- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Mariner (2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156027607
- ISBN-13: 978-0156027601
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 396 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Solaris Paperback – November 20, 2002
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From the Back Cover
A fantastic book. Steven Soderbergh
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 he 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?
A novel that makes you reevaluate the nature of intelligence itself. Anne McCaffrey
Stanislaw Lem (1921 2006) is the author of many works bearing the broad label of science fiction and others ranging in genre and style from satire to philosophy. Lem s books have been translated into forty-one languages and have sold over forty-five million copies.
About the Author
Top customer reviews
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Here's why you should read the book:
1. Mood. Bleak. So bleak. The longest Sunday afternoon in the universe.
2. Structure. Defiantly weird. Page after page of digressions. A spectacular, brilliantly imagined sci-fi universe described via summaries of summaries of scientific texts. A first-person narrator who frequently specifies that nothing interesting happened.
3. Ideas. Mostly in the form of intriguing questions about what it means to be human, what it means to be alien, and what makes humans want to understand the alien.
4. Writing. This new, 2011 translation directly from the Polish is quite readable and sometimes rapturously beautiful. The descriptions go over better than the dialog, which can be pretty dense, but if you pay close attention, you won't get totally lost. It's very sophisticated writing, with metaphors and allusions that make the story even more intriguing.
5. It's unfilmable. I admit I haven't actually watched the movie adaptations all the way through, but I checked out some clips on YouTube and that's all I needed to see. So the book is the deal.
"Stanislaw Lem: SOLARIS. After-word by Darko Suvin, Walker, 1970, 216 pp., boards, $4.95" by James Blish:
"As reported in my previous column, the five Lem stories included in Prof. Suvin's anthology OTHER WORLDS, OTHER SEAS seemed strangely thin for a writer with so enormous an international reputation. The present book suggests a possible reason: Lem may be much more at home in the novel.
"This one, which dates back to 1961, is his sixth, and it is strikingly original and rewarding on virtually every level. Its central phenomenon is a planet-wide 'ocean' which is actually a living creature of unguessably (sic) high intelligence; among other things, it has mastered gravitation and uses the knowledge to control the flight of its world around a double star in an orbit which otherwise would be unstable. It also constantly throws up immense temporary structures of various kinds, which though easily classifiable into types, completely defy comprehension. Lem does not just say this, he shows it: his hero describes almost all of the types, clearly and in detail, so that the reader has a vivid picture of exactly what each is like- and is as far as ever from comprehending what possible purpose it could serve. Solaris (the name of the planet) makes most other descriptions of 'alien' worlds you have read seem positively homelike.
"All human attempts to communicate with this creature have failed, sometimes with great loss of life. The deaths were due to its apparent indifference to human beings, for it is not hostile. Yet, in a way, it is in touch with them, for from the recess of each man's brain it recreates, in solid, living and sentient form, the one person to whom that man had donate most injury. Nobody ever finds out why it does this, either, or even whether it is aware of doing so; but the resulting emotional tensions are what make the novel go. They are handled with such tenderness and depth of insight as to make me wonder if the author of those short stories is some other Lem entirely.
"A part of the other activities of the 'ocean' is also mimetic; in effect, it mirrors what goes on in its vicinity. In the same way, each man's inner nature is mirrored by his inescapable Phi-creature (not Psi, as the flap copy has it; they are completely real, they bleed and they suffer, though apparently they cannot be killed); and in the elaboration and evolution of Solaristic studies, Lem mirrors society, its institutions, and man's place in the universe. He is completely non-dogmatic about it; if he has anything to preach, it is that knowledge does not dispel mystery, but increases it.
"Lem knows the sciences intimately; there is not a word of double-talk in the novel, although some kind of faster-than-light drive is assumed in order to be able to reach Solaris at all. The story is slow-moving in spots, but this is not a defect in a philosophical novel; when Lem slows down, he wants the reader to slow down too and 'think.'
"Stylistically it also reads well, and my guess- based rather insecurely on its excellences in other departments- is that the style was distinguished in the original. What we have here is a British translation of a French translation from the original Polish. Prof. Suvin, who has more languages than he has fingers, doesn't mention the translation at all in his fine analytical Afterword, which may also indicate that it could have been better, but just as English it is better than most of what passes for the language in out field.
"Buy the hard-cover book by all means, for you will want a copy that will stand up under many re-readings. This is going to become a classic; it is inherently one already."
make predictions regarding future developments.....i.e., if we should contact
alien life, re-engineer life, cause pandemics, nuclear wars, end population growth, etc.
Most science fiction writers try to do the same by extrapolating from present
trends into the future - and usually get things wrong.
The article is less critical of P.K.Dick and, another fellow, Stanislaw Lem...who,
contrary to these extrapolations, invents entirely new futures with considerable
detail by breaking free of present trends. For example, many new planets are
being discovered with characteristics similar to or completely different from the Earth.
What would life be like on these worlds?
