Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

I recent­ly lis­tened to the direct-to-Eng­lish trans­la­tion of Solaris com­mis­sioned by Audible.com. While I could appre­ci­ate much of the nov­el, I frankly did­n’t find it all that enjoy­able of a read/listen. I felt guilty about my 3‑star review on Goodreads.com until I noticed that Patrick Roth­fuss gave it 2 stars.
SolarisSolaris by Stanisław Lem
My rat­ing: 3 of 5 stars

I love sci­ence fic­tion with tru­ly ‘alien’ aliens. That being said, per­haps Lem went a bit too far in cre­at­ing some­thing we lit­er­al­ly can­not com­pre­hent or com­mu­ni­cate with.

After hav­ing recent­ly watched the Soder­bergh film from 2002, I decid­ed I’d like to read the ‘orig­i­nal’ (well, the recent Ama­zon/Audi­ble-direct­ed trans­la­tion into Eng­lish; not the Pol­ish). Hav­ing read the book, I can tru­ly appre­ci­ate what a let-down the movie was. While it was great movie, to para­phrase Lem, it was “love in out­er space”, not “Solaris.” The film does­n’t show a sin­gle wave or sur­face for­ma­tion and I bare­ly recall them men­tion­ing an ‘ocean’. It’s pret­ty impor­tant to the book, which reminds me…

…this is a book review, so I’ll dis­cuss the book and why I felt com­pelled to give a wide­ly-regard­ed mas­ter­piece only three stars. I can cer­tain­ly appre­ci­ate that the book is about the inabil­i­ty for humans to effec­tive­ly com­mu­ni­cate with a tru­ly ‘alien’ species. But the com­plete lack of any real inter­ac­tion between human­i­ty and the plan­et was frus­trat­ing. Peo­ple go there and occa­sion­al­ly die, but their explo­ration with this large­ly inert thing con­sists of fly-bys. How­ev­er, an entire branch of sci­ence has been ded­i­cat­ed to the planet/being. This results in lots of dry descrip­tions of explo­rations which sum to nill knowl­edge. Again, I con­cede it’s the philo­soph­i­cal point Lem is try­ing to make. I just argue it does­n’t make for the most engag­ing read­ing. It feels more like read­ing a Nation­al Weath­er Cen­ter’s descrip­tion of the his­to­ry of hur­ri­canes in out­er space (*makes note for idea of future sci­fi nov­el*).

Fur­ther, I felt the inabil­i­ty of the sci­en­tists to get over the shame, guilt, etc. they feel about their vis­i­tors hard to con­nect with. There’s been a shift in com­mon atti­tudes between 1961 Poland and 2013 Amer­i­ca which per­haps makes it hard for me to grasp the atti­tudes of ded­i­cat­ed sci­en­tists. Kelvin clear­ly rec­og­nizes this issue and hopes to address it, but I nev­er felt any sense of get­ting any­where this nudge in atti­tudes.

As I stat­ed, I tru­ly enjoy ali­en­ness in sci­fi, and I would rec­om­mend this book to any­one who does as well. I just wished I could have enjoyed it more.

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