the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘communication

I finished Lem’s Solaris shortly after drafting my last blog post.  I hadn’t realized how close I was to the end of the book!

 

I’d been warned (thanks wikipedia) that the books ends rather abruptly.  And it does!  the end is going along nicely,  and then it just BAM, ends.  I was like “where’s the rest of the story?”  but no, all the rest of the pages in the book were blank.

 

Lemme give you some context, plot-wise.   Kris Kelvin, a psychologist, has traveled out to the Station on the ocean planet Solaris, to continue his studies.  There are only a few other scientists on the station,   and when Kris arrives, he learns the man he hoped to meet and study with, Gibarian, has committed suicide.

All sorts off other weird things happen, that I won’t spoil, because they are the meat of the story.  And if I mention them, I will color your experience, and I don’t want to do that.

 

Cool things about the station:    there is a library! and it is full of paper books!  When Kris needs to kill time, or just needs a quiet place to think,  he goes to the library!   The station also has video calling, you can basically Skype/Facetime other people in other locations in the Station. pretty neat!

 

Scientists have been studying Solaris for decades.  We’ve convinced ourselves that the planet-covering ocean is sentient, and maybe intelligent, and that when the ocean solidifies itself and sometimes imitates us, that it is trying to communicate with us.  The strange happenings on the station, is that also the Ocean trying to communicate with us?

The whole concept of the novel is that there are things humanity will never understand,  that we need to be at peace with the fact that we will never be able to communicate with Solaris, that we may never be able to communicate with an alien intelligence, ever. We can’t seem to figure out the best way to make contact with Solaris, and Solaris sure as hell has no freakin’ idea how to communicate with us in a way that makes any sense.  We can observe each other, we can attempt to communicate, but we will never succeed.  Failure is in itself, the knowledge that the thing you are trying isn’t working, and to try something else.

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Also, Welcome to the year 2020!

I hope everyone had a joyful holiday season and a wonderful New Years.  I hope 2020 is a wonderful year for all of us.

Anyway, my first Vintage blog post is about Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris!  and I’m posting about the book before I’ve finished it!   I’ve found that is a fun thing to do – do a blog post when I’m about halfway through a book,  and then post again when I’ve finished it, to laugh at my guesses and assumptions.

 

I was reluctant to read Solaris. I think I might have tried to read this when I was in my 20s, and didn’t like it?  I remember being bored to tears when I saw the George Clooney movie. Well, the stars must be aligned, because I am enjoying Solaris so much that not only have I underlined parts of the book that speak to me, but the book is already littered with hand written notes that I’ve stuck inside the pages.   Lem wrote a lot of satires, and I can’t tell if this is a satire or not.  The wikipedia page is horribly short.

 

Some out of context bits that I underlined:

 

“We don’t want to conquer the cosmos, we simply want to extend the boundaries of Earth to the frontiers of the cosmos. . .  .  We are only seeking Man.  We have no need of other worlds, we need mirrors.”

 

“It has been described as a symphony in geometry, but we lack the ears to hear it”.

 

Included in my scribbled  notes are:

 

If you Visitor can’t bear to be far away from you, what happens to your Visitor when you die?   And where is Snow’s Visitor?  What happens when you leave the station?  If you have bad thoughts about the person, does your Visitor become violent? Could your Visitor kill you?

 

regarding the observations of the ocean’s creativity – it’s like it is drawing something, writing something, sculpting something, then thinking to itself “well, that’s crap”, and crumpling up the piece of paper and throwing it away, and then trying again a few days later. Is this a slow-mo version of when you get an amazing thought in your head, and when you try to verbalize it, suddenly the thought is gone?

 

 

What is Solaris about?  the plain and oversimplified answer is that Solaris is about scientific failure. It is about that sometimes humans just have to understand that we will never understand something, and that the something we are trying to understand, it will never understand us.  If you don’t mind spoilers, there is an excellent write up about it at Tor.com, if you’re interested, and here is a neat article about how the novel has an ecological protagonist.

 

I’ll post more thoughts when I’ve finished the book and had some time to think about it.

 

In the meantime,  Have you ever read Solaris?  Have you ever read anything by Stanislaw Lem?  What are your thoughts on stories where people simple can not understand, comprehend, or communicate with whatever we are trying to communicate with? How should a character define if they have “succeeded” or not?

 

of equal importance, did you ever see one of the movie versions of Solaris? What did you think?   This doesn’t seem like the kind of story that would translate well to TV or movies.

 

 

Stay tuned for more thoughts on Solaris!

If you had to communicate without written or spoken words, how would you do it?

Sign language is fine, music and sound is fine, body language, facial movements, whistling, grunting, mewling, crying out, tapping with your fingers and feet,  creating different colors or shapes, wearing different colors or styling your hair a certain way or tattooing different images on different parts of your body all are fine. You can make noise, but you don’t have to. Just no actual words, and nothing that could be construed or translated as what we define as “word”.

A bit like how animals communicate, but upped to the cerebral level of humans.

what non-verbal and non-written methods of communication would you use?

 

How would our conversations change? How would communication change? Would we lose subtleties? Are subtleties and connotation a direct result of spoken language?   But with no spoken or written language, communication would almost have to be done face to face (no books or signs or internet forums. no libraries.), so perhaps the subtleties would be even more complex? wow, that got badly circular!

would communication sans written or spoken words cause more or less misinterpretation?

 

on a similar note, but in a different key, how do different styles of written communication change your experience with a piece of writing? Here are some specific examples that got me thinking about this:

Gene Wolfe’s Shadow and Claw – this volume includes Shadow of the Torturer and Claw of the Conciliator, the first two books in Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. I really, really want to read these again, but the print in this edition is infamously small, to the point where it has affected my decision to reread these, as in, I haven’t. Although I did smarten up and purchased the 3rd and 4th books in the series in editions with normal sized print.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 –  focusing on just a tiny bit of the story,  gender has evolved, and part of that evolution is that if someone doesn’t make their chosen gender obvious, it is considered very rude to ask before you know them well. So the book is missing a lot of he’s and she’s, her’s and him’s. Twice I guessed someone’s gender incorrectly.  It was a new way to experience characterization.

China Mieville’s Railsea – I’m not that far in, but he uses “&” instead of “and”. Other than making my eyes trip over the & a bit and using 2 fewer characters, what’s the point of using the ampersand? the visual effect was odd, almost a musical upswing as my eyes scanned each line.

three random little prose tricks, and they all affected my reading experience in different ways.

For one final random question – if we communicated in a non-word based fashion, would everyone experience all communication in same way, since we wouldn’t have any “prose tricks” like using & instead of “and”, skipping gender specific words, or different typefaces and font sizes?


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.