The New Scientist has special praise for Solaris, about a visitation to and
establishment of a research station on just such a planet. The story can
be read selectively, the chapters out of order and still get the sense of the
novel because the central focus is contemplation rather than progressive
action. And, there are no "models of existence" derived from experiences on
Earth to help in the comprehension of the events described,,,except within the
materials brought to the planet for the construction of the research station. On that
planet is a great ocean dotted with small, scattered islands....But what sort
of ocean?....It defies explanation. And seemingly once on the planet the explorers
are transformed by something inexplicable... In effect, the story resembles
Alice in Wonderland, as the characters find situations, "Curiouser and Curiouser!!"
H. P. Lovecraft once pointed out that the most merciful property of the Universe
is that the human mind cannot comprehend it ...such comprehension would
be the ultimate form of "madness". Models for such understanding are not
available to the ordinary mind...such models essential for the understanding
of this planet and its huge, mysterious ocean...with capabilities far different
from that of the Earth, even to the point of creating dynamic, fluid crystalline
"quasiorganisms". The only similar ideas are those of PKD, whose characters have
personalities "tangential" to those of other people and closer to the truth. Also,
James Lovelock's "Gaia Hypothesis" where the Earth manipulates and maintains
conditions suitable for life. Further, at least the moon, Titan has a hydrocarbon surface
ocean, and Enceladus moon having an extensive interior ocean all seem to be
related ideas. And, are not living things composed of quasi-static systems of water and organic/
inorganic matter capable of the most extraordinary feats, including the creation of not
only form and function but also, "mind " - so cleverly most scientists do not go beyond
"description" and rarely "explanation" in accounting for these phenomena? From this
prospective, Lem makes perfect sense. Otherwise, we are left with the baseless
conjecture of "Life Forces": elan vital, entelechy, and its other manifestations, all to no
Lem often includes digressions from the progressive action of the story line when one
of the central characters discovers an archive of the history of research into the Sea of
Solaris, revealing the futility of answering the "Big Questions" (What is consciousness?
What is the Theory of Everything?) by scientific methods - an extension of religion where man
is seeking redemption. Cosmologists have, in fact, admitted they, "Want the Universe to be
beautiful - that beauty expressed in the elegance of mathematics." Or, "They continue to search
for 'Life in the Universe' because we want "communication" rather than the forlorn sense of
being, "all alone". The passionless search for objective fact is seemingly less significant.
Otherwise, a reader might confuse the purposes of Lem in his seeming digressions with that of
Herman Melville with his digression in the form of the natural history of whales in Moby Dick.
In the case of Lem, in most cases the story line progresses from the point of view of one central
character, then replaced with commentary by a omniscient observer as in Greek Drama. Are all
of human labors and studies futile, without an "Observer" ? Camus suggests that the only rational
god (observer) could be "chance".
Lem also posits the question, is "consciousness" shared by all forms of matter?...This consciousness
of a sort that communicates to "minds" its contents without any suggestion of the ultimate nature
of its being, except through vague, manipulative signals. When a chemical reaction occurs in
elementary chemistry, color changes, gas production and the like are these very signals that suggest
"something" is there, not "what"; the "what" including the consciousness of the constituents of the
mind, itself. Here, one must point out that physicists usually do not entertain such ontological questions,
contrary to Kant who distinguishes the "phenomena" from the "noumena". However, "consciousness
experiments" are planned by Lucien Hardy at the Perimeter Institute in Canada. In brief, the Bell Test will be
involved - (a way of determining if atomic particles at a distance are, in fact, entangled. Such tests suggest that
they are). In this case, EEG brain activity of test subjects will be used from people 100 kilometers apart to
switch settings on measuring devices at each location. If the readings differ from the results of previously
done Bell Tests, such results would indicate a violation of Quantum Physics by a process outside established
science namely, the "Consciousness". Such a result would mean that physics can overcome by
processes outside standard formulations. These tests would reveal further the insights of Lem with the Great
Ocean of Solaris and the human inhabitants of the research station in completing their remarkable communications.
Near the end of Solaris, one of the principal observers prepares to abandon the research station, even
though the Ocean still seems inexplicable. An editorial in the most recent issue of the NS states that the
events of 2016 are not explainable as well. Yet the author demands there will always be someone who
persists in solving the most intransigent puzzles, Who is right? Physicists suggest that a Theory of
Everything may not be possible. Events just happen. String Theory and Relativity can be made con-
concordant to a millionth, billionth, billionth, billionth of a centimeter. Is this close enough? Or, still
The events described within the station...the characters witnessing them without comprehension... the
inability of the reader to interpret such events based on Earth based models seem the principal points
of fascination in Solaris. The characters express themselves to a very limited degree....their actions remain
free of the constraints of philosophic preference. Only the fascination of one of them for a perfectly beautiful
contrabiological will be immediately understood by all.
"I dropped a berry into a stream and caught a little silver trout
When I had laid it on the floor, I went to blow the fire aflame
But something rustled on the floor, and some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl with apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran and faded though the glimmering air.
I will find where she has gone and kiss her lips and take her hand;
And walk through the dappled grass, and pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun.
For every thing that's lovely is but a brief, dreamy, kind delight
From change to change; I have been many things -
A green drop in the surge, a gleam of light -
All of these things were wonderful and great,
But now I have grown nothing, knowing all,,,"
Most recent customer reviews
This book is mental eye candy, which produces trancendent moments for the reader. Truly awesome tale!
(that does happen - but not this time)