>Science Fiction: “Solaris”

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.


> Science Fiction: “The Stars My Destination”

“The Stars My Destination” was the first book I read by  Alfred Bester.  As it was written in 1950s  I expected to read a “space opera” type story, but it turned out that the title was a bit misleading since the book is definitely not a “space opera”.

It a story of a man, named Gully Foyle, who at the start of the book is a castaway in space, drifting and barely surviving in a wreck of a spaceship that was damaged in battle.  He is passed by, and not rescue by a ship that comes close enough for him to see the name. He swears to exact revenge on that ship, if and when he  gets out of his predicament.

Now the universe that Gully Foyle lives in is one where people can “jaunt” – that is jump from place to place by just thinking of their destination. Now this ability is somewhat limited – only very talented “jaunters” can traverse thousands of miles – and not one can jaunt in space. The ability to “jaunt” has significant influence on the culture of the world – for example, women must be kept safe inside houses protected by labyrinths – since you cannot jaunt to a place whose location you do not know precisely.

Also there is a war going on between the inner and the outer planets in the Solar system, which at inconvenient times intrudes on Folly’s plans.

When, after rescuing himself,  Gully, tries to exact his revernge he is captured and thrown in jail. In a “The Count of Monte Christo” plot twist Gully escapes his prison and though various means (not really described in the story) becomes rich and powerful. Still his desire for revenge keeps burning in him and he continues to pursue the ones who deserted him in space.

Although written back in the 1950s, the book has some overtones of “cyberpunk” – a science-fiction sub-genre that was popular in the 90s. For example, Gully has his body modified so that he can move as super-accelerated speeds. He uses this ability when he needs to fight some of his enemies.

Eventually he discovers that he is unable to get ultimate revenge – but to find out why you will need to read the book!