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Back in the day I had to read a story from the "recommended" books section and I chose this.

The story is about a guy (let's call him Steve) having to visit a planet that already has a human base set up, but I think they lost contact with the inhabitants, which prompted the reason for Steve to be sent off there. He had some kind of experience that was useful for the mission. As I remember, Steve wasn't that keen on the idea because the planet was pretty far, so it would take years to reach it.

When Steve reached the planet, it turned out that most of the inhabitants were gone sans for one guy he finds later at the base.

The planet had a vast ocean that, the longer Steve was on this planet, the more he felt like it could talk to it. Something along the lines of the ocean being a sentient being.

After being on the planet for a while, Steve suddenly finds his girlfriend there, which should be impossible. Pretty sure he found her naked, and by close inspection it turned out that she had smooth soles "smooth as a child's that has never walked before", implying it's a clone planted by the sentient ocean for X reason. He later develops feelings for this girl (since she looks like his girlfriend/wife). I also think that the original girl is dead, or they broke up, some tragic background story. The girl was worried that Steve likes her because she looks like his previous partner, but Steve assures her that while they look the same, she acts different.

Steve got a cell sample from the girl, and upon closer inspection under the microscope it turned out that the cells are made up of something smaller than an atom, so small that their equipment couldn't focus enough to actually see the thing the cell is made of.

I never finished the story, so I don't know what happens in the end, but that's all the info I remember.

  • I like the movie Tarkovsky made out of the book too. Pt 1: youtube.com/watch?v=6-4KydP92ss Pt 2: youtube.com/watch?v=xXa6XpaxBS0 – Jason May 27 at 7:05
  • It is one of my favorite books. I like a lot the way that it is kind of a philosophical Scifi dealing not only with the possibility of finding intelligent extraterrestrial life, but how this intelligence can be different from ours and the implications of it. – MrAn3 May 27 at 7:27
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I believe this is probably Solaris (1961, English translation 1970) by Stanislaw Lem.

Kris Kelvin is sent from Earth to Solaris, where there is a research stations studying the gel-like organism that inhabits the world-spanning ocean. He meets Snow, now in charge, and finds Gibarian, the former head, has killed himself. The only other live human on the station is Sartorius.

Nevertheless, he meets Rheya, a former lover of his who killed herself on Earth, and observes the appearance of other seeming people who could not actually be there. (These are simulcra constructed by the sentient organism in the ocean for unknown reasons.)

The bit about the soles of her feet is fairly distinctive; first when he finds Gibarian's visitor:

I looked again at the soles of her naked feet; they had not been flattened or deformed in any way by the weight which they had had to carry. Walking had not calloused the skin, which was as unblemished as that of her shoulders.

And again when he meets the simulcrum of Rheya:

Leaning forward, I took hold of one of her ankles and ran my fingers over the sole of her foot.

The skin was soft, like that of a newborn child.

I knew then that it was not Rheya, and I was almost certain that she herself did not know it.

The cells of the simulcra are composed of neutrinos, so smaller than can be resolved.

"The atom is the ultimate constituent element of our bodies. My guess is that the Phi-beings are constituted of units smaller than ordinary atoms, much smaller."

"Mesons," put in Sartorius. He did not sound in the least surprised.

"No, not mesons... I would have seen them. The power of this instrument here is between a 10th to a 20th of an angstrom, isn't it? But nothing is visible, nothing whatsoever. So it can't be mesons. More likely neutrinos."

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  • 1
    Thank you so much! This is definitely it. I'm still amazed how people can find old books from other people obscure memories. – tinyatom May 26 at 16:09
  • @tinyatom You're welcome! Sometimes it's not all that hard because the memorable bits are often memorable for other people too. Plus it's a lot of fun figuring them out. – DavidW May 26 at 16:24
  • You've got to love the "science" in science fiction. The charge radius of some mesons, like the pion and the kaon, is on the scale of 10^(-15) meters. One tenth of an angstrom is about 10^(-11) meters. Even if mesonic molecules were stable, expecting to see them with an instrument of that sort would be like expecting to see a cell with the naked eye. As for the stability or even the possibility of a molecule made entirely out of neutrinos, let alone one that was indistinguishable from normal matter.... – Adamant May 26 at 16:37
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    @Adamant Maybe I should recommend that you never watch Star Trek? :-D I've long since learned to mentally render any non-plot-important scienceological stuff as "blah, blah, blah"; it makes me much less grumpy. :) FWIW, I was just rereading The Skylark of Space and that approach allowed me to instead be cranky about the characterizations and general racist/sexist tone. :) – DavidW May 26 at 17:52
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    @Adamant : it's handled in the novel, it's even beautifully lampshaded (the author wasn't ignorant in the topic of physics) I remember that the characters are very surprised as they know neutrinos should not behave like this, they shouldn't interact with matter and shouldn't be stable enough to build physical forms. But as Solaris can manipulate spacetime seemingly at will (this is how they discovered it at the beginning, a planet in such a ternary star system shouldn't have a stable orbit yet it did!), so it must be some kind of "field" Solaris is maintaining, to hold the simulacra together. – vsz May 27 at 10:18

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