1001 Book Review: Solaris Stanislaw Lem
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Published in: 1961
Reviewed by: Book Worm and Jen
Find it here: Solaris
Synopsis from Goodreads: A classic work of science fiction by renowned Polish novelist and satirist Stanislaw Lem.
When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the living physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others examining the planet, Kelvin learns, are plagued with their own repressed and newly corporeal memories. The Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates these incarnate memories, though its purpose in doing so is unknown, forcing the scientists to shift the focus of their quest and wonder if they can truly understand the universe without first understanding what lies within their hearts.
Book Worm’s Thoughts: 4 stars. I read this book after having watched the George Clooney film and I have to say the book is 10 times better. It is a deeper, more philosophical exploration about what it means to be human.
While the book is classed as a sci-fi classic, it reads equally as well as a study of guilt, obsession and sacrifice. That is not to say there is no science in it, there is, a lot. Some readers may be put off by the detailed description of the ocean and the way it behaves especially the long detailed descriptions of the kind of structures it makes. This wasn’t a problem for me as I enjoyed seeing what the author imagined an alien mind could come up with.
The first person narrative gives the story a creepy, edgy kind of feel, it also means that everything we are told comes from one source which means that source can be questionable. This technique works well to convey the isolation of the space station, the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in one place with no communication with the outside world it also suggests the way the mind can play tricks on you.
I would recommend this to those who enjoy sci-fi and weirdly those who like a good romance.
Jen’s Thoughts: 4 stars. I have often made the claim on this blog that I generally dislike science fiction but perhaps that is because I have read the wrong books (I often wonder if Robert Heinlein has biased me against all science fiction). I really enjoyed Solaris for many of the reasons Book Worm mentioned above. I actually liked the movie which I had seen prior to reading the book although admittedly my tolerance for bad quality movies is quite high. While I may be a snob when it comes to books, I will pretty much watch and enjoy all movies. Yet as Book Worm writes above, the book was superior in all ways to the movie.
Solaris was a very engaging, intelligent, and well-written book. It is described by many as philosophical science fiction and it raises issues about what makes us who we are. It is a book that blur the lines between reality and hallucination bring us to question the very nature of our perception. Maybe it’s no wonder that I liked the book despite it being in the science fiction genre. Lem was never really part of the science fiction establishment. Philp K. Dick accused him of being a communist agent and he was booted out of the Science Fiction Writers Association (Wired magazine, 2002). Lem himself wrote that science fiction was a “whore, prostituting itself with discomfort, disgust, and contrary to its dreams and hopes.”
As Book Worm has warned above, the book is filled to the brim with scientific digressions that at times can be quite dry. These digressions serve a purpose in building the backdrop to the book but they are fairly extensive and may be off-putting to those who don’t like this element in their science fiction books. That said, I enjoyed the book and found it quite thought-provoking. It was a creepy read.
Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: Solaris
We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think?
I’m so happy you both like this book. It’s one of my favourites. I rated it 4 stars, too. I found it very thought provoking, particularly around communication and memory, and how we’re none of us reliable when it comes to remembering what has happened and communicating to others. I liked the notion of a planet that could plumb the depths of human subconscious and draw out the things we hide from ourselves in order to function socially. The presumptuousness of humans when faced with an alien life form was also thought provoking. We’re so sure of ourselves, as a species, our authority to act (self appointed), our superiority (presumed), so when the decision to carry out unauthorised experiments results in psychological torture, I found myself thinking it was, in a way, deserved.
I haven’t seen any of the film adaptations, but I’ve heard that the one directed by Tarkovsky is good.
As a psychologist and scientist, I suppose it was inevitable that I would love this book!
This movie bored me to tears
Which movie? I’m assuming you mean the 2002 version? There have been three. Did you read the book?
I also wasn’t a fan of the movie. I have also said that I don’t like science fiction but lately I’ve read a couple of science fiction books that were good. The Martian which is a survival story in space — it probably could have been anywhere, but I thought it was funny and engaging.
I also recently read The Sparrow which I found very philosophical — however some might thing it’s a comedy from the brief description of jesuits in space meeting aliens :-D.
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think, not thing — I hate that we can’t edit our comments!
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I know. Would be a nice feature to let people edit their comments