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Solaris

Stanislaw Lem, 1961
“I knew nothing, and I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.”
Ok, so that’s the last line of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, and I am not sorry in the least for spoiling the last line of the book for you.

The best kinds of science fiction and fantasy are the ones that come at your with a completely outlandish and speculative premise and then follow up with an incredible one-two punch to the gut. Solaris manages to capture this, and while the George Clooney/Steven Soderbergh film adaptation of this book manages to have some
 syrup-y cynicism about the nature of love, it pales in comparison to the magnitude of Lem’s text. You’re better off with the original film adaptation (Andrei Tarkovsky, widely considered one of the greatest sci-fi films EVER), but still, read this fuckin’ book.
So, the premise is this. Humanity discovered a planet that’s got some sort of giant, oceanic consciousness on it, which shouldn’t be possible because it’s positioned between the gravitational pull of two suns. We’ve been studying it forever, and have been unable to communicate with it, in spite of the incredible constructive capacities of the ocean—it can build structures and destroy them, as well as quickly-decaying structures who’s chaos defies human imagination.

Shit is lit.

Anyhow, the book follows Kelvin, a psychologist who comes to a station positioned above the ocean to run some sort of experiment. But, the minute he gets on the station, he discovers that everything is really wrong. One of the other three scientists on the station has killed himself, and the other two are behaving like maniacs.
Then, Kelvin goes to his quarters and is shocked to see his dead love, a 20-year-old woman from many years before. She has no memory of killing herself, and she’s obsessed with him.  It drives him crazy for like 50 pages, and then over time, she discovers that she (which was not her, as she’s real and not a hallucination) killed herself. She’s a simulacrum of a woman who no longer exists. Ultimately, she kills herself again, this time permanently.

The pacing and psychology of this book
is phenomenal, which is why I don’t mind spoiling it. You have to read it, because when I state the central thesis of the book, you, my reader, will naturally need to go see if the arguments of the book bear out (they do).
The central thesis of the book is that Solaris (the planet) is a god, and that gods are real. They are not human, constructed by us. Solaris is an infant, an infant who takes in information and mimics it, without any real concept of what it is doing. It just does. But unlike an infant, it has the capacity to mimic to the point of creating life. It’s a god that is infinitely powerful, yet has no idea what it does.

If that doesn’t get you, I don’t know what will.

Where can I read it?

Go buy this book on Amazon or get it from your local library.  If you can watch the Tarkovsky version on Filmstruck before the service ceases to exist, make sure to do that, otherwise it's available in the Criterion Collection. The Soderbergh version is also availble on many streaming services, and while it's not as good, it's still worth seeing.

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