The first time I read The Penal Colony was 1998 or so; I spotted a well-used paperback copy in a pile of abandoned belongings at a college dormitory. I took it, began to read, and was instantly absorbed. I was blown away by the story, the characters, and through it all the language: sometimes sharp and precise, other times poetic, always compelling and memorable. I consider myself a fairly well-read person, in terms of classic literature as well as modern best-sellers, and without hesitation, I put The Penal Colony on my "Desert Island List" of ten books that I would take with me to my own exile on Sert.
Up until a few years ago, this book was hard to find: out of print (at least in the USA), and precious little information available on the internet. Now it's here, easy and inexpensive to download, and it's an absolute gem of a book. The ideas, situations and characters will stay with you for life.