Stanislaw Lem is my favorite SF writer of all time. I had read all of his books many times over both in English and Polish. “Solaris” is one of his earlier works and until now the only available translation was to English from French. But finally a new edition translated directly from Polish by Bill Johnston was publish this year (this edition is only available as an e-book on the Kindle or as an audio book).
“Solaris” is a story of unusual happenings on the scientific station on planet Solaris. In the story Solaris is the only known planet that is entirely covered by an ocean that appears to be both alive and intelligent, yet completely incomprehensible to humans. As the book begins a psychologist, named Kelvin, arrives on the Solaris station and finds the station in disarray. The three scientists working there appear to be hiding.
Kelvin gets a brief introduction to Solaris station from Snaut, one of the researchers, and finds out that one of the three scientists had recently committed suicide. Snaut also warns Kelvin about “visitors”. Initially Kelvin is skeptical of Snaut’s warning, but soon enough his visitor appears. Kelvin’s visitor turns out to be his wife Harrey, who had killed herself year before.
Kelvin and Snaut suspect that the “visitors” are somehow created by the ocean, especially since they started appearing shortly after experimental irradiation of the ocean with X-rays began. How Kelvin attempts to deal with the emotional wounds opened by sudden appearance of Harrey – and “Harrey’s” attempts to comprehend the situation she’s in – form the main part of the story.
But another fascinating part of this book is the description of the history of solaristics – the study of the planet Solaris. In particular there are some fantastic descriptions of phenomena found only on Solaris. Large structures “made” by the ocean: symetriads and mimoids. These structures appear, what seems like randomly, on the surface and sometimes mimic objects that are nearby (for example human flying machines).
I always liked “Solaris”. To me the book is about the incomprehensibility of the universe and the impossibility of communications with an alien being.