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Solaris (1961)

by Stanisław Lem

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,5191281,448 (3.87)1 / 250
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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» See also 250 mentions

English (104)  Spanish (6)  Italian (4)  German (3)  French (3)  Dutch (2)  Portuguese (1)  Russian (1)  Hungarian (1)  Slovak (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (127)
Showing 1-5 of 104 (next | show all)
damn so like i watched the movie and i really liked it despite it being very slow paced and cerebral and I thought the book would help me understand it which it sort of did despite having a pretty different story. interestingly the book is way more fast paced and suspenseful than the movie, kinda feels like watching an episode of old star trek ( )
  jooniper | Sep 10, 2021 |
1 ( )
  ejmw | Aug 4, 2021 |
"Only now did I realize that I was not in the least concerned with the mimoid, and that I had flown here not to explore the formation but to acquaint myself with the ocean." (pg. 212)

The above statement by Kris Kelvin, our protagonist, delivered in the final pages of Stanisław Lem's Solaris, went some way in reconciling me to a novel that had proved difficult and sometimes disappointing. The book sees Kelvin arrive at a near-abandoned space station orbiting a strange planet known as Solaris. The few occupants of the station have been driven mad, apparently by the effects of proximity to the gigantic "protoplasmic ocean-brain enveloping the entire planet" below (pg. 22). Kelvin finds himself drawn into their madness when his former lover, who had committed suicide years earlier, manifests in front of him as a living, organic body.

It's a great premise and the novel at its best is very disturbing; the station above Solaris a sort of sci-fi counterpart to the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's The Shining (the encounter with the "Negress" on page 31 reminded me of Room 237). There are plenty of odd, hallucinatory happenings in the story and the reader develops some queasy, mind-warping feelings. Unfortunately, however, the story lacks the through-line of plot or character that makes King's Overlook Hotel so compelling. We're never quite sure what's going on or why, and whilst Kelvin's relationship with the manifestation of his former lover has some dramatic power, it's not really clear what his plans or motivations are, or those of the other people on the station. The book isn't helped in this respect by the unfocused English translation of the story (Lem himself wasn't a fan) or by the lengthy digressions and expository passages.

The most intriguing part of the story is that protoplasmic ocean-brain mentioned above. Kelvin spends most of his time contemplating it – and so do we, the readers. Lem has some surprisingly coherent scientific explanations for how it works, and we're drawn into the trap of trying to figure out what its nature is and what it means. Is it trying to communicate, or is it indifferent to humanity? Is it a god, or is it even sentient at all? Is it forbiddingly complex, or simple but just so far removed from human understanding of reality that it appears inscrutable? The book, for all its flaws, is consistently fascinating on this.

Lem seems to mean for this to be a comment on the folly of mankind's ventures into space, for Man has not yet even mastered himself. "Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed" (pg. 164). Kelvin being confronted with the manifestation of his former lover, and the unresolved emotions resulting from this, seems to illustrate this literary sentiment. The strangeness of Solaris' psychedelic ocean challenges not only our understanding of the universe, but our approach to understanding. "We observe a fraction of the process" and cannot grasp what lies "beyond the limits of [our] perception or imagination". Reality may well be "a symphony in geometry, but we lack the ears to hear it" (pg. 126).

This is why, when Kelvin delivers the statement with which I opened this review, I became reconciled to Lem's book, despites its frustrations. Solaris doesn't give us any answers. only further questions. But it is a pleasant sensory experience to, like Kelvin in the moments after his statement, press our hand to the strange ocean surf and try to understand its myriad complexities. Contemplation, speculation and intelligent thought can be exhilarating experiences by themselves, without need for any resolution. And we find that we're quite happy to grapple with mysteries, even if they remain mysteries when we close the book. ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Jul 7, 2021 |
Lem, Stanislaw. Solaris. 1961. Translated by Steve Cox and Joanna Kilmartin. Harcourt, 1987.
I put off reading Solaris for a long time, because translations from Polish to French and then French to English never seemed like a good idea. I guess I unfairly expect all Polish writers to be Joseph Conrad. But the English prose, however created, does establish an appropriately gothic tone. Here’s the premise: a team of scientists investigating a water-covered planet begin to suspect the ocean may be sentient when their station begins manifesting flesh and blood renditions of their long-suppressed memories. Our narrator, for example, must deal with his long-dead lover who does not want to be alone. There is a surprising twist at the end and some semi-plausible science that keeps the whole thing from turning into a B movie without Hollywood’s help. The scientists are all more emotionally overwrought than I would like, but perhaps that is where some of the satire was aimed. If you have ever been to a college faculty meeting, you know that some degree of crazy is normal. 4 stars. ( )
  Tom-e | May 15, 2021 |
A psychologist arrives at a space station orbiting a planet which supports an intelligent ocean. Attempts to establish any communication with it are futile as the lifeform is radically different to ours. However the planet seems to be responsible for generating clones from the minds of the explorers. I really enjoyed this book. It is a much more of a story than Memoirs Found in a Bathtub. I was intrigued by the psychologist's experiment with himself to prove he is not hallucinating, and enjoyed the exploration of the various ways the three humans handled their situation. I also liked the extensive fictional references to past explorations, and the books published about the planet. ( )
  AChild | Apr 7, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 104 (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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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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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