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Solaris by Lem Stanislaw

Solaris (original 1961; edition 2003)

by Lem Stanislaw

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3,444None1,555 (3.89)1 / 181
Authors:Lem Stanislaw
Info:Faber and Faber (2003), Edition: Tie-In - Film, Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Science fiction

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Solaris by Stanisław Lem (1961)

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English (51)  Spanish (3)  Italian (3)  French (2)  German (2)  Portuguese (1)  Dutch (1)  Russian (1)  Hungarian (1)  Slovak (1)  All languages (66)
Showing 1-5 of 51 (next | show all)
3 stars instead of 4 because...I liked the book and the story but, there were some very dry, text-like sections, that made me lose interest and kinda, zone-out. ( )
  CaliSoleil | Mar 5, 2014 |
Deeply philosophical sci-fi. Initially certain sections seemed overloaded with information, I later realised they could be read as pure metaphor. Thematically open to multiple interpretations - the arrogance of science, the reality of alien contact, the 'hard problem' of consciousness, the impossibility of pure knowledge. I felt as though the ocean of solaris was analogous to consciousness or unmediated reality. Also made me think of the ways in which we are held captive by our memories. Considering the type of ideas it addresses it has a remarkably light touch and manages to tell a gripping story as well.
  stylite | Feb 9, 2014 |
My reactions to reading this novel in 2002.

Solaris, Stanislaw Lem -- This is not the first Lem I’ve read. I read some while I was in high school and had one of two reactions. It was boring or it was quite funny. I suspect I would have found this rather boring in high school. I liked it now, though. However, I am curious as to why it’s translated from the French by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox and not translated from Polish, the language Lem writes in. The first part of the novel, as the narrator Kris Kelvin encounters the evasive Snow, sights mysterious women, hears the sounds of unseen strangers, and wonders what the mysterious wilderness of Solaris is up to, reminded me a bit of H. P. Lovecraft. The middle and the end, when the narrator ponders the difference between a simulcra of his dead love Rheya, becoming increasingly like the original, is definitely a venture into Philip K. Dick territory (a writer Lem admires). The novel was fast moving and had an austere, feeling about it. (I liked Lem’s last line, as Kelvin waits to see if the Rheya simulcra will return after he and his fellow scientists have driven it off: “I knew nothing, and I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.”) Lem does a nice job of weaving in the past history of Solaris explorations and theories of its origin with Kelvin’s dealings with Rheya and his fellow scientists. About the only thing that seems definitely proved, at least to the narrator, is that Solaris is, indeed, sentient. The simulcras it sends out -- and, significantly, we never see any of the other live scientists’ (we do see what appears to be the dead Gibarian’s companion) -- could be probes, instruments of “psychic vivisection”, or toys to amuse the mind of Solaris. At novel’s end, little is known about Solaris apart from its sentience. Its motives are ambiguous. It could be a solipsistic creature, the end product of a decadent civilization, or an entity exploring dimensions we aren’t aware of. I liked the speculation that man’s exploration of space was to search for a mirror and not something genuinely alien and different. (The same might be said of most sf.) I liked Lem’s speculation that our bodies may limit how we can even think of the universe much less perceive it even with mathematics and physics. I liked the narrator’s understandable dilemma and apathy about what to do with the seeming resurrection, mostly accurate, of a long lost love he may have driven to suicide. His intellectual awareness of her as a fake is there, but her image and actions trigger the responses the original Rheya did. Snow may urge Kelvin to stop being emotional and to proceed with driving away the Rheya creature, but he’s not sure he wants to. That unresolved dilemma, along with the unresolved nature of Solaris (thus Solaris the alien mystery reflecting, in mirror fashion, the mysteries of human bonding and love), is still there in the last line. One speculation about Solaris is that it’s a fast computing machine and that reminded me of a similar, planet-wide intelligence in Gregory Benford’s “A Dance to Strange Musics”. In Benford’s story, the physical nature of the planet is known as well as its sentience, but its thoughts are unknowable (we are, its memorable line says, like ants crawling across an encyclopedia next to it). Here, we are not sure of Solaris’ intent or exact nature, only its alien intelligence. Given that Benford is a part-time critic of sf, I would be surprised if he has not read Solaris and that “A Dance to Strange Musics” is not a response to it.

“The Open-Ended Parables of Stanislaw Lem and ‘Solaris’”, Darko Suvin -- This is the first Suvin I’ve read, and, given what I’d heard about him, I expected jargon-ridden critical prose, but it was actually pretty plain spoken. It’s a useful guide to Lem’s works, especially the sf, as of its date of composition, 1970. (Solaris was the first Lem novel to be translated to English.) Lem’s fascination with technology is discussed, particularly cybernetic technology, and he’s written several non-fiction books on science. Lem seems rather well-read in British and American sf of the 1950s but gave up Western sf in disgust in 1965. Given what I’ve read of Lem in this novel and elsewhere, the comparisons to Olaf Stapledon and Swift seem appropriate, but I was surprised that Lem shows the influence of Jules Verne on his earlier works. Suvin has a briefly, but useful, discussion on Solaris itself. Suvin rightly notes that the novel’s beginning uses something like a detective-story plot model. (He assumes too much, though, in saying that all three scientists aboard the Solaris station are haunted by female simulacras of those they have lost or slighted. We only know that the other two have Doubles, not there identities.) He is right in that the novel talks about the Holy Contact when its human characters and the simulacras built from their thoughts don’t always agree or communicate well. Suvin says that Lem’s work characteristically notes that Western systems of thought are open-ended, are not capable of having the final say, will encounter novel circumstances they are unsuited to explain or predict or control. In some writers that would be a call to mysticism. Here, however, Lem’s diction and tone and details is all of a scientific nature. Science may not be able to explain Solaris, but it must try to even if it can’t. I think Suvin is less persuasive when he argues the novel’s end refutes both a technocratic notion of progress and a “decadent love of easeful death” (whatever that may be exactly). He sees these two philosophies allegedly represented by apocalyptic American sf (he uses, in quotes, “cosmic inferno” -- a term I’ve not heard and, perhaps, a reference to Kingsley Amis’ sf critical book New Maps of Hell) and Soviet sf’s utopianism. Allegedly, Lem and his fellow Eastern Europeans, exist not only in some geographical middle ground between the two superpowers but their types of sf. To me, this sounds like wishful thinking about the aborted Prague Spring that occurred shortly before Suvin published this piece. My suspicion is further aroused by Suvin’s claim that Lem’s refusal to adopt the promise of either philosophy is justified because “the brightest hopes of humanity” degenerate into Stalinist purges and the My Lai massacre. Apart from the objectionable moral equivalency, I don’t see how any tragic despair allegedly argued for in this novel can help us. Maybe it can. But I don’t see Lem making that kind of argument here. Still, it’s a useful essay. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Feb 8, 2014 |
Solaris is a science fiction book that is also pretty philosophical, about the problems of communication between mankind and an alien that is so different from us, that it took us a while to see it as sentient at all.
Dr. Kris Kelvin arrives from Earth on the research station on Solaris, the first inhabited planet ever discovered. Solaris is a planet with two suns, and the orbit of the planet is influenced by the huge ocean that covers the entire planet. The ocean, which is nothing like our oceans, turns out to be alive and in a way sentient. This has led to an obsession with Contact for most scientists studying Solaris. When Kelvin arrives the Ocean has made an advancement that can be seen as contact, and this makes Kelvin analyse what contact is, what they are and if mankind is ready for contact.
Besides the actions of the characters and the ocean the novel contains many long pieces about scientific history (the study of Solaris and the evolution of ideas about the planet and its ocean) and philosophy (who are we to contact an alien species?). Because of those pieces I found the novel hard to get into. I just couldn't care that much about all the theories about Solaris, the scientific history or the description of the ocean itself. The ideas were interesting, but just didn't grab me. Three out of five stars. ( )
  divinenanny | Dec 3, 2013 |
I tend to agree with another reviewer who characterised this as 'like eating oatmeal with raisins. No brown sugar or butter' - not so much from a point of view of missing understanding as I chased the raisins, but in that there were occasional points that I enjoyed in amongst the rather dry gloop. A little too much (fictional) science, which I just found really hard going. I couldn't make myself care about / be interested in the history of research on Solaris - I was far more interested in the human stories, which Lem preferred to obscure. Interesting novel, but not an immediate favourite. ( )
  imyril | Sep 29, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stanisław Lemprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bolzoni, E.Translatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cox, SteveTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kilmartin, JoannaTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnston, BillTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Juliani, AlessandroNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olszewski, JanuszCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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At 19.00 hours, ship's time, I made my way to the launching bay.  The men around the shaft stood aside to let me pass, and I climbed down into the capsule.
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Book description
Telling of humanity's encounter with an alien intelligence on the planet Solaris, the 1961 novel is a cult classic, exploring the ultimate futility of attempting to communicate with extra-terrestrial life.

When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the living physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others examining the planet, Kelvin learns, are plagued with their own repressed and newly corporeal memories. The Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates these incarnate memories, though its purpose in doing so is unknown, forcing the scientists to shift the focus of their quest and wonder if they can truly understand the universe without first understanding what lies within their hearts.

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156027607, Paperback)

A classic work of science fiction by renowned Polish novelist and satirist Stanislaw Lem


When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the living physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others examining the planet, Kelvin learns, are plagued with their own repressed and newly corporeal memories. The Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates these incarnate memories, though its purpose in doing so is unknown, forcing the scientists to shift the focus of their quest and wonder if they can truly understand the universe without first understanding what lies within their hearts.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:18:54 -0400)

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"When psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds himself confronting a painful memory embodied in the physical likeness of a past lover. Kelvin learns that hs is not alone in this, and that other crews examining the planet are plagued with their own repressed and newly real memories. Could it be, as Solaris scientists speculate, that the ocean may be a massive neural center creating these memories, for a reason no one can identify? Long considered a classic, Solaris asks the question: Can we understand the universe around us without first understanding what lies within?" -- back cover.… (more)

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