There is Science Fiction and then there is Science Fiction that everyone should read and this is that. It’s right up there in terms of fascinating books of an otherworldly nature. Lem was all about true Sci-Fi, and not, as he put it, in a vicious broadside to American authors, about poorly written and lucrative books.
The plot is nicely sparse which is welcome, as the ideas that are dealt with are of quite a philosophical bent. Kris Kelvin arrives onboard a scientific research station that orbits the planet Solaris. He find the two inhabiting crew members exhibiting strange behaviour, it soon becomes apparent that there is something going on that will lead Kris to confront his past on Earth from ten years ago, light years away in an alien environment.
For a short book (214 pages), it’s a surprisingly deep experience, exploring many issues central to the thoughts of humanity since the dawn of time. Our attempting to define and understand the unknown, abstract concepts of higher beings and the incomprehensible ideas that we could never hope to conceive of…it’s all very existential, ranging in discussion through both religious and nihilistic existentialism.
The smallness of humanity in the universe the frightening knowledge that we are insignificant when judging ourselves by higher forms of life is a stark and refreshing contrast to all the bombastic rhetoric used in TV shows and films. Yet this is contrasted with a feeling that we should look at our uniqueness as a race and feel good in our own humanness, no matter how fragile we feel when looking at the infinities of space.
That isolated feeling of being painfully far away from home, leaves the reader to dwell on the questions Lem asks, questions of what is it to be a human and indeed what is a human in the grand scheme of things? What is our true place in the universe and are we incapable of observing things from anything but our own point of view?