Review: Solace Inc, Episode 1 of The Solace Pill by Jason Werbeloff:
Available on Amazon: (For Free Folks!): http://www.amazon.com/Solace-Inc-Giving-youll-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00FLCV8G2/ref=pd_sim_sbs_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=12H70XVD99Y5F17DYMW3
And Noisetrade ( ALSO FREE!): http://books.noisetrade.com/jasonwerbeloff/the-solace-pill
And a bunch of other places that I’ve run out of space for links to.
MATURE CONTENT WARNING: Sex, violence (but no rock and roll)
The value of asking questions
Let’s get one thing out there before I start this: I’ve always had an issue with cliff-hangers. It’s a delicate balance between enticing your audience on into the next episode, and just leaving them frustrated and confused. Sort of like trying to talk to the opposite sex in high-school. Not an amateur’s game, lots of failure conditions. I take especial issue with things that are only free enough to get me willing to spend money to scratch that ‘gotta’ (a la Stephen King) of knowing how the story ends.
Solace Inc. then, being a free cliff-hanger opening to a story that costs money, should be one of those things I take issue with.
See, what usually gets me about cliff-hangers is they don’t leave you with anything but a bunch of unanswered questions, no pay-off, no feel-good. Sometimes though, as Weberloff demonstrates, a bunch of unanswered questions is a helluva lovely thing to be left with.
Solace Inc. is of that school of sleek, elegant science-fiction that doesn’t so much hold a mirror to society as it does build a rotating 3D hologram of what society would look like taken to an extreme. It builds a world around messages, questions, thoughts and trends. It’s not an immersive world, there’s not enough visual detail to hold onto. It’s not a world peopled by characters we can fall in love with, we don’t have enough time. It’s a world that makes us look again at the emergent technology, emergent institutions emergent patterns of living in this, our world, and shiver a little at the shadows they might cast over a future. It’s a world that leaves you with almost as many questions about the way we live now, as about what happens next in the story.
So, is it worth risking the cliff-hanger to read?
It comes down to a question of access. If you are brand-new to reading sci-fi, it will be hard. The world-tropes and style conventions will be unfamiliar and might throw you at first. Not having all the pieces and having to trust in being given them later, to trust enough to buy into what’s happening in the story now, will be a challenge. If you’re a budding philosopher, arm-chair sociologist or just someone who likes thinking about society and technology and how the two dance with each other, then it will be well worth it.
If you’re an old hand, one of those who grew up on Asimov, Bradbury, Dick and Le Guin and immerses themselves now in Banks, Baccigaluppi and Beukes, then this story rolls out a red carpet. It’s short, easy to read and easy to get into. There’s enough detail to make it worth a re-read, and the choice by the author to split it into lunch-break sized episodes rather than selling a novel respects your constrained time and energy (which is somewhat ironic, considering the story’s subject matter).
Yes, the themes are heavy, there is gore and some sex, but that’s what happens when you let science-fiction grow beyond Dan Dare and Star Wars. That’s what happens when you let it ask the questions, sideways and gently through stories, that are very heavy to ask Head On.
If you are South African, and writing sci-fi, yes you should read this. This is an important voice in the industry here and proves that we are not barred by our south Africannness by producing sci-fi with a distinctly international flavour.