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Solaris by Lem Stanislaw

Solaris (original 1961; edition 2003)

by Lem Stanislaw

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4,228931,176 (3.89)1 / 210
Authors:Lem Stanislaw
Info:Faber and Faber (2003), Edition: Tie-In - Film, Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Science fiction

Work details

Solaris by Stanisław Lem (1961)

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English (74)  Spanish (4)  Italian (4)  Dutch (3)  French (2)  German (2)  Portuguese (1)  Russian (1)  Slovak (1)  Hungarian (1)  All (93)
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
Cool, but I felt like parts were lost in translation for me. ( )
  Jon_Hansen | Apr 4, 2017 |
Solaris ranks among the most difficult books I have ever read. And I don’t know why, other than to suggest it is so full of content, subtext, meaning, metaphor … whatever you call the powerful stuff underlying a story … that I found it hard to process. My reading went this way: Read a chapter. Realize I didn’t know what I’d read. Read it again. Read the next chapter. Realize I couldn’t remember the last chapter. Re-read both chapters. Have an ah-hah moment but be puzzled by it so ONCE MORE re-read both chapters. This non-linear process continued through the entire novel. Usually books like this make me feel dumb … but Solaris does not. Solaris is inviting, like a garden maze on a sunny day. The great plasma ocean/brain/being of the planet seems a familiar place, as my bed is familiar, even as that cozy bed is the launching pad for fantastical, unsettling dreams. That plasma thing and I have been dancing together since as far back as I can remember. Solaris is the unfathomable place outside consciousness that consciousness desperately seeks to connect with, to grasp, to know. What Lem suggests is that the unfathomable place can be stimulated so it reaches out to consciousness.

“[The ocean] has performed a series of … experiments on us,” says Kelvin, the investigator sent to find out what is wrong at Solaris Station. “Psychic vivisection.” (192)

By coincidence, or what Jung might call synchronicity, I read Solaris as I was studying commentary on the Jewish Kabbalah. (Not the spiritualist/Christianized, New Age type Cabbalah.) The Holy Ari’s idea of progressive “enclothement” as energy “descends” into matter reminds me very much of how the entity that is Solaris “enclothes” the fears and dreams and memories of the human scientists trying to contact it. Solaris cuts right into the soul of each character to find seeds around which it can synthesize an uncanny phantom.

Vivisection indeed, while the subject is awake and feeling every painful slice. H.G. Wells captured the curious indifference of the vivisectionist in THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU.
  Mary_Overton | Jan 6, 2017 |
You would never know that this was written in 1961 Poland, it holds up so well. A haunting story of what its like to try to understand a truly alien intelligence and more importantly how a small group of people deal with reality breaking down around them while recognising what is happening.

The audio version is a great use of the medium as the story is told from the first person. ( )
1 vote bhutton | Oct 13, 2016 |
I was absolutely charmed by my first Stanislaw Lem book, The Cyberiad, but this one, this one is very different. I am haunted by it, as I am by J.G. Ballard's books -- but even more so.

Just pages into Solaris, I could see why the amazing Andrei Tarkovsky picked on it to adapt into a film.* Not because its plot or characters are demanding to make the leap to the big screen, but because its setting, as observed by Kris Kelvin, is sense-swampingly cinematic:

"...as though sucked upwards, the cloud-mass lifted; I was gliding, half in light, half in shadow, the capsule revolving upon its own vertical axis..."

"...the sun's orbit, which had so far encircled me, shifted unexpectedly, and the incandescent disc appeared now to the right, now to the left, seeming to dance on the planet's horizon. I was swinging like a giant pendulum while the plaenet, its surface wrinkled with purplish-blue and black furrows, rose up in front of me like a wall."

And that's just the English translation. Goodness knows what the appeal of the original Polish to the mind's eye would be. I'm guessing marvelous, because Polish seems marvelous. But so, who wouldn't want to try to bring such images (and these aren't even the most vivid or colorful. There's a freaking literary light show towards the end!) to the actual eye, hmm?

Alas, the films, both Tarkovsky's glorious one and Stephen Soderberg's somewhat less-so one, are more interested in Kelvin and the strange clone/doppelganger/thing of his wife that shows up just as other figures, imaginary/archetypal or real, show up in the lives of the others on the station studying the planet Solaris, than in Solaris itself. This is not true of the book.

Solaris is alive, or at least its surface is, taken up by one vast organism that defies biological, chemical, and physical science but exists anyway. It delights in creating vast structures and shapes from its own imagination and, ominously, in creating slightly off copies of human objects. And memories? Well, how else do you think these imperfect copies of people and creatures who are haunting the researchers get there?

