This book was very different from a lot of what I’ve been reading recently. It’s been a while since I’ve really read a hard sci-fi novel, and that’s what this is. What makes it even more unusual is that it’s a hard sci-fi novel that isn’t about technology or even human advancement. It’s actually about humanity’s inability to advance.
The premise of the book is really that, try as we might, we are incapable as a species to truly understand what alien life could be like. Everything we assume about aliens could be so wrong that we may not even recognize an alien should we encounter one. It’s a fascinating premise. Not just because the question of alien contact is a valid one, but because Lem attempts to portray an incomprehensible life form in a comprehensible way. He does a good job, so that even by the end of the novel, there are huge questions about what Solaris is and why it acted the way it did.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the actual writing. I thought Lem had a tendency to over-explain some things while leaving out huge details elsewhere. The descriptions of the ocean planet are wonderfully detailed, but also hard to visualize since the whole point was to emphasize the alien. Solaris station seemed the opposite to me. It was easier to visualize because it was human, but there was so little description that it wasn’t as vibrant of a setting. As for the characters, I thought that a lot of them were inconsistent. Kelvin seems to go from calm and rational to highly volatile very quickly, especially when dealing with Snaut. I found Harey, of all characters, to be the most human in her behaviors.
This was a book designed to make you think, and it did that. The ideas are fascinating and complex, even if the execution of them could have been a bit better. I’m glad I read the book, but it’s not one that I’m likely to pick up again.