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Review: “Solaris (1961)” by Stanislaw Lem (5 Stars)

16 Apr

An interplanetary philosophical oceanic alien acid trip—to funk your mind with.

Psychological depths are plumbed in this novel from a deeply philosophical conviction. The result is a fresh narrative that neither disintegrates into a rote thriller nor loses itself in esoteric meanderings. The concept explored seems simple at first: alien contact. Humans have at long last discovered an organic living life form on another planet. However, after years of theories and failed experiments mankind has been unable to breach a dialog of communication. The result is maddening, discouraging, and a disturbing enlightenment into the human condition.

This book’s prose is fairly easy to digest despite the original author’s misgivings with the currently available translation in English. There are various eye-opening complex descriptions of the exotic alien and its puzzling behaviors which easily lend themselves to rational theory, but fail utterly when such hypothesis bears out. This is all history and a firm bolstering to the future universe created for this story. I’m not one who normally relishes hard science, but all the same I found myself wading swiftly through these heavy parts in search of the imaginative details of description that painted beautiful pictures of the scientific research efforts that surrounded the mysterious alien being; something altogether different and best-described as a myriad organism akin to an oceanic brain on a planetary scale with significant cosmic weight.

There are few characters, but they serve the story well with their various perspectives, needs, and wants. They wrestle with themselves and each other in their desire to both understand and reject what they experience. Although this is no religious story, their crisis is spiritual in many ways. It’s an esoteric journey trampling across a cascading backdrop of universal dimensions. Nothing can be known for certain and nothing can be dismissed outright. Even madness is uncertain.

Do not be fooled, however, this work is not so vague and ponderous as I allude. The protagonist’s arc is firmly grounded in a concrete dilemma that is personal, relatable, and anything but alien. He must face his own self and the terrible regrets of a life once lived–even though he is far from his home on an alien planet in an unfamiliar environment.

I find it particular genius when an author can take the idea of creating an alien in a particularly different way and make the experience completely immersive without a sense of artifice or tool. This is a challenge of deceptive difficulty and the effort here delivers in every aspect, story point, and description from beginning to end.

There is just enough of everything in this rather short book, whether it is science or philosophy or fantasy or literary angst. The historical elements and scientific theories all feel authentic and unique. The stakes are real and very individual with consequences that could have echoes across the entire universe. It’s the adventure of a mind on a quest across the galaxy. Our understanding of each other is challenged, our understanding of ourselves is challenged, and our understanding of the universe is challenged. For what—we may never know; and yet, we know that we must forever pursue these questions that seem to have no answer. That somehow the price of being human in an otherwise alien universe requires it so.

Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: “No Deodorant In Outer Space”. The podcast is available on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website (www.nodeodorant.com).

Episode Link: https://nodeodorantinouterspace.wordpress.com/2019/04/16/review-solaris-stanislaw-lem

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Posted by on April 16, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

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