Symbolion (a great sci-fi novel)
question I face
repeatedly is, “What
can I read?”
Don’t laugh, this is a serious matter! :-) After hundreds of
and countless sci-fi movies, hardly anything surprises me. When in a
bookstore, I sometimes only pick up a book, perhaps even featured in an
ongoing advertising campaign, and after flipping through it, put it
back on the shelf with a sigh. Space colonies – hmm.
Superheroes – aha. Aliens – sure! All have already
I was beginning to despair. Especially lately, many new authors have
surfaced, among which it is increasingly difficult to orient oneself,
to decide to what to devote one’s time, what is worth
reading. Why does
nobody come up with something really original?
And then Symbolion
fell into my hands.
this is truly something! Finally! Symbolion is a remarkable
science-fiction novel written in a fresh way. This is why I would like
to introduce the book on my blog today. In her debut work, Romana
magnificently captures the atmosphere of the twilight of mankind. I
actually read the book in one breath a year ago, so I am writing this
enthusiastic review with enough distance to be able to compare
imagine total hopelessness? Real Hell?
The time when mankind has run
out of time and nothing lies ahead, absolutely nothing? How would you
live in the last city in the world, endangered from the outside by
electromagnetic discharges that can eliminate you at any time? What
would you do in that strange gray space where not even suicide brings
relief? How would you manage the last human society with this awareness
of the absolute end? Would you be able to prevent an outbreak of
anarchy? And why should you?
myself these and other questions while reading Symbolion (more at www.symbolion.com).
And at the same time, I was finding the answers in the pages of the
book: stars cannot be seen in the city, because it is completely hidden
behind a protective hatch which shields it (at least partially) from
the electromagnetic storms raging in the immediate vicinity of the dead
planet Earth. The last remnants of mankind are controlled through the
Secret Police by the mysterious Unifier, a man without a past. However,
despite the repressive apparatus striving to maintain order, people
still have freedom, they are not enslaved as, for example, in
their brains are not washed by propaganda. Regardless of the
hopelessness of the situation, they want to live normally, have fun,
love, celebrate Christmas. They still enjoy food, drink, and even smoke
if they get hold of several illicitly transmitted game cards of the
banned game of Symbolion, enter the virtual world and proceed through
individual game levels where various surprises await them. Because this
game is entirely different from what they had expected. And what they
take away from it, can change everything.
knows the origin of this game. Only one fact is certain: a person who
enters the game, can gain unlimited access to the source of energy
or, on the contrary, completely exhaust his/her own energy. Players are
also threatened by death if the Secret Police find a game card in their
home. Journalist Brett would never have got involved in such a risky
matter. Nevertheless, one day a game card is delivered to him in a
mysterious way, and he faces a decision. He knows that his whole life
could change, but that he could also lose it in a flash. Despite the
danger he must undergo, he is committed to using the card.
There is hope even in the
- this ongoing
thought has universal
Hopefully the Universum,
as something higher than the Universe itself is called in the book,
will have mercy on the fate of mankind …
protagonists gradually discover what is wrong with the whole planet.
I will not reveal this shocking revelation, of course, not to spoil the
for the readers. All I can say is that I have nothing but
admiration for this group of rebels who fight on behalf of
all of us.
reading, I could not resist reflecting on where this story of the
future is actually taking place. We find ourselves in an unknown world,
which is however somehow familiar to us. Is it a reflection of the life
we have already once lived, or which we experience in other realities?
The unnamed city seemed intimately familiar to me, and yet completely
strange. The surviving traditions obviously stem from European culture,
but the spectrum of human names suggests racial diversity. Could it be
London, Berlin or Amsterdam? High-rise buildings confirm a once
advanced and prospering economy, perhaps Singapore or Perth then? On
the other hand, here we find jugglers, fortune-tellers, craftsmen and
cozy taverns like anywhere in Prague or Dublin. However, I’d
expect the wide avenues, vast tangle of underground tunnels and housing
estates falling apart at the periphery perhaps to be in Moscow or
Paris. So where on earth can this city be? Only in my second reading
did I notice a tiny, inconspicuous detail which identifies the location
unambiguously. I was thrilled! All the facts fitted precisely!
tell. :-) In any case, the specific GPS coordinates where the story
place, are unimportant. The physical environment of all this, hidden
behind the hatch and shaking fearfully against the horrors proceeding
behind its protective shield, is secondary. What is important, are the
relationships between people, love, mutual competition for the scarce
personal energy (but also its selfless sharing), the willingness to
elevate the benefit of the whole above self-interest and the strength
to fight fate despite the minimal chance of success. We witness many
moving examples of solidarity and self-sacrifice for others. These
themes are also burningly topical in our own times.
takes the reader on an adventurous road full of discoveries.
bearing the name of the illegal virtual game, also represents a kind of
game for readers. Together with the main characters, the reader sets
out on an adventure during which secrets hidden in parables are
gradually disclosed. At times, the reader may think he knows where the
story is leading, but sooner or later Symbolion forces these
expectations to be revised. It is necessary to proceed carefully
because things might not be what they appear to be. The pages contain
passages that reward the attentive reader with frequent “aha!”
moments. I will not disclose in advance these clues,
ingeniously encoded in the text, in order not to provide spoilers for
new readers, thus preventing the pleasure of the independent gradual
revelation of the history, geography, intentions, relations and
characteristics of Symbolion.
regard to mind-games for readers, now I recall for example, Robert A.
