Volume 013, Number 2, Spring, 1995

Solis

By A.A. Attanasio

(HarperCollins, 1994)
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
March 1995

Do the dead have rights? Stated as such, the question seems outrageous. But imagine the future of cryonics. If dead people can be restored, what is their new status? A.A. Attanasio grapples with this question, and comes out strongly in support of consciousness and self-awareness as the prime basis to discuss rights.

Solis is dedicated to Charles Platt, author of the 1994 Prometheus Award finalist, The Silicon Man. Yet whereas Platt's novel could have happened today Attanasio's novel is set one thousand years into the future, in our familiar yet decidedly alien solar system. Charles Outis, who dreamt of the future, placed his brain in cryonic suspension near the end of the twentieth century, awakens to a strange new world.

Outis is first probed and used by sexual deviants then liberated and studied by a strangely named group of anarchist scientists called the Friends of the Non-Abelian Gauge Group, before finally coming into the hands of the apparent dominant authority, the Commonality. Outis' future is bleak: existing as a brain in an egg-like cerebral casing, he is consigned by the Commonality to act as the governing net of a machine on a mining asteroid.

From the desolate reaches of space, Outis broadcasts a wideband radio signal to the universe, and exposes himself to scavengers and rescuers alike.

Outis' rescuers are an unlikely pair: Munk, an androne fascinated with humans, and the female spacer Mei Nili, a bitter loner who lost her family and friends to a landslide on Earth. Inspired by Outis' radio message to snatch him off his asteroid, they declare rogue status in defiance of Commonality interests in Outis. Their only hope: the independent city Solis on Mars, where vats can grow Outis a new body. Munk and Mei embark with Outis on a desperate yet uplifting journey to that free haven Solis, pursued by a dedicated agent of the Commonality.

There is a strong element of libertarian ideas in Solis. Outis, answering a clerk on Mars who calls him an exhibit:

"What do you mean? I am Charles Outis. I'm a human being, damnit, not some—thing."

"You are speaking nonsense," the clerk warns in a gentle tone. "Our memory survey indicates that you are fully aware of your demise. Your remnant and relict survival, objectively speaking, is solely as a thing. The only question to be resolved by the Moot is to whom do you belong."

"I belong to myself!"

Munk, the androne fascinated with humans, declares his contempt for such proceedings and actively subverts the court's opinion. Declaring his contempt to a court that dares "pass judgment on a human being who has broken no law, committed no crime," Munk liberates Outis and flees into the city. His final words to the court sound a resoundingly libertarian tone: "I cannot permit you to pass any other judgment than life and freedom upon him."

Munk joins up again with Mei Nili, and together with a small, motley crew unite for a trek across the Martian desert to the city Solis. Here they encounter a strange culture and embrace their unexpected futures. A bittersweet, memorable and artistic novel. Don't miss it.

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