But get this. Oh, get this. As Kelvin reads a prior researcher's account of his observations on Solaris, we get a sense of vast weirdness that I have only ever encountered in one book (Greg Bear's Blood Music), though perhaps there are echoes of this in Alastair Reynolds' Pattern Jugglers as well (though they are many organisms on many water-covered planets, not one vast one that only sort of seems like an ocean. Anyway, check this description of one of many weird types of oceanic/organic formations the researchers call "Extensors" doing their weird things under the light of the planet's two suns (a red one and a blue one):

"It must be understood that the 'extensors' are formations that dwarf the Grand Canyon, that they are produced in a substance which externally resembles a yeasty colloid (during this fantastic 'fermentation' the yeast sets into festoons of starched open-work lace; some experts refer to 'ossified tumors'), and that deeper down the substance becomes increasingly resistant, like a tensed muscle which fifty feet below the surface is as hard as rock but retains its flexibility. The 'extensor' appears to be an independent creation, stretching for miles between membranous walls swollen with 'ossified growths' like some colossal python which after swallowing a mountain is sluggishly digesting the meal, while a slow shudder occasionally ripples along its creeping body."

It goes on at greater length, but that bit should be enough to convey the awesome creepiness of the planet Solaris. I had chills. Even before we learn that when seen up close this structure is "bewilderingly alive with movement." Its hard not to imagine the continent-spanning waves of sentient individual cells that engulf North America in Blood Music -- but Solaris came first, of course.

And Solaris, Solaris is real science fiction. As in there is lots of science, the way science is actually conducted. And no, I'm not talking about crazy experiments, though there are some of those. I'm talking about all of the literature reviews our narrator conducts in the course of telling his story (the big block quote above comes from a journal article). As any former or current graduate student/coolie can tell you, a vastly greater amount of a working scientist's time is so spent than anyone who is not one or hasn't been one would suspect -- especially in a well-established discipline, which, at the time of the events of this novel "Solarist studies" is. There are decades of theories, counter-theories, grant proposals, experimental "results", project budgets and other documentary minutiae to be gone through if one is going even try to grasp the immensity of the planet/life form's mystery. It's a true testament to Lem's storytelling abilities that this is not at all tedious. I, for one, kind of felt myself tapping my foot impatiently through all of the Kelvin/Pseudo-Mrs. Kelvin scenes, waiting to learn more about the planet.** Or, at least, about what it probably wasn't.

"The existence of the thinking colossus was bound to go on haunting men's minds."


*I'm trying not to gush too much about this film -- and it is not a perfect film; feel free to fast forward through its infamously dull "city of the future" scene, in which characters are sitting in a car and traveling a seemingly endless expanse of then-contemporary Tokyo, for instance; it's there because Tarkovsky was damned lucky to get to leave the Soviet Union to go get that footage, and he had to justify the trip, by not-god -- but if you haven't seen it or aren't willing to give it a chance, I... I just don't know what to say. It's an amazing and subtle film, and features one of my very favorite actors, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, in a strong supporting role. It concerns itself more with the relationship between Kelvin and his dead wife than with all of the real science fiction, which now that I've read the novel I find a bit of a cheat, but my jaw still just drops at the mere thought of this film.

**Again, how much of this is due to having enjoyed (Tarkovsky) and endured (Soderberg) two film adaptations that were all Rheya/Hari (for reasons I do not grasp, Kelvin's wife is named Hari in the original Polish novel and the Tarkovsky film, and Rheya in the English translation and Soderberg's film), all the time, I cannot say. And how much of that is due to Natascha McElhone, whose performance in Soderberg's version I loathed, well, maybe that I can say, because I heard every line of Rheya's dialogue in the book in her whiny/whispy voice until I wanted to find a way to claw out that part of the brain that is the mind's ear.[b:The Cyberiad|18194|The Cyberiad|Stanisław Lem|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1328876435s/18194.jpg|2371216][b:Blood Music|340819|Blood Music|Greg Bear|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1173891385s/340819.jpg|2563510] ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
The Solaris enigma was thought provoking but if there was a philosophic or psychological foundation beneath this science fiction story I missed it. All the same, I enjoyed it for what it was. For something written fifty years ago it felt surprisingly contemporary. The Audible audiobook's narrator, Alessandro Juliani, gave each character such a unique and expressive voice that I had to check that it wasn't a dramatization done by a cast. ( )
  wandaly | Jun 30, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
Hoewel "Solaris" schitterend is verfilmd, is het boek zelf niet overdreven goed. De hoofdpersoon is een psycholoog met weinig verstand van psychologie, die probeert fysische problemen op te lossen, waar hij - en met hem de schrijver - nog minder verstand van heeft. Het gegeven is veelbelovend. De planeet is bedekt met een oceaan die leeft en zichzelf en zijn zonnestelsel kan manipuleren. De onderzoekers en de oceaan proberen met elkaar in kontakt te komen. De onhandige oceaan zaait daardoor dood en verderf. De mogelijkheden om de armoedige "science" te compenseren met spannende "fiction" worden om zeep geholpen door lange pseudo-wetenschappelijke verklaringen over de fysiologie van de planeet, wat de indruk wekt dat een kort verhaal is uitgerekt tot een boek.
added by karnoefel | editNBD / Biblion

» Add other authors (85 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stanisław Lemprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bolzoni, E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cox, SteveTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnston, BillTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Juliani, AlessandroNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kilmartin, JoannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malm, JohanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olszewski, JanuszCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suvin, DarkoAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Swahn, Sven ChristerTranslatorsecondary 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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.

Haiku summary

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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:59:34 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"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)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

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