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Book Review: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (1961)

added 2 apr 2019
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Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (1961)

Minimalist sci-fi

(this review contains spoilers)

Points for creativity and originality. I liked the conscious "plasmic" ocean concept. And the idea that an alien might not communicate with humans in a way that could ever make sense to us. Also points for character development and plot development. Snout initially appears crazy and then circumstances show him to be the sanest of them all. It was nice to have one's prejudices conjured and then corrected and it was nicely done. I also liked the air of mystery - things left unsaid: we never learn what visitors Snout and Sartorious receive, yet we are given snippets of conversations and evidence of bloody struggles, with little said about what went down. Further points added for the protagonists thoughts becoming material realities visible to others.

However, I deducted points for a bit of a bland plot taking place all in one location (though it is a very interesting location - a foreign planet). At times it almost felt like the author was trying to be deliberately minimalistic - to see how interesting a book he could write using as little change in location and as few characters as possible.

The book raised some interesting philosophical questions and proposed some novel scientific methods for practically answering them - how do you know if you are dreaming? Try calculating something using a computer that would be beyond the capabilities of your brain, but easy for a computer. Though this is not foolproof since if you are dreaming you might just think the answer is correct, even if it is completely made up by your brain.

I deducted further points when Kelvin brings up god in the final chapter. It seemed unnecessary and corny. Snout says, "that's bad philosophy. It's even bad mysticism" then changes his mind. I think his original reaction was correct. Though maybe it says something about the weakness of the human mind to always fall back on the tired old trope of a god, whenever some organism that is more intelligent or unexplainable is encountered.

This was definitely a book that made sense the second time around, but not the first.

added 2 apr 2019
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