Although science fiction shows us different worlds and things we don’t see in our own, some science fiction is essentially written about the world of the author’s and how they see things at their time. Ursula K. Le Guin writing about the Cold War, William Gibson writing about the dawn of the digital age and computers.
Solaris isn’t about a particular time or era. Solaris (at least how I perceive it) is about ourselves, our memories and what is real or not. It’s a philosophical novel. It also tells us that when it comes to alien worlds and intelligent life, we can’t assume anything. We can’t assume life elsewhere will be as it is on Earth, especially how we communicate.
In the story Kris Kelvin arrives at Solaris Station a space station orbiting the Solaris. A life form was discovered there which covers the world like an ocean. The scientists have tried to communicate with and it has responded albeit not to how you would expect. The book also tells us about the history of human discovery of the planet along with the scientific theories of research on the planet. By the time Kelvin gets there the research is mostly data gathering. The lore of the story adds to the world.
On Solaris station Kelvin isn’t given the warmest of welcomes and we soon find out why. The crew of the station are seeing their memories. It’s not just the individual crew members seeing there own memories, the other members of the crew can see them as well or at lest they see what they remembered at the time of their first perception. Kelvin sees a long lost love. He knows its not really her and yet the way she acts and behave he treats the apparition as if it genuinely is her whilst also knowing it can’t be. The plots develops from there and I of course don’t want to give too much away. All I will say is that we learn more of the humans then we ever know of the alien planet.
Solaris is a work about us, how we think, how we remember, how we love and how we accept or refuse to accept the very things in front of us. Solaris is more than a work of science fiction as a setting, it is really a philosophical work and a good one on that. I don’t feel like I’m limited to the author’s time and place in world when they wrote. If you’re more interested in the technological advances of the future read something from Arthur C Clarke, if you’re looking for a space opera (though there’s admittedly more to it than that) read Ann Leckie. For everything else, read Stanislaw Lem. Solaris isn’t just a great work of science fiction it’s a great work of literature.