Janusz A. Zajdel
Rinah Devi is an Earth journalist who has been granted rare permission to visit the artificial planet Paradisia. Paradisia is an artificial planet whose 150 million inhabitants live under an extremely harsh police state. A computerized surveillance system analyzes every word Paradisians say, looking for hints of subversion. The computer has its limitations however, and in particular has difficulty understanding metaphors and allusions. To get around it, the Paradisians have developed a kind code language called Koalang (“connotative-allusive language”) made up exclusively of metaphors and allusions to fool the computer and to allow them to speak freely. Rinah is introduced to Koalang surreptitiously by a local journalist, Zinia Vett, who hopes Rinah can help her escape from the planet.
Now able to understand his surroundings better, Rinah begins to disentangle the planet’s systems of control, arbitrary rules, and deeply-kept secrets, he and Zinia discover the truth of Paradisia is far, far different than it seems.
The story reads like a murder mystery, with clues scattered seemingly innocuously throughout the book. Zajdel is fiendishly clever, and the clues and misdirections he plants are used in ingenious ways. Reading the book is like solving a puzzle (and actual word puzzles such as anagrams are used as plot points). The Koalang passages are also clever and funny, as the Paradisians stretch the language to the furthest possible limits to avoid saying anything incriminating.
Paradisia is a fast, gripping read, written in a plain style reminiscent of American Golden Age science fiction: Zajdel’s creativity of vision and strong sense of humor give him natural appeal for non-science fiction readers, as his writing deals with universal themes.
The author: Janusz A. Zajdel (1938-1985) is one of the biggest names in Polish science fiction, commonly considered second only to Stanisław Lem. A nuclear physicist by training, he became a Solidarity activist and fought for writers’ rights in Communist Poland. Zajdel’s died of lung cancer in 1985 at the age of 47, shortly after the publication of Paradisia. That book became his second to win Poland’s highest science fiction prize. That year, the award was formally renamed after him, and to this day the Zajdel is presented every year by his widow, Jadwiga Zajdel.
Stanisław Lem called Zajdel’s novel Limes Inferior the most original Polish science-fiction novel he had read. Zajdel’s complete works are currently being republished in Poland for the first time since his death.
“I think you like it here,” Zinia continued seriously, looking deep into Rinah’s eyes. “You’ve probably never seen anything like it in your life and probably never will again.”
“You’re right, it’s something . . .” Rinah searched for the right word, “something absolutely novel.”
“Unrepeatable!” she said, finishing his sentence. “Like a world from a dream . . . By the way, did you sleep well on your first night? Because I always have nightmares after taking the shuttle.”
“I didn’t get a full night’s sleep because of the early morning alarm, but . . . I actually slept well.”
What is she talking about? he thought. Why this jumping from subject to subject?
“Sometimes being awake is worse than dreaming, and sometimes the truth is worse than a horror story . . . Do you always only write about what you see around you?”
“Well, no . . . I actually try to deepen the subject, to fully understand what I’m writing about. That’s exactly why I came here. I want to write the truth about this . . . unrepeatable world, as you called it.”
“Good. Do your best to stick to that plan. We, the people of this planet, deserve justice at last . . .” Here Zinia paused for a few seconds, “justice in how our world is judged. You there on Earth know absolutely nothing about us, or anyway what you do know is very, very little . . .”
“I know that.”
“No. You don’t know anything about anything,” she said abruptly and broke off.
“I don’t understand.”
“I won’t explain it to you,” she said quietly and glanced around at the walls.
“Because of what grows in a cornfield . . .”
“What? A cornfield?”
“Do you have any headphones?”
“Yes I do. For listening to music?”
“Yes, for listening to music.”
“I have some for my Dictaphone. Do you need them?”
“No, no . . .”
“So what’s this all about?”
“Nothing. Are you familiar with Midas?”
“The one who had donk . . .”
“Speech is silver,” she suddenly interrupted. “Loose lips . . . Do you like my clip-ons?”
Rinah didn’t answer. He had finally understood the meaning of all these allusions.
“Oh, yes . . .” he said after a pause. “The walls have them.”
“That was a lesson,” she said. “You have to learn this if you want to understand anything . . . here. But if you keep them to the ground, then you’ll learn . . . You know, when I learn a new song, I only have to read the lyrics twice before I know what the songwriter had in mind.”
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