21 December 2007

A so-so read

World Soul
Mikhail Emtsev
Simon & Schuster

This novel, published in English in 1978, is a translation of a Soviet novel originally published in the late 1960s. It is one of the Collier Books "Best of Soviet SF" series from the late '70s, which alone makes it pretty fascinating (i.e., the only Russian fiction with which I am familiar is solidly anti-Soviet, like Pasternak or Solzhenitsyn). Alas, I don't think that it lived up to Theodore Sturgeon's praise in the introduction that it was "an extraordinary novel." Rather, I found it to be fairly typical science fiction.

Basically, two Soviet scientists working for the Institute of Telepathy (only in the USSR!) bioengineer a plant that can synthesize polymers. This plant, called the "biotosis," somehow manages to grow to enormous size overnight and to link all of human kind in some kind of telepathic network. The story, although relatively interesting, was also rather confusing and difficult to follow. It involved the biotosis containing within its mass copies of the minds of all of humanity, with the resulting telepathic network arising from interactions of these simulacra within the biotosis. Some find the biotosis amazing, others see it as a threat, and both have evidence to support their views. Eventually, when some seek to destroy it, the biotosis protects itself. At this point, the novel's plot became even more confusing, and the ending did not resolve all of this confusion. While not being a bad book by any means, this novel was definitely not one that I would revisit. Perhaps those who are more involved in Soviet literature and history would get more out of it (e.g., its exploration of collectivist themes, etc.) but for the layperson I feel it is passable.

(This review was originally written on September 25, 2006.)

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