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I tend to read reviews before I buy a book if it's something I'm not sure about. I've been wanting to read Solaris for ages, so I didn't bother with reviews when this became available. If I had read the reviews, I might have skipped it. While many are positive, there are also a number of negative reviews with some pretty consistent criticisms.
In response that there are long periods of technical description that serve no purpose to the story: I can understand where that sentiment is coming from, but I think these sections are necessary and serve the story in the following ways. For one, they perpetuate the mystery of the planet. Whenever this would happen, I would try to imagine what they were describing. If you've ever stared out at the ocean in awe of the size and mystery of it, this is the type of feeling these sections evoke. It also acts as foreshadowing. The first part that describes the unique properties of Solaris also sets the stage for the paranoia and strange encounters the main character deals with when he first lands on the station. The following descriptions of strange phenomona on the planet hint at the bizarre circumstances on the station, etc. It's subtle, but for me it definitely shaped the way I thought about what was happening in the story. If it wasn't there, one might think this was a ghost story, or a hallucination.
In response to the criticism that the characters do not react realistically, or like scientists: While this is true at times, I think the reviewers are dismissing the environment that these people are in. Like I mentioned above, the characters are experiencing such bizarre events that the first thoughts one might have are that they are hallucinating or dreaming. Two characters have been living like that, the other is suddenly thrust into it. I don't think it's fair to criticize their reactions as being unrealistic when what they are experiencing is irrational.
Also, I wish I could give 6 stars to the narrator, Alessando Juliani. He gave a magnificent performance, especially with the wife, Harey. I'm always nervous when male narrators attempt female voices, but this was done masterfully.
This story is about humans trying to interact with something that is so utterly alien that we can't even understand how it exists. It's about relationships, specifically the complicated one between Kelvin and his wife, but also between humanity and Solaris. Can you even assign motives to such a being? Is it even alive? I was genuinely surprised by the finesse and emotional depth of this book. I was also frequently swept up in the majesty and fear of the living ocean as described in the book. It was a truly unique experience, and a real treat to listen to. If any of this sounds interesting to you, I can't recommend this book highly enough.
202 of 210 people found this review helpful
I watched the film adaptation with George Clooney a few years ago, but wasn’t overly impressed. I probably would have skipped the book, but Luke at the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast recently convinced me it was worth reading (listening to), and I’m glad I did.
Forget the movie -- the original novel has more dimensions and more subtlety. It’s a work of science fiction at its most cerebral, full of challenging questions about the nature of higher order beings, mind, consciousness, morality, and meaning.
Compared to Lem’s vision, most novels about contact with aliens are downright pedestrian. Here, the “living ocean” that covers the world called Solaris is entirely incomprehensible, despite years of study by scientists. All anyone really knows about it is that it’s beyond human understanding, and defies all human expectations of how an advanced being might behave. Is it a conscious creature? A physical process too complex to understand? Something godlike?
Lem leads us into these questions through the planet’s interactions with a scientist who travels to a research station there. Not long after arrival, he finds himself haunted by an apparition of his dead wife, who seems to have been generated from his own memories, and understands little about herself (the gender dynamics are a bit dated, but whatever). Is she human? Alien? A conscious attempt at contact by Solaris, or an unconscious projection of the scientist’s own psyche?
The plot has a sparsity that puts the primary focus on the protagonist’s inner voice. There are other characters on the station, but they spend a lot of time withdrawn into dealing with their own apparitions, and are present in the story only enough to suggest actions and add a layer of madness (and/or clarity) to Kelvin's psychological drama. In fact, we learn more about the physics of the weird structures that form out of the ocean than we do about these companions (though I found that part strangely fascinating).
I can see why this book has remained so influential -- it explores some profound questions at a depth few other science fiction writers have come close to, even fifty years later. Lem leaves his answers tantalizingly ambiguous, allowing readers to find their own subtexts. Depending on how you read it, this could be a work about the idea of contact with aliens, or it could be about contact with others, period. It could be about guilt and regret. It could be about existential loneliness, man’s search for God, or the limitations of our ability to understand the universe, or even ourselves. There are many intertwining themes.
Obviously, a novel this philosophical isn’t for everyone, but if you appreciate science fiction that gets you to ponder, it’s not a long read, and I think it’s worth your time.
The “definitive” audiobook production is excellent. The actor Alessandro Juliani, who played Lt. Gaeta in the most recent Battlestar Galactica series, has a soft-spoken but firm voice that suits the text very well.
62 of 68 people found this review helpful
Sorry folks. I must be going through a 'purple patch' in terms of my fortunate choice of audio novels. I've not seen the films but no need because this novel paints a vivid and vast techo(colour) canvas. Where have I been all these years not knowing this exceptional writer? Had to listen to some excerpts 4 or more times to get the full meaning, but so much the better (value)! If there is just 1 sci-fi book - GET THIS!!!
16 of 16 people found this review helpful
I was curious about the book after seeing Tarkovsky's adaptation and reading about Stanislav Lem. I thought I might give it a try even though I was not a big fan of science fiction at the time. This book has certainly changed my view of the genre. It is beautiful and strange, the performance really brings it alive and I found myself taking detours on my walk home from work to finish whole chapters.I look forward to enjoying it again later and hopefully other works of Stanislav Lem as well.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful