I had been meaning to read Solaris for almost 15 years now since I first saw the movie based on it. Recently, I read a translation from the French by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox. This classic scifi novel by Stanislaw Lem revolves around the titular ocean planet with two suns. Psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet’s station to check why his help had been requested by the scientists at this outpost. He is shocked to discover that one of them (Gibarian) has committed suicide and the other two folks are on edge and non-communicative. As Kris settles into the station and starts probing, he finally discovers the visitors and gets visited by one of his own, his departed lover Rheya. It is left to Snow, Sartorius and him to figure out and solve the secrets of this planet before returning home.
Something that I liked about this book was that the alien intelligence here is not in any familiar humanoid form. How unique that the entire mass of the planet’s ocean is a bio-organic structure that can both physically and psychologically manifest change? A lot of ink is spilt in showing how earlier human explorers were baffled by the ocean’s various formations and its bio-mimicry on a massive scale. What seems to be new to the current explorers is how the ocean has started creating entire human beings based off studying the memories and minds of the residents. The novel delves quite deeply how the appearance and behavior of such a visitor can mentally affect a human.
The author has great writing chops, sustaining the entire book on just 3 humans and a ocean. But my favorite was the first act, which would easily be one of the best in scifi. The second act which has large sections on the former studies of the ocean is a bit verbose. I wonder how much of that feeling might have been from this particular translation, which the author himself was supposedly not happy about. The third act was a tad disappointing to me since neither the protagonists discover anything new about the ocean nor are the story’s ends tied up. Though the story was unsatisfying towards the end, I think the vision, ideas and writing quality were superlative.