comes with much of the baggage that implies. This does not have the beautiful writing of some more modern works in the genre, nor does it have the deep characters. It is a novel that, for better or for worse, exists to discuss ideas. The headier reader will love it, but those who are looking for something more will be disappointed.

Lem’s work shows you the great works of science fiction and fantasy that exist outside the Anglosphere classics. The Science Fiction Writers of America may have snubbed him, but that does not mean we should.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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