Solaris - Stanisław Lem, Joanna Kilmartin, Steve Cox 11/11/11 Update: Reflected on it a bit more, and bumped up the rating to 5 stars. Darn those coercive, psychic ocean mind waves!

**

Despite work, an appalling lack of sleep, work, life, work, copious amounts of laundry, work, and MORE WORK, I finally finished this little gem of a book. I am giving it four stars for now, but depending on how I feel after I absorb more of the book, I may bump up the rating.

Solaris is beautifully written, and the message behind the book is chilling if not eye-opening. In most sci-fi, humans interact with non-humans violently, peacefully, symbiotically, or however else we communicate with them (the key words being interact and communicate). However, Lem pushes us to think waaaay outside our comfortable, boxy way of thinking and makes us wonder--what if there were beings so inherently different from us that we couldn't even begin to understand them? Do we even fully understand ourselves enough to communicate clearly with them?

The planet Solaris is inhabited by one living organism--a vast "ocean" that covers the entire planet. Solarists, academics who study Solaris, attribute nomenclatures to various phenomena that occur in the organism. The book is chock full of academic arguments about the psychology and behavior of the organism. We quickly grasp, however, that despite the theorizing and debating, they know close to nothing about the ocean, whereas the ocean knows...so much more.

Without spoiling the book, a psychologist named Kris Kelvin arrives in a space station above the ocean to study the organism. However, after a series of x-ray bombardments on the ocean's surface, the ocean reacts by somehow creating physical manifestations of the space station inhabitants' repressed anguish and regrets. In Kris's case, the ocean creates a striking likeness of his dead wife, whose memories has haunted him even before his arrival. The exchanges between Kris and his wife were shocking, tragic, and quite eerie, especially since she (1) cannot die, (2) physically cannot be out of his presence, and (3) she's creation of the ocean, for heaven's sake! As Kris’s and his wife’s relationship progresses, what becomes more and more evident is how little we know in comparison to how much we think we know.

Though the book spans a little over 200 pages, Lem tells a great story and presents interesting ideas. The writing is stodgy at times; Lem’s style reminded me of academic papers written decades ago by professors locked for far too long in their ivory towers. The story behind the writing, however, hooked, lined, and sinker-ed me. What were very dense passages, I blew right through with the concentrated focus that I should have employed more often during school. (Even though sci-fi, for the most part, is so much more fun than political theories.)

4.5 (and most probably 5) stars. Highly recommended.