Classic Book Review: Solaris

I’ve been working on The Mercury Dimension for a while.  It’s finished, I’m working on edits and publishing it (if I ever get brave enough).  In order to keep up to date with alien-based science fiction, I’m going through and reading a bunch of classics before jumping into the pile of new items.

The Book

Solaris solaris
Author: Stanislaw Lem in French; translated by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox
First published in 1961; translated in 1970
English Version Published by Houghton Mifflin
Amazon Link

I really enjoyed this book.  It wasn’t riveting, and the science was grade-F awful bullsh*t garbage, but I still thought it was incredibly creative and had a really, really fitting ending.  I thought the author handled the characters well, and – most importantly – the alien was superb.

Also, they made a movie… how?!?  I can’t imagine the movie being both related to the book and good.

Non-Spoiler Review

It’s hard to not do a non-spoiler review because everything you need to know is basically already on the back cover.  Dr. Kelvin, a psychologist, comes to Solaris which is famous for its living ocean.  The ocean hasn’t yet communicated in a definitive manner with humans, despite what seems to be a century of research, and it has almost magical powers over gravitational force.

Dr. Kelvin’s attempts to communicate to the ocean through its recreation of his dead wife, Rheya, are the focus of the story.  There’s always this idea that he and the other scientists aboard are going insane, and this confusion over what is waking hours versus dreaming.  It’s a psychological guessing game interspersed with long bouts about Solaris’s scientific history.

That being said, some bits of the short work are really, and I mean really, boring.  Lem goes on incredible, multi-page diatribes talking about the historical scientists who have worked on which theories.  They are, I suppose, important to Kelvin’s motivation, but they’re just so boring and, in the end, not terribly useful to drive plot or character development.

Secondly, a lot of the suspense could have been easily avoided if the various characters hadn’t gone through phases of “No, I can’t tell you this important thing because I can’t, not until you figure it out for the plot!”  I’m not a big fan of that mechanism because I don’t think it’s reasonable.  At the same time, everyone was basically going mad, so I can forgive them this one mistake.

3/5 Discoball Snowcones

3 Discoball Snowcones

SPOILERS AHOY

I loved the end.  You start the book thinking that, eventually, there will be some big breakthrough and they’ll finally talk to the ocean through Rheya.

And that never happens.

It ends with a pseudo-religious conclusion that mankind was never fated to understand the ocean planet, and it to never understand us.  The loneliness of our self and the depths of despair are something no one has figured out, and so Kelvin must let the planet continue looking for a way to die.

Next week:

Next week, I’ll be reviewing the 2018 Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente.  Eurovision… in space?  By God I hope someone covers ABBA.

8 thoughts on “Classic Book Review: Solaris

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