I have just finished reading Stanislaw Lem’s SF classic, Solaris. Forget about the films (there have been two) and read the book. It is a masterpiece, full of philosophical insights. For me it ranks up there with Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory as my best read of 2009. Lem brilliantly pricks mankind’s basic deceit. We always assume that we are sufficiently intelligent to be able to find a way of communicating with any other sort of intelligence out there. But what if we are not or, quite simply, we cannot? On Solaris, Lem’s imagined planet, a whole ocean is a sentient being of unfathomable intelligence, and the generations of puny men who go there to explore it are, in their turn, explored, the innermost secrets of their minds being probed, their guilty secrets reproduced in convincingly lifelike form and their reactions observed by the being. As in Colin Wilson’s The Philosopher’s Stone, it is difficult to see where the real science ends and the imagined science begins. Lem is also good in describing the sensations of such physical remoteness from the Earth. I have read nothing else by Lem but his basic theme, that man’s anthropomorphic portrayals of aliens as “humanoid” is falacious and futile, is brilliantly argued in this book. If one day we do come across an intelligent alien life form, Lem is telling us, there is no guarantee that we will even recognise it for what it might be. Once you remove the falacious anthropomorphic assumption, there is no necessity about inter-intelligence communication. Put another way, we always imagine we will be communicating with some sort of version of ourselves. It reminds me of the old saw; ‘God created man in his image, and man wasn’t slow in returning the compliment’!