This book is a famous science fiction classic. I felt like I was maybe not clever enough to understand it. I did enjoy some of it (i.e. when things were happening) but there were many long paragraphs of pseudo-scientific discussion which were dull. I realise that the translation may be partly to blame but the book would have made a better impression on me if there was more action and less philosophising.
The story is narrated by Kelvin, who arrives at a research station above the planet Solaris. Many scientists have studied the planet and not been able to agree on their theories about the ocean, which seems to be a life-form. They haven’t been able to communicate with it and interest has waned. When Kelvin gets there, he finds the station is eerie, with one scientist dead and the other two acting strangely. Then Kelvin’s wife appears. She seems real, but she died years ago.
Solaris itself is intriguing, mysterious, the restless ocean bathed in red and blue light from the two suns. I also liked the suspense element, which is especially strong in the first few chapters when Kelvin is trying to work out what’s going on. There’s a strange contrast between the emotional side – Kelvin’s feelings about having his dead wife back and not being able to let her go – and the drier, scientific side. Some of the details in the story are of their time and make it seem a little dated, but not more so than other works from around the same era.
First published in Polish in 1961. The English edition appeared in 1970 and was translated by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox, based on the French translation. My edition was published by Faber in 2016.