A couple of weeks ago I came across a link to the site of Leonid Korogodski, where he offered his novellas Pink Noise: A Post-Human Tale for free download. It looked like an interesting text and I have to say, it turned out to be quite a challenging read. The novella was published in August 2010 but Silverberry Press, a company I haven't come across before. A quick Google search shows the top hit on that name to be Korogodski's own site (some very cool web design there by the way) but a publisher website doesn't show up in the top twenty. In fact, Pink Noise may well be the only book published by this company. Which made me wonder about the fate of this publisher and if it has anything to do with Leonid Korogodski offering the digital version for free.
The story is set in the far future. Mankind has long ago learnt to transfer their consciousness into a digital format, offering potential immortality to those who can afford it. Nathi is a post-human, one of those people who have left their body behind. At the opening of the story he is centuries old. Nathi is a very gifted ... I suppose you could call him a brain surgeon. He's working on the brain of a thirteen year old girl who suffered such a severe trauma than she is in deep coma. Nathi is unable to upload her consciousness because of the extensive damage to the thalamus. When trying to restore the girl's thalamus Nathi finds something entirely unexpected buried in her brain. Something that forces him to consider the universe beyond this most challenging project.
The actual story is only about a hundred pages long but Korogodski has stuffed an impressive amount of cultural and scientific themes into it. It feels like a piece that has been rewritten to perfection by the author. I guess you could say it is hard science fiction, not entirely surprising from a man with a Ph.D in mathematics. There's quite a lot of science in the text but it is not the sort one frequently finds in science fiction novels. In fact, I didn't really appreciated how much until I'd read the appendix, which delves into the scientific concepts behind the novella. The appendix and glossary is about half as long as the actual story and I must admit it is fascinating reading.
Korogodski writes about a universe where plasma cosmology is the paradigm and technology includes ways of transportation based on it's predictions. It is not favoured by many cosmologists but I have to say Korogodski makes an intuitively good case for it. His challenge to relying on dark matter to explain certain cosmological phenomena using Occam's razor is very interesting. Of course, Occam's razor has been applied to a number of scientific debates in ways that were actually counter productive, favouring the theory that turned out to be incorrect in the end. If I actually understood more of the science behind Korogodski's reasoning, I probably wouldn't it conclusive evidence. Still, it makes for a very interesting premise of the story. I like the way he's developed it into fantastic space ships and methods of power generation he describes in his novella.
A second part of the glossary is devoted to the workings of the brain and parallels with certain evolutionary principles. Right at the opening of the story Nathi points out the vast difference between the brain and man-made digital systems. Comparing the brain to a computer is only very superficially useful to Nathi and he is aware of a loss when a consciousness is transferred to digital formats. The theory of why this might be so is again fascinating reading. There is no way in hell I would have caught up on all of that without reading the appendix.
Besides exploring that workings of our own brain, a universe in it's own right, Korogodski tells a story that is set on the scale of the solar system. Quite a lot of the story is set on Mars, where the body of the girl is being treated. Mars was colonized by peoples from what we'd consider developing nations at the moment. Nathi himself is of Zulu descent and this features quite prominently in the novella. Part of the glossary is dedicated to explaining some of the Zulu vocabulary in the book. The whole text has a bit of a futuristic, dreamlike atmosphere to it, which provides a nice contrast with the hard science. When Nathi is not busy exploring the girl's brain and his attention is focussed outward, he sees the world almost as a fairy tale. This is reinforced by the imagery used to describe Nathi's discovery in the girl's brain and his decision to go on a rescue mission.
The author puts quite a lot of material in a relatively short text. Pink Noise: A Post-Human Tale is deceptively densely written and I ended up rereading certain passages after completing the appendix. Although Korogodski sets a brisk pace, parts of the story could be called action-packed, it is definitely a work that requires some time to read and digest. It is quite an impressive début, one of the most interesting science fiction stories I've read in a while. It is prime food for thought, a novella that'll stay with you for quite a while after you're done reading it.
Title: Pink Noise: A Post-Human Tale
Author: Leonid Korogodski
Publisher: Silverberry Press
First published: 2010