Tony Cohen's Reviews > Solaris

Solaris by Stanisław Lem
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's review
Mar 15, 2012

really liked it
Read in March, 2012

I truly great work of brilliance. I really enjoyed the Clooney movie remake, but after reading this book, I realise how much better it should have been, because Solaris is so much more. There will be spoilers in this review so be warned.

If you watched the remake of the movie (yet to see the original), Solaris is really about what you would do if your loved one came back to you: the main character's dead wife is brought back to life, a near perfect copy, but over time the troubles with awareness and perception highlight what is missing. Of course, if a visually perfect copy of your loved one appear, would you be able to overlook your and her growing awareness of her lack of humanity? This is the big 'spoiler', but it occurs early on in the book and movie. But really, the book does so much more.

The book is about the planet Solaris, given painfully short shrift in the movie. In the book, the ocean of Solaris is the only non-humanoid intelligent life form ever encountered. Of course, how intelligent is it? The planet orbits two suns, which physics says should affect the gravitation such that the temperature variability and extremeness should cancel out life, yet somehow the planet maintains a mystical, safe orbit. It is the failure of physics which initially launches the awareness of the amazing ocean...but other than this confounding fact of physics, the most intelligent life in the Universe won't directly communicate to humanity. The Solarist question becomes the most profound of the day, with the most brilliant minds struggling in a desperate attempt to make contact in a meaningful way: and it never does...until it creates the aforementioned simulacrum.

The book does an amazing job in focusing not solely on the struggle with the explorers and the simulacra, but on humanity and it's loneliness and frustration with wandering the Universe. The description of the planet's ocean is beautiful and chilly, with impressive and interesting taxonomies describing both the powerful repeating and non-repeating designs and shapes the ocean makes, as well as the long and storied attempts at cataloging and documenting them, trying desperately to come up with a logical, analytical, rational, HUMAN explanation for a seemingly intelligent ocean that can defy the seemingly immutable laws of physics, but won't say hello.

It is against this backdrop, the seemingly critical breakthrough of contact, that the three characters struggle with in regards to their simulacra, their near human-ness. It is clearly the most significant contact the planet has ever made with humanity, but is it a gift, is it positive, negative, kind, malicious, accidental...these are the questions Solaris grapples with, a profoundly creative and thoroughly enjoyable book.
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