Friday, October 18, 2013
A World Called Solitude by Stephen Goldin
Scientist Birk Aaland is a castaway, living alone on an alien planet covered with the deserted cities of a technologically advanced but now extinct civilization, his only companions the millions of robots that quixotically keep the cities operating. Years of solitude, and memories of terrible abuses at the hands of Earth's tyrannical government, have disordered Aaland's mind, and his sanity receives further shocks when another human arrives on the planet with news that the Earth's space empire is under attack by ruthless aliens.
A World Called Solitude has some of the standard adventure and SF elements (space ships, ray guns, robots, strange aliens, warfare) but is primarily a psychological, even philosophical, novel that focuses on people's states of mind and on the relationships of people with each other and with society. Each of the half dozen or so characters (men, women, robots, and aliens) in the novel has an opinion of what he or she owes society and to other individuals, and each character has to make a choice of how to act in relation to others in a stressful situation and then live with the consequences of that decision. There are many (maybe too many) scenes in which people under emotional stress weep or "flip out," and many scenes in which people have emotional arguments.
Goldin tries to do something interesting here, and his writing style is reasonably good, so A World Called Solitude is a worthwhile read. I will likely try some other specimens of his work in the future. I read the 1981 hardcover from Doubleday with the regrettably generic, boring, and inapplicable cover art by Jan Esteves.