from "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction," May, 1971, $0.60, pages 42-43:
"Stanislaw Lem: SOLARIS. After-word by Darko Suvin, Walker, 1970, 216 pp., boards, $4.95" by James Blish:
"As reported in my previous column, the five Lem stories included in Prof. Suvin's anthology OTHER WORLDS, OTHER SEAS seemed strangely thin for a writer with so enormous an international reputation. The present book suggests a possible reason: Lem may be much more at home in the novel.
"This one, which dates back to 1961, is his sixth, and it is strikingly original and rewarding on virtually every level. Its central phenomenon is a planet-wide 'ocean' which is actually a living creature of unguessably (sic) high intelligence; among other things, it has mastered gravitation and uses the knowledge to control the flight of its world around a double star in an orbit which otherwise would be unstable. It also constantly throws up immense temporary structures of various kinds, which though easily classifiable into types, completely defy comprehension. Lem does not just say this, he shows it: his hero describes almost all of the types, clearly and in detail, so that the reader has a vivid picture of exactly what each is like- and is as far as ever from comprehending what possible purpose it could serve. Solaris (the name of the planet) makes most other descriptions of 'alien' worlds you have read seem positively homelike.
"All human attempts to communicate with this creature have failed, sometimes with great loss of life. The deaths were due to its apparent indifference to human beings, for it is not hostile. Yet, in a way, it is in touch with them, for from the recess of each man's brain it recreates, in solid, living and sentient form, the one person to whom that man had done the most injury. Nobody ever finds out why it does this, either, or even whether it is aware of doing so; but the resulting emotional tensions are what make the novel go. They are handled with such tenderness and depth of insight as to make me wonder if the author of those short stories is some other Lem entirely.
"A part of the other activities of the 'ocean' is also mimetic; in effect, it mirrors what goes on in its vicinity. In the same way, each man's inner nature is mirrored by his inescapable Phi-creature (not Psi, as the flap copy has it; they are completely real, they bleed and they suffer, though apparently they cannot be killed); and in the elaboration and evolution of Solaristic studies, Lem mirrors society, its institutions, and man's place in the universe. He is completely non-dogmatic about it; if he has anything to preach, it is that knowledge does not dispel mystery, but increases it.
"Lem knows the sciences intimately; there is not a word of double-talk in the novel, although some kind of faster-than-light drive is assumed in order to be able to reach Solaris at all. The story is slow-moving in spots, but this is not a defect in a philosophical novel; when Lem slows down, he wants the reader to slow down too and 'think.'
"Stylistically it also reads well, and my guess- based rather insecurely on its excellences in other departments- is that the style was distinguished in the original. What we have here is a British translation of a French translation from the original Polish. Prof. Suvin, who has more languages than he has fingers, doesn't mention the translation at all in his fine analytical Afterword, which may also indicate that it could have been better, but just as English it is better than most of what passes for the language in out field.
"Buy the hard-cover book by all means, for you will want a copy that will stand up under many re-readings. This is going to become a classic; it is inherently one already."