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.
Solaris 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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