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Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone

2013 April 1

Solaris is one of Joe’s favorite books. Written in 1961, it’s a science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem that focuses on the study of a mysterious ocean on the planet Solaris. The main character, Kris, is assigned to a station to conduct research. When he arrives, he discovers that the two other scientists living at the station have undergone some significant changes since their time near Solaris–changes he soon endures himself as he encounters Rheya, his ex-wife who committed suicide. No matter how hard the scientists try to get rid of their respective “visitors,” they always show up again, dredging up painful memories and forcing the men to confront aspects of themselves they’d rather let remain dormant.

You may have seen the movie with George Clooney back in the day (I did) but the book is different, definitely more creepy and nuanced. Lem’s writing is subtle–for instance, he never divulges who the visitors are for the other men on the station–the reader is left wondering, just as much as Kris. Also, we’re never quite sure just why the “ocean” is producing these doubles of the dead–though after much hypothesizing and experimentation, the men conclude it was likely due to some aggressive electro-magnetic testing the scientists ran on the ocean.

Though the book was written more than fifty years ago, many of the themes are still relevant, and it doesn’t feel tremendously dated.

Science fiction and fantasy are definitely two genres that are totally outside my reading comfort zone. While I have pretty eclectic tastes and try to maintain a somewhat open mind (despite my strong opinions), my literal brain can’t quite bring itself to embrace the unrealities of science fiction and fantasy. I tend to be able to enjoy sci-fi a little more than fantasy, but every story is different.

I gave this book in particular a chance because it’s one of Joe’s favorite books and I think it’s interesting to visit someone else’s treasured favorites (books, movies, tv shows, albums). I also remembered liking the movie and I was intrigued by the story.

Did I love it? No, I didn’t. Most of the time I found myself skimming past all of the technical descriptions and experiments–I was really only interested in the relationship between Kris and Rheya and the implications of that relationship. But I’m glad that I read outside of my comfort zone and it’s something I’d like to continue to do, to be as well-rounded and open minded a reader as I can be.

Do you read outside your comfort zone? Why or why not?

*Image via Daniel Hanks

2 Responses Post a comment
  1. April 1, 2013

    I think skimming the technical descriptions – and, in this book’s particular case, the descriptions of the unfathomable operations of the planet Solaris – means missing the sustaining energy of science fiction. As you read those parts, you slowly awake from the dream of our world to find yourself somewhere different, somewhere bizarre, frightening, and above all, wondrous. Once you’re alive in that alternate reality, you have access to knowledge in new forms and ideas in new stories, which you can then take back with you to our world.

    I love that I can get you to read books like these. This comment is just a suggestion for getting more out of the experience. I think if you ignore the framework, you end up imagining science fiction’s stories as taking place in our world, and something very big is lost in the translation.

  2. April 1, 2013

    Science fiction is outside of my comfort zone too, but there are some books in that genre that are more appealing to non-science types. I really like Connie Willis’ science fiction, which involves time travel to the medieval period. Every time I read Faulkner, I am outside of my comfort zone.

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