Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Book: "Solaris" by Stanislaw Lem (2/5 stars)

This 1961 novel is listed in "100 Must Read Science Fiction Novels".

Stansilaw Lem is the most read science-fiction writer outside of the English language. Previously, I've read "The Cyberiad", a brilliant collection of short stories translated from Polish by Michael Kandel.

"Solaris" doesn't really live up to the expectations I had on it after reading about it in "100 Must Read Science Fiction Novels", or from my experience with "The Cyberiad".

Maybe it's because it was translated by a different translator (from French no less, which means 2 translations), or maybe it's the nature of the novel itself, which is heavy and dark.

And yes, there is a movie based on this book with George Clooney in it!

The book follows Kelvin to the base on the planet Solaris. Kelvin is a scientist who dedicated his life to studying the planet and the possibly sentient living ocean that covers most of the surface. However, the novel is very much Lem's exploration of the alienness of alien life, and there are many questions that just remain unanswered. He goes on for pages and pages about previous expeditions and the complex shapes and structures created by the living ocean.

Much of the book is spent following Kelvin as he explores the base's vast library of books by other scientists and researchers who study Solaris as well. Lem puts on display the various fads and trends of his fictional universe. I think he's somehow intending to mirror the real world's tendency to do the same with science, but the parallel is lost on me.

I'm willing to accept that book is a classic and has some redeeming qualities, but it's mostly a curiosity for me, and not a particularly good one.


Leo said...

I too read it out of curiosity as it's one of those classics but I agree with your review, not a great classic at all.

Determinist said...

Thanks Leo,

I really like Lem. I want to like this book, but just didn't find it that good. Still, "The Cyberiad" is funny and clever and worth a read.