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Solaris (1961)

by Stanisław Lem

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,9411421,444 (3.88)1 / 257
The classic sci-fi novel - now a major Hollywood movie starring George Clooney and directed by the Academy Award-winning Steven Soderbergh. When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface he is forced to confront a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others suffer from the same affliction and speculation rises among scientists that the Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates incarnate memories, but its purpose in doing so remains a mystery . . . Solaris raises a question that has been at the heart of human experience and literature for centuries: can we truly understand the universe around us without first understanding what lies within?… (more)
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Group TopicMessagesLast Message 
 Science Fiction Fans: New English translation of Lem's Solaris105 unread / 105mikewilliams64, February 2013

» See also 257 mentions

English (114)  Spanish (6)  Italian (4)  German (3)  Dutch (2)  French (2)  Hungarian (1)  Russian (1)  Catalan (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Slovak (1)  All languages (136)
Showing 1-5 of 114 (next | show all)
Lem's description of the surface of “Solaris” is so extraordinary and poetic that a movie that never shows the planet is missing the point that everything it creates has come from itself as its own form of communication. Lem himself (who ought to know best) said that the novel was about communication and not about gender. Lem was very much interested on how would humans react to an entity so different from themselves? How unbearable would it be if your only form of communication were to be your own thoughts repeated back to you, in physical form? Kelvin's wife's suicide was an expression of non-communication but when she is resurrected for him, both of them still find it impossible to understand her presence in his life. The planet communicates with its visitors the only way it can, by picking up chaotic human thoughts and recreating what it finds there. But just as you cannot understand any conscious motivation in what the planet does, the planet does not read the difference between memory, desire and guilt, and simply repeats the riddle back to you - which you may well have travelled so far to escape from. Is it in fact conscious at all? Lem was one of the first SF writers to envisage that in travelling out of the earth, we may encounter entities that are so different in biology and behaviour that we may not even realise that they are entities, with no human characteristics at all. China Mieville's 'Embassytown' is another novel presenting us with a completely unhuman species, and as a study of how two species whose language systems are wildly different may communicate (unfortunately miles away from Lem’s masterpiece).

Lem is perhaps the first great pessimist of hard SF literature (there were probably always more pessimists in the East than in the West, but the overwhelming majority of them were in the field of social science fiction). On another level, Solaris for me is an indictment against the self-centredness of human civilization and modern science, as well as the lack of imagination of the scientific community. The title character of the story, the mysterious planet, is the absolute "alien", whose basic properties are not even understood by the scientists of the distant future. They come up with hundreds of theories that lead nowhere without doing anything about it, and when the “creature” (entity?) contacts them, it does so on a level that people would prefer not to acknowledge. Because despite all its results - perceived or real - the human mind is only one step away from the primitive animal world, but it is by no means certain that this is the same for other sentient entities.

This re-read this time round, highlighted for me a special feature of the novel: it analyses itself on the fly. The "solarist" science that emerges step by step in the story - the collection of fictitious books written about the planet - does not only produce theories, but also practices self-reflection. When a future writer talks about the failure of science, or about its transformation into a messianic religion (because we believe that one day there will be a Grand Theory That Answers Everything), then Lem metaphorically adds marginal notes to his own novel.

Most contemporary SF authors with the arguably exception of Peter Watts to a lesser extent Alastair Reynolds are actually writing about people when they write about "aliens" - extremely distorted, emphasizing certain characteristics of us, or adapting to different physical requirements, but still human-like civilizations - but here Lem laid the foundations of a new trend that did not extend to the vast majority of contemporary space opera.

What about Tarkovsky’s movie? It was the most fucking, pointless, incomprehensible, pretentious boring piece of shit I ever had to endure. Imagine 3 hours of sitting around waiting for something to happen, but it never does. The actors are all on vicodin, the plot is nebulous at best, and the characters are absolutely unrelatable. Was it too much to ask for one single interesting thing to happen throughout the entire movie? Was it too much for it to have provoked any thought other than when does the movie start? As for the gender issue, I'm afraid that by 'flipping' gender in a work that many in the audience know, you simply draw attention to a directorial decision that will too many seem just perverse. “Solaris” was written when it was written, even though it is in a lot of ways timeless, and at that time most space scientists and astronauts were men. Gender flipping may arise from a desire to remove gender issues from a work but in fact succeeds only in making the work about gender. In fact gender is one of the less important aspects of the story. How anyone gets the idea from the Tarkovsky version that Solaris is some sort of embodiment of Female is one of the most 'impregnable' things I’ve heard. Utter bollocks!

NB: For this re-read used the edition by Bill Johnston, directly translated from Polish into English. Still a 5 star read for me after all these years.



SF = Speculative Fiction. ( )
1 vote antao | Sep 23, 2022 |
This was another middle-of-the-road read for me. It started off interestingly and I liked the premise, but there was an over-abundance of telling instead of showing, and the story fizzled out for me by the end.

The book begins with a man named Kelvin arriving at the human station on the planet Solaris. Solaris is covered by an enormous, ocean-like organism that covers the entire planet. Nobody really understands anything about it, and a small group of scientists live there studying it. Kelvin arrives to find the scientist he came to work with missing. The only other person he finds at first acts nervous and cagey, and seems to doubt whether Kelvin is who he says he is.

Most of the book is a fast read, and it’s short at under 200 pages. However, there were several pages of info dumps where I really got bogged down. Whenever Kelvin heads to the library, look out! He’s about to “summarize” half the library for you. Ok, maybe only a book or two. It went into a level of detail I just wasn’t interested in. But I should qualify this by saying I read it while working 15-hour days, so it’s hard to say if I would have enjoyed it more if I’d had more energy to put into it. It took me forever to get through some of the library passages because I kept falling asleep.

I never felt any attachment to the characters. This is more of an ideas book I think, with a heavy focus on psychology. It had some cool ideas, and an interesting premise, but it never hooked me. I enjoyed it more toward the beginning, but by the end I didn’t feel invested in the story anymore and I didn’t care that much about what happened. ( )
  YouKneeK | Jul 10, 2022 |
I'm disappointed that only the Polish->French->English translation is available through both my library & Barnes & Noble. I'm not a Kindle reader, so I can't get the Polish->English translation. ( )
  AmyMacEvilly | Jul 7, 2022 |
Keypti mér þessa á ferðalagi um Varsjá, enda við hæfi að kynnast pólskum rithöfundi á ferð um landið. :)
Þessi saga hefur fengið mikið lof og öðlas stöðu sem klassísk á meðal vísindaskáldsagna. Hún lýsir því þegar Kris Kelvin mætir á fámenna rannsóknarstöð á sporbraut um plánetuna Solaris og kemst að því að þar er starfsliðið að missa vitið vegna skynjana sem það er farið að upplifa. Sýnir sem virðast tengjast þeirra innstu þrám og óskum. Grunur leikur á að á plánetunni finnist líf en það er mönnum svo óskiljanlegt að engin samskipti hafa náðst við það. Brátt taka furðulegar sýnir einnig að ásækja Kelvin og starfslið stöðvarinnar þarf að finna leið hvernig það getur varið sig og hvort möguleiki sé að ná sambandi við þau öfl sem að baki sýnunum standa. ( )
  SkuliSael | Apr 28, 2022 |
I struggled with this at times and probably need to reread it at some point to really grasp it, I suspect there are concepts contained in it that passed me by completely (not sure if that is Lem's fault or mine). It's a very mixed book, there are long passages of very dry scientific sounding prose that left me cold, but when it is at its best it is fascinating - conceptually brilliant, compelling, believable and human. Overall I'm certainly glad I read it and I'm sure some of the ideas will remain with me for a very long time. ( )
  whatmeworry | Apr 9, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 114 (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 (75 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lem, StanisławAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bolzoni, E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cox, SteveTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnston, BillTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Juliani, AlessandroNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kannosto, MattiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kilmartin, JoannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malm, JohanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olszewski, JanuszCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suvin, DarkoAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Swahn, Sven ChristerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zimmermann-Göllheim… IrmtraudTranslatorsecondary 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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The classic sci-fi novel - now a major Hollywood movie starring George Clooney and directed by the Academy Award-winning Steven Soderbergh. When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface he is forced to confront a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others suffer from the same affliction and speculation rises among scientists that the Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates incarnate memories, but its purpose in doing so remains a mystery . . . Solaris raises a question that has been at the heart of human experience and literature for centuries: can we truly understand the universe around us without first understanding what lies within?

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