2012 Sci-Fi Challenge 1 of 7 : Solaris

by Stanislaw Lem
First published in 1961

Kris Kelvin arrives aboard the scientific research station hovering near the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris. The scientists there have studied the planet and its ocean for many decades, a scientific discipline known as Solaristics, which over the years has degenerated to simply observe, record and categorize the complex phenomena that occur upon the surface of the ocean. Shortly before psychologist Kelvin’s arrival, the crew has exposed the ocean to a more aggressive and unauthorized experimentation with a high-energy X-ray bombardment. Their experimentation gives unexpected results and becomes psychologically traumatic for them as individually flawed humans.

I started my seven science fiction books in 2012 challenge with the classic Solaris by Stanislaw Lem. I know I’m a bit behind, already halfway through the year and only one sci-fi book finished… Better step it up!

In Solaris, the newly arrived researcher Kelvin tries to make sense of the weird behaviour of the other researchers aboard the station, and the even weirder things that he himself later encounters. I actually found the behaviour and interactions of the characters intriguing, as well as the plot, at least to some extent. Too bad that the story was often interrupted by Kelvin retreating into the station library to read about the history of Solaris research… And this meant many pages filled with too long paragraphs of dry scientific text about the different schools of thought about Solaris, and explanations about a multitude of different natural phenomena the scientists have observed on the surface of the “living ocean”.

So, the first science fiction book featuring an alien planet was everything I had expected it to be: a bit dry story where the author seems more interested in telling us about the planet he has invented & the psychological theme of human intellect vs alien intellect, instead of focusing more on the characters and the plot. I wasn’t really drawn into the story. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started with a classic from the sixties?

I give Solaris 2 stars out of 5 -which with me usually means that the book was in no way badly written, but that I just couldn’t get into it.

Next up: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card


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