Heinlein (in the case of a classic, over 60-year-old literary work, I
can perhaps afford a spoiler, everybody surely knows this anyway), who
revealed only on the last pages that the hero is in fact black
(while readers undoubtedly imagined the action scenes throughout to
involve a young, light-skinned fighter). With this slight joke,
Heinlein fought against contemporary racial prejudices. :-)
He used the
same trick at the end of “Starship
(by the way, the book is quite philosophical, contrary to its warlike
film interpretation), when he mentioned that the mother tongue of the
brave American soldier, Rico, narrator of the story, is Philippine
Tagalog. Why not?
In addition, Heinlein shocked for the third time. In “Stranger
people enjoy communal bathing in a swimming pool. Only one subsidiary
sentence, actually just a few words somewhere in the middle of the
book, subsequently in the minds of readers clarifies this image of
self-confident people, happily having fun in the water, making it clear
that they definitely are not wearing swimsuits while swimming together.
So what, you ask? But at the time of the publication of this novel
(1961), such an idea was immensely scandalous – the era of
children” and free love only began several years later.
in her work Romana Kršňáková gradually
(sometimes between the lines), thanks to which the reader
retrospectively understands and appreciates the previous event, thus
entertaining and maintaining curiosity. The authoress has a gift of
mediating the view of individual characters, of disclosing the ulterior
motives of their behavior, without wasting words. She goes under the
surface, whereby the reader is able to easily identify with the main
characters, to fear for them, dream about them – and again
story in dreams.
not only in dreams:
is it written.
- Whenever I
am walking in a gray, misty street, I
recall the city without stars.
- When I am
sitting with friends in a cozy
pub, I recall a similar enterprise where Kala, Zachary, Tobias and the
other likeable “conspirators” liked to meet.
- As I put
on a VR helmet,
which seemingly transfers my mind into a computer-generated artificial
environment (nothing beats striking virtual dwarfs jumping out of
virtual holes all around with a virtual big hammer :-) ), I wonder, how
incomparably more advanced the game of Symbolion would be.
- Plum cake
with almonds and streusels, which Brett enjoys in his aunt’s
as he drinks his coffee, has had an unrivaled charm for me ever since.
- And as
soon as I think of a certain pulsating metropolis, so diverse
and noisy today – I recall the ruins into which it will
technological basis, societal functioning, political and economic
systems are rather merely touched on. However, given the dreamy nature
of the novel, it is probably not even desirable to discuss specific
is simply a world which is known and
unknown at the same time
like the substance from which our dreams are
way, on her personal website www.romisy.com
Romana Kršňáková also presents her
paintings. Her artistic orientation
can be seen in the book, as she paints her dreamy images from Symbolion
right into the souls of readers. A lively story unfolds before the very
eyes – they clearly see the ice floes as well as blazing
hear the sounds of the marketplace, their mouths water for various
delicacies, they feel the musty underground tunnels, their flesh creeps
when looking into the universe’s infinity, and they fear for
destinies of the heroic “conspirators”, whose
efforts can be thwarted
by the Secret Police, or by a strong electromagnetic discharge which
penetrates through the protective shield of the dome.
ability to activate such inner visions in readers is rare.
one year has passed since I read Symbolion (twice), and even after such
a lapse of time I still have to ruminate on the fates of the individual
characters. Their human, sometimes even humorous, actions illuminate a
world which would otherwise remain dark and perhaps even unworthy of
salvation. What happened to them next? I would like to visit the cozy
“At the Prince” bar again, sip Black Corsair (amber
rum with the aroma
of smoke and vanilla) and scratch the shaggy dog Toby’s ears
I long to
return to Symbolion.
Much still waits to be
explained. The basic plot stands, therefore I eagerly await the sequel
which the authoress is currently thinking through.
perplexed how Romana Kršňáková
“learned” all this, from which spheres
the riveting story of people out of the future came to her, that she so
perfectly captures the depressing mood in the City crouching behind a
gigantic cupola. I only hope that the inspiration she had, and so
beautifully embodied in her art, is not a prophecy of something really
about to happen one day, but rather a breathtaking literary memento, or
perhaps a warning.
provides a convincing story which must be read. Thanks to the
spellbinding style of Symbolion, the reader becomes so immersed in the
events, that the adventure, experienced together with the characters,
leaves certain indelible traces, and to some extent also
influences his/her own worldview.
contrast to the masterfully described image of a dismal future, I newly
appreciate – that we are not living in it. Because the
catastrophe hinted at in Symbolion, has not yet taken place. In our
timeline, the planet Earth is spectacular and abounding with life. We
can watch the stars at night (and rejoice in the warmth of sun in the
daytime). The world is all right so far. And
every new morning is a miracle, for which we should continually thank
the Universum and do all we can to make the world even more beautiful.
this review is available here.
21st February 2019