- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 7 hours and 42 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Audible Studios
- Audible.com Release Date: June 7, 2011
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0054N6KH0
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Solaris: The Definitive Edition Audiobook – Unabridged
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Lem, of course, uses "the other" to reflect on ourselves, here perhaps even more explicitly than in other of his works. In 'Solaris' the humans Lem examines are much more individualized, not merely examples of our species; their demons are very personal, and as different as we are. The huge intellect beyond the station portholes here serves primarily as a mirror in which to see parts of ourselves we try to keep forgotten.
BTW, two very different movies inspired by this work, while both recommended, don't quite do the justice to the novel.
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,,,"
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.