Solaris
( 127 Votes )

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„Solaris” is the most famous of Lem's novels.  It had been reviewed many times in various countries and in various languages.  It belongs – probably as no other Polish literary work – to the core of its genre, to the canon: a novel about contact with aliens cannot be omitted  in discussions of world science fiction.  Why has „Solaris” achieved this status?  Probably because the book not only present the most original vision of the alien world known to science fiction, but in the most interesting and emotional way present the drama of cognition and its entanglement in literature, in telling stories that is so inseparable for human culture.

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Lem's visionary depiction of contact
Virgil 2009-02-13 21:02:59

One note readers should know beforehand is that the version of Solaris available in English is a translation from Polish to French and then translated from the French into English. For some irresponsible and bizarre reason, publishing house Faber and Faber who own the license have not authorized a direct from Polish translation of Solaris. The good news is that despite this the translators from the French have a good sense of literary style and did a fine job of making it readable and enjoyable, though obviously not as accurate a translation as could be.

At first glance Solaris seems hard science fiction. Set in the future after man has explored many systems the main character arrives at the space station orbiting the planet Solaris. Lem lets us know several things up front, the planet is suspected of being an intelligent life form and there is a long history of exploration, strange happenings and accidents that have occurred. By the time Kelvin arrives after almost two hundred years of study only a small team is left to record and study the planet.

More than hard science is really at the heart of this novel. There are musings on alien contact and the nature of what is intelligence. Is man really the measure of everything? As events occur, Kelvin the rational scientist succumbs to those most irrational of feelings, love and longing. Ironically, Kelvin, the person sent to investigate the occurrences among the crew is the one who is emotionally effected the most by the visitors that accompany everyone.

The genius of the novel is that the visitors are reflections or copy's of each individual in each person's memory. Every character is touched (or disturbed) on a level much deeper than a more conventional alien contact approach. Few readers will fail to imagine who from their own memories would take the form of their own visitor.

This is one of the most intelligent science fiction novels I've read in a long time. The story ends up not being about science but about what makes us human, what is intelligence and what may separate us from another life form. Moving, well written and highly recommended.

Virgil
Incommunicability or Being In the World
Thomas M. Seay 2009-02-18 08:59:29

This novel explores the theme of communication. Scientists explore a curious planet, Solaris, whose ocean appears to be an intelligent life-form. Scientists are sent to live on the planet
for purposes of establishing contact.

Contact is elusive however. What is to be the medium of communication? Even without the tool of verbal language, humans can empathize and communicate to some extent with other mammals. We know that they share common instincts and emotions with us, such as fear, sex drive, hunger, etc. But what about something so "other" as this solarian ocean?

Finally indisputable evidence of contact arrives. Solaris is able to tap into the scientists brains and create exact replicas of significant persons from their past. These replicas look and act in the same way as the people they simulate. The main character Kelvin has before him Rheya, an ex-lover who had committed a suicide which he could have prevented.

This leads to another problem of communication: how to understand the intentions of this action? Has Solaris created the simulacra as a cruel joke, Or did Solaris do this to please the visitor? Is Solaris just doing it as a kind of experiment?
The scientists are tempted to judge the planet according to human behavior, but realize that would be folly.

Humans view others, not just Solaris, but any other species, or even any other human being through the prism of their subjectivity. To reach the other requires an incredible effort of will...it may be impossible. Kelvin is at once in love with the succubus and tormented that "she" is not really Rheya, in spite of the resemblance. The succubus is evertyhing that Rheya was to Kelvin because she is nothing but a collection of his memories. Fine, but who was the real Rheya? Just a scattered collection of a few bits of the real Rheya mixed in with Kelvin's own desires, fantasies, and fears. So this raises the question of how possible it is to go beyond ourself to another human being.

Another problem raised is that of self-communication. Another scientist in the book, snow, makes the point that humans only know about two percent of their thoughts and that Solaris probably knows more about them than they do themselves.

We humans do seem "walled off" and communicability at this stage of our evolution is pretty minimal. Science does seem a valiant attempt to get beyond our fears and fantaises, but as philosophers of science have proven, even our science is fraught with subjectivity. As for understanding ourselves, as Terence Mckenna say, the various schools of psychology sound like medieval hawkers.

Or is this seperateness all an illusion as Heidegger and some mystics claim? The difference between subject and object was reinforced by cartesianism. In that case, how to overcome the symptom of a seperated, isolated ego?

This is not the place to attempt an answer. However, this book will give you a lot to think about. I recommend that it be read at least two times succesively. You will probably miss many of the finer points during your first read. The time spent on careful readings of this book will reward you with many interesting ideas to ponder.

Thomas Seay
What makes "Solaris" unique
Malcolm J. Brenner 2009-05-30 05:31:32

This is the ONLY novel I have stayed up all night reading. Why? Because Kelvin's dilemma reminded me so much of my love affair with a dolphin.

I wish Soderberg hadn't tried to make this into a love story. I wish he had had the balls (and the budget) to show some of the things Tarkovski undoubtedly wanted to, but couldn't, in his extremely uneven 1972 version.

The definitive movie of this astonishing, timeless novel remains to be made.
Lems Solaris im Lichte der Kybernetik (German text
Dr. Peter beim Graben 2009-06-03 14:53:00

Lems Solaris im Lichte der Kybernetik

Betrachtungen zum 1. Todestag von Stanisław Lem am 27. März 2007
von Peter beim Graben

Am achten November 2005 hatte ich die Ehre und das Vergnügen in der Veranstaltungsreihe „Verfilmte Literatur“ des Literatur–Kol¬legiums Brandenburg Andrei Tarkowskis Verfilmung von Stanisław Lems Roman Solaris aus dem Jahr 1971 mit einigen einführenden Worten anzukündigen. Betrüblicherweise ist Lem wenige Monate später, am 27. März 2006, in Krakau gestorben.

Als Physiker, der im Institut für Linguistik an der Universität Potsdam Gehirnforschung betrieben hat — und inzwischen an der englischen Universität Reading wieder betreibt — fühlte ich mich damals im Einstein–Jahr berufen, diese Einführung zu Solaris anzunehmen. Ich hoffe, Sie werden das nachvollziehen können, nachdem ich im Folgenden meine Interpretation des zweiten Kapitels erläutert haben werde.

Das Buch Solaris ist 1961 erschienen. Es handelt von merkwürdigen Geschehnissen in einer Forschungsstation auf dem Planeten Solaris, der auf einer überaus chaotischen Bahn ein Doppelsternsystem umkreist. „Der Planet kreist um zwei Sonnen — eine rote und eine blaue. Mehr als vierzig Jahre hindurch näherte sich ihr kein Raumschiff, denn die Gamow–Shapley–Theorie über die Unmöglichkeit des Entstehens von Leben auf Planeten von Doppelsternen galt damals als Axiom. Die Umlaufbahnen solcher Planeten verändern sich unaufhörlich infolge des Gravitationsspiels, das während der gegenseitigen Umkreisung des Sonnenpaares stattfindet. Die entstehenden Perturbationen lassen die Umlaufbahn des Planeten abwechselnd schrumpfen und sich ausdehnen, so daß die Anfänge von Leben, sofern sie entstehen, durch Strahlenglut oder durch eisige Kälte vernichtet werden“ (Lem, 1983, S. 19).

Hier haben wir die Physik: es geht um Gravitation und Himmelsmechanik, um das berühmte Drei–Körper–Problem und um Chaostheorie. Die Bahnen von drei durch Gravitation aneinandergeketteten Himmelskörpern sind instabil, störungsanfällig und letzlich chaotisch. Und es geht um Biologie: um die Entstehung des Lebens und um Evolution. Merken Sie sich bitte das Schlüsselwort „Perturbation“, das sich mit „Störung“ aber auch mit „Verstörung“ übersetzen läßt.

Was ist so verstörend an Solaris? Daß der Planet aller kosmo¬gonischer Un¬möglichkeit zum Trotz dennoch Leben hervorgebracht hat: Solaris ist bewohnt von einem einzigen Lebewesen, dem schwarzen Ozean. Was mag Lem auf diese Idee gebracht haben? Mir fällt das Experiment von Stanley Miller ein: Miller hatte 1953 eine Arbeit veröffentlicht, in der er berichtet, wie er einen Destillations–Apparat zirkulär abwandelte; dergestalt, daß das Destillat in die erhitzte Retorte zurückfloß, um erneut verdampfen zu können. Die Anlage füllte er mit Wasser, Wasserstoff, Methan und Ammoniak auf, brachte das Wasser zum Sieden, ließ die Gase von elektrischen Funken durchzucken, kondensieren und den Kreis sich schließen. Nach einer Woche beendete Miller den Versuch und analysierte die verfärbte Brühe. Er konnte Aminosäuren, Nukleinsäuren, Harnstoff und andere Bausteine des Lebens nachweisen, die anfänglich nicht vorhanden waren. Miller hatte in seinem Experiment die Bedingungen in der irdischen Uratmosphäre simuliert und ein Resultat erhalten, das wir noch heute „die Ursuppe“ nennen (Maturana & Varela, 1991, S. 51).

„[] Der Ozean sei das Ergebnis einer dialektischen Entwicklung: ihm sei unter dem Druck der Verhältnisse (einer seine Existenz bedrohenden Veränderung der Umlaufbahn also) der Sprung von seiner ursprünglichen Gestalt, vom Urozean, einer Lösung träge reagierender chemischer Substanzen, zum Stadium eines ,homeostatischen Ozeans‘ gelungen“ (Lem, 1983, S. 22f). Der plasmatische Ozean von Solaris ist demnach eine evolutionäre Höherentwicklung der Ursuppe. Merken Sie sich hier bitte das Schlüsselwort „Homöostase“, welches auf den Kontext für meine Interpretation verweist: Solaris ist ein kybernetisches Buch (Lem, 1983, S. 10).

Die Leitmetapher der Kybernetik ist der Regelkreis. Sie alle kennen einen in Ihrer Wohnung: die Klospülung. Haben Sie jemals in Ihrer Jugend, von Neugier getrieben, den Spülkasten in der Toilette geöffnet? Wenn ja, dann wissen Sie, daß der auffälligste Bestandteil ein Schwimmkörper ist, der über einen Hebel mit dem Zuflußventil verbunden ist. Sobald man die Spülung betätigt hat, entleert sich der Inhalt des Spülkastens mit brausendem Schwall in die Kloschüssel. Danach liegt der schwere Schwimmkörper am Grunde des Spülkastens, der Hebel ist nach unten gezogen und das Zuflußventil weit geöffnet. Auf dem stetig ansteigenden Spiegel des einströmenden Wassers schwimmt der Schwimmkörper, der den Ist–Wasserstand mißt und mit dem Soll–Wasserstand vergleicht, indem er den Hebel langsam nach oben drückt und den Zufluß durch das Ventil drosselt. Schließlich, mit Erreiche...
Reacting to the unexplainable
Victor Emanuel 2010-02-23 22:20:04

Far out in the deepness of the Universe, there is a mirror to our souls.

How can you react when confronted with a liquid planet that is thinking – or perhaps not – and is seeing through you? Can you establish a contact with something that you do not understand, but that can understand you? Can you detect reason and logic in liquid structures that are kilometres high, built on mathematical equations by the will of, and grown by the ocean itself? What can you say to an ocean that sees your darkest desires and most intimate memories, but that does not see your pain?

Kelvin joins a crew of scientists on Solaris, bent on studying the ever-changing planet, and he soon has to deal with what the planet offers him. His gift comes along with no real joy, and no end to it is in sight. In this attempt to communicate with the humans, the ocean keeps on offering, while not taking anything away and without caring about what would happen next.
Despite it fulfilling their desires, the humans do not welcome its generosity.

One needs a special mindset to resist the assault. Either for coping with the situation, or to try and end it somehow. Without having been prepared for what could await them on Solaris, the scientists try to enjoy what the ocean offers them, each of them in his own way and in various degrees, whilst trying to discover a way of methodical, meaningful, two-way communication. They search for ways to convey their notions of good, evil and whatever else might be necessary for the planet to really understand the humans, hoping in turn that they will be able to understand its reasons. But the ocean remains incomprehensible, and keeps on making best offers.
Some actors in this seemingly endless performance try and repress their memories, others cannot forget, and others have no memories at all. This makes it even more painful for all of them – except for the ocean.

The research station, suspended over the thick, strangely-shaped clouds thus becomes the setting for a painful struggle of the humans there to understand their plight. Inebriated and overflowing with grief and sincerity, one of them states that mankind is not really that eager to seek contact with strange, alien civilisations, but is searching for mirrors in which to find its own image.
And it happens that Solaris gave them just that. But did these innocent three men really need it?

So, the humans and the monocellular planet play a game that goes on and on.
As a desperate attempt in the communication crisis, a project is started to sting the ocean with powerful beams of radiation. And the ocean reacts. While standing on a short-lived beach, in front of an ocean that avoids his touch, Kelvin accepts his new desire, which in fact is yet another gift.


Building upon great themes, such as human nature, the darkness of the human soul, the status of our memories and the fallibility of science, this book exposes the weakness of the human being in front of an unexplainable entity that offers without demanding anything in return.
Wori... 2011-06-19 00:52:43

Amazing...
Rheya
Chris Owen 2010-05-29 07:20:22

Rheya

Beneath a pale blue sun I woke
to find my grey hands trembling
and reflected in the glow,
by the beckoning window,
a long lost lover resurrected.

A long and wavering reaching out,
a turning of liquid into clay
with foaming determined diligence,
(at least upon the part of its creator),
but mocked by my muddy evolution.

She smiled and I welcomed her,
knowing it was a dream,
expecting to wake and find myself alone
and burned beneath a huge red sun,
to turn to my responsibilities.

What would you do my friend?
If you found that thing once lost
in the gloating past of difference.
Lost forever but standing there;
a definite breath of understanding.

I fell in love with her, the new her,
(after I had committed murder).
I did not want the past to recognize me again.
I did not want that higher power
with its lazy genes and tepid evolution.

After she had gone back down into the waters,
I went down to say hello to the Ocean.
To walk amongst its cathedrals,
kick its silly little separate rocks,
and wait for its cruel miracles.

By Christopher Owen
September 30, 2004
awesome book,terrible movie
jones 2010-06-11 20:10:26

the movie for this book was so awful,i did something i had never previously had to do--stopped the movie a half hour through because i just couldnt take any more.on the other hand,the book is amazing,which,of course,you can count on lem to constantly be.
You should check the Russian version...
orys 2010-11-12 15:04:12

...by Andriey tarkovsky - lem wasn't to happy with that one either, but in my opinion its really a good movie, close to the book.
Honest Annihilator 2013-12-02 12:00:15

I agree, Tarkovsky's film was close to the completely otherwordly mood of the book, and also seemed to bring off the concept of Solaris as a single oceanic cell. The music by J. S. bach undoubtedly helped a great deal, also.
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