Monday, 14 June 2010
Solaris has been hailed as a classic of science fiction by numerous critics. Although it is not difficult to see its appeal it is far from perfect and I personally struggle to see its ‘classic’ status. I have recently developed the belief that the very best science fiction is simple but exciting. Solaris barely scrapes into that category.
The basic story is simple enough; set in the future ‘Solaris’ is a large planet whose surface is dominated by an enormous ocean. There is no indigenous plant or animal life on the planet except for the ocean itself which seems to be one gigantic life form which exhibits signs of intelligence. Despite years of study no human scientist has come up with any solid theory or proof as to exactly what it is.
The main character is a scientist who visits the research team on Solaris only to discover complete mayhem. One of the researchers is dead, another seems to have gone mad and a third has barricaded himself in his laboratory and won’t come out. It is not long before the scientist begins to have strange experiences of his own and comes to the conclusion that the ocean is somehow trying to communicate with them.
As I said before the basic premise is straightforward enough but Lem did his best in the following chapters to muddy the waters and create frustration. The reader is subjected to pages of scientific waffle, jargon (which, of course, is all entirely fictional) and numerous unanswered questions which always irritates me a great deal. If Lem was trying to confuse and confound the reader he certainly succeeded however I also found the book full of suspense and very hard to put down I read it in less than 48 hours. I felt the story was interesting and very different.
The general writing style was flowing and convincing and at times the book almost felt like a science fiction ghost story. There are some very creepy moments which had me biting my nails but sadly any suspense was quickly dispelled with more waffle about neutrinos and atoms.
Sadly this book had all the right ingredients but let itself down with too much scientific input. If Lem had concentrated on the more unsettling, frightening aspects of the story it would have been a fantastic book instead of just an OK one.
Final verdict 3/5