I read this for a book club. It’s a very philosophical book, and I never would have read it on my own. I can’t even say I enjoyed it very much, and it’s the rare novel where am grateful I went to the screening of the 1970s movie version at the art cinema. I also didn’t exactly enjoy the movie but it helped me stay focused on the book when it would become pages of philosophy.
Despite that or maybe because of that, it made for an intriguing and great book club discussion about what was really going on, what the author was trying to say, and how Soviet politics might have influenced the message (or what statement the author was subtly trying to make about the USSR).
The premise is that there is a station in space which has been devoted to the study of a planet outside the solar system. The planet is unique, and people have devoted careers to its studies but after years with little progress, there is question whether it is worth continuing. In fact the station currently only has a three man crew until the narrator, Kelvin, joins them. His first shock is how ill prepared the station seems for his arrival but that might be because one of one of the small crew recently committed suicide. He feels like there is something the other two men aren’t telling him, but he quickly discovers the abnormalities for himself. As his new crew mates later tell him, the occurrences aren’t something that can be warned or told about, but are something that must be experienced.
Ever since a recent experiment involving some type of radiation sent to the planet, the men on the station’s have had visitors. The novel never reveals what the other men see, whether it is someone from their past or something they once conceived of, but in Kelvin’s case, it is a former lover. The men can never puzzle out if the planet is actually trying to communicate with them through this manifestations, if it is some weird defense mechanism, or simply a side effect. Is this an example of two different species attempting to communicate with no understanding of how the other communicates, or is it less than that?
It’s definitely not one I would recommend for light reading or fun but a sci-fi book club discussion? Surprisingly good choice.