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A classic work of science fiction by renowned Polish novelist and satirist Stanislaw Lem.

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.

204 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1961

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About the author

Stanisław Lem

444 books3,617 followers
Stanisław Lem (staˈɲiswaf lɛm) was a Polish science fiction, philosophical and satirical writer of Jewish descent. His books have been translated into 41 languages and have sold over 27 million copies. He is perhaps best known as the author of Solaris, which has twice been made into a feature film. In 1976, Theodore Sturgeon claimed that Lem was the most widely read science-fiction writer in the world.

His works explore philosophical themes; speculation on technology, the nature of intelligence, the impossibility of mutual communication and understanding, despair about human limitations and humankind's place in the universe. They are sometimes presented as fiction, but others are in the form of essays or philosophical books. Translations of his works are difficult and multiple translated versions of his works exist.

Lem became truly productive after 1956, when the de-Stalinization period led to the "Polish October", when Poland experienced an increase in freedom of speech. Between 1956 and 1968, Lem authored 17 books. His works were widely translated abroad (although mostly in the Eastern Bloc countries). In 1957 he published his first non-fiction, philosophical book, Dialogi (Dialogues), one of his two most famous philosophical texts along with Summa Technologiae (1964). The Summa is notable for being a unique analysis of prospective social, cybernetic, and biological advances. In this work, Lem discusses philosophical implications of technologies that were completely in the realm of science fiction then, but are gaining importance today—like, for instance, virtual reality and nanotechnology. Over the next few decades, he published many books, both science fiction and philosophical/futurological, although from the 1980s onwards he tended to concentrate on philosophical texts and essays.

He gained international fame for The Cyberiad, a series of humorous short stories from a mechanical universe ruled by robots, first published in English in 1974. His best-known novels include Solaris (1961), His Master's Voice (Głos pana, 1968), and the late Fiasco (Fiasko, 1987), expressing most strongly his major theme of the futility of mankind's attempts to comprehend the truly alien. Solaris was made into a film in 1972 by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and won a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972; in 2002, Steven Soderbergh directed a Hollywood remake starring George Clooney.

He was the cousin of poet Marian Hemar.

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Profile Image for Nataliya.
744 reviews11.8k followers
April 4, 2023
2012 first read:

Many sci-fi authors think that they write about aliens. The truth is, they really don't. Instead, they essentially write about humans. Most sci-fi aliens are little more than an allegory for humanity, a mirror through which we can see ourselves - maybe slightly different-looking, with more (or fewer) appendages, different senses, funny names, different social structures - but still unmistakably human.

And so, when we think of aliens as shown in popular literature/ cinematography, 99% of us will imagine these ...

... rather than this...

Whichever way the sci-fi aliens are described, there is always something about them that we can relate to. Basically, it serves the age-old purpose of self-insertion of a reader into a book.
“We see ourselves as Knights of the Holy Contact. That’s another falsity. We’re not searching for anything except people. We don’t need other worlds. We need mirrors. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. One world is enough, even there we feel stifled. We desire to find our own idealized image; they’re supposed to be globes, civilizations more perfect than ours; in other worlds we expect to find the image of our own primitive past.”

That's when Lem strikes with his unusual and brainy unconventional sci-fi story. He takes the long-standing dream of establishing contact with aliens and turns the concept completely around. His planet-sized (possibly) living ocean is so ... well... alien that there is no way humans can comprehend or relate to its vast alienness.

Even worse, the ocean does not seem interested. See, one of the worst things you can do to people is not care, ignore them. As a species, we crave attention and recognition. But, unlike the aliens of our space dreams that may love us or hate us or despise us, the Ocean of Solaris does not seem to particularly care. Which sends humans into a frenzy leading to volumes of scientific research. Does it not understand us? Does it not care? Is it primitive? Is it unbelievably advanced? What's the deal? Are we nothing but annoyance to it, ants crawling on its surface? Is it even alive? As a matter of fact, what is "alive"?

What I think is fascinating about this story is that we never get answers. The ocean remains there, vast and alien, with its secrets unrevealed. All we have is speculation and childlike wonder. And failure to comprehend why it seems to torture humans that study it, sending them living ghosts from their past - in case of psychologist Kris Kelvin, his long-dead wife Harey Rheya (not sure why the name was changed in the translation. EDIT: 2011 translation by Bill Johnston avoids the stupidity of name change and sticks with Harey). Why? We don't know. The beauty and the power of this book is that we will never know. Some things are just not for us to understand. What makes us human is that we will keep trying.

The movies based on this book - a beautiful Tarkovsky version and that other one with George Clooney - seemed to focus more on the human characters, which is natural. But to me this will always remain an brilliant, albeit a little dry story of a mysterious and alien ocean which may or may not be alive and may or may not even care.


2021 reread:

A decade ago I was absolutely mesmerized by Lem’s alien ocean. The chapters that stayed with me after all those years were the ones with mimoids and symmetriads and that gigantic child in Berton’s account. What struck me on a reread a decade later was depiction of humans. The despair, guilt, grief, pain, sacrifice. The pain of self-reflection. The agony of not understanding because it’s impossible.
“Human beings set out to encounter other worlds, other civilizations, without having fully gotten to know their own hidden recesses, their blind alleys, well shafts, dark barricaded doors.”

And that atmosphere of the book — building up hallucinatory surrealism of a fever dream, a nightmare that is impossible to wake up from, the horror story feeling complete with disorientation and helplessness, claustrophobically suffocating and teetering on the edge of sanity.

The alien ocean is still frustratingly alien. And the interludes on solaristics are still fascinating. And now I also appreciate the people and all the obsessive grief and despair.

4.5 stars.

Buddy read (and buddy Tarkovsky movie watch) with Dennis.

As for translations, definitely Bill Johnston’s (2011) over the old one that was apparently translated from French (which was translated from Polish). Johnston’s one is actually very good.

Recommended by: Dennis
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
795 reviews3,612 followers
October 2, 2022
Lems´most famous work, but definitively not the best, because his satires own everything

So read them instead
There is not much funny sci-fi, or even general satire, that comes close to his incredible
The Ijon Tichy novels such as The Star Diaries https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8...
And The Futurological congress https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7...
A perfect Vaccum https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...
and Tales of Pirx the Pilot https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2...

Now back to the show you´re here for

We´re nothing
Solaris is Clarkesque, an epic „we´re so small and stupid“ presentation with epic language and big think moments, a silent masterpiece to make everyone modest when realizing the pettiness of humankind in the endlessness of space.

The fragility of the human psyche
Nothing more than some mind penetration my any entity, and the ape brain goes bonkers, it´s just ridiculous. We can´t handle a little bit of psycho terror and it doesn´t even need high tech to defeat us.

Hive mind initiation
There have been many variations of collective organisms in sci fi over time and this is one of the first and best ones, because there´s full story focus on it. In many other cases, it´s just a storyline or sideshow, but this time, it´s also an essential part of the philosophical conclusion.

Some cultural pessimism because Lem and Capek aren´t appreciated as the geniuses that they are while Dick and Heinlein are celebrated for no real reason
Without stupid ideology made politics much more authors could be read and their work debated without a bitter overtone. That´s especially true for all Russian and ex-Sowjet writers who didn´t write the criticism of mislead and wrongly executed socialism the West wanted to cheer at, but especially for the fictional authors. Lem is the most extreme example of this, because he all together made real life satire (especially when compared with the not closely as good Dick or Heinlein), was one of the rare ones comparable with Capek (unknown for the same, sad reasons), wrote as philosophical as Clarke, and had the unused potential for creating the first space opera (see books mentioned above that could have been made multi protagonist sci fi satire series) Asimov wrote instead.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Luís.
1,860 reviews520 followers
April 28, 2023
This science fiction novel seemed very modern, especially for the questions it raises.
Three men find themselves isolated in a space station on a single planet where two suns, one red and the other blue, alternately rise; a ubiquitous and omnipotent ocean reigns.
Kris, the main character, arrives at the station, discovers at the same time as the reader what's happening (a colleague suicide who had called him in reinforcement), and does various experiments to understand what is happening. In the grip of many doubts, he thinks he's going crazy when coming face to face with his wife, who died years ago. Sometimes, he thinks he's dreaming and tries to provide a scientific explanation. And we follow his thoughts as the plot tightens.
I liked the mysterious and disturbing side of the décor and atmosphere as soon as Kris entered the resort. We keep coming to understand what happened and what will happen next. There is little action per se; more reflections and long scientific passages exist. Kris's reactions sometimes surprised or annoyed me; they seemed somewhat passive or in a changing mood. I liked the statement developed by the author around the conquest of space, of the will of man to want to model everything in his image. At the same time, other "natures" can exist in the Universe without man being able to explain them... nor can't communicate along. This grip on thoughts and dreams is also troubling.
This reading was addictive to the end, almost hypnotic.
She'll leave some striking images in my head.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
532 reviews58.5k followers
November 7, 2019
I rate books based on my enjoyment and while this was an very interesting take on the whole "alien/first contact" I can't say I had a lot of fun reading it.

I do recommend it if you love that premise and are intrigue about a sentient ocean but it won't be for everyone!
Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
April 22, 2019
"We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don't know what to do with other worlds. A single world, our own, suffices us; but we can't accept it for what it is."

Bizarrely, being on a strange, different planet sometimes is what it takes to discover our inner cosmos. The way Lem describes it in Solaris, our memories rule our perception of what is real, regardless of external circumstances. On the other hand, the external circumstances of any given time are actively impacting on what kind of memories we develop, so it turns into a kind of circle or wave movement.

To me, this book was scary. And I don't mean the science fiction ideas in it. I mean the idea that my unresolved feelings of earlier times could come back and haunt me - literally! On a deeper level, they do haunt me in any case, but the idea of them coming alive is terrifying.

That made me think that we embrace passing time as a placebo for all the big chunks of life we have spent in a less than agreeable way. Solaris symbolises the fact that we can't escape ourselves, though, no matter how many galaxies of distance we put between ourselves and our now.

We are the sum total of our memories and our feelings, and that dark ocean is hard to control!

Could one claim that Solaris is the science fiction version of Uncle Scrooge being visited by the Ghost of Old Marley et alii?
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,425 reviews3,381 followers
July 20, 2021
I consider Solaris by Stanisław Lem to be one of the key works in science fiction of the twentieth century…
Simultaneously I noticed the violet-flushed furrows of the ocean, which betrayed a faint motion; the clouds suddenly rose high up, their edges marked with dazzling crimson, the sky between them grew distant and flat, dull orange in color, and everything became blurred: I’d entered a spin. Before I could utter a word, a brief impact returned the capsule to a horizontal position, and the ocean, glittering with a mercuric light to the very limits of the horizon, appeared in the spy hole.

And this ocean is an extraterrestrial mind – huge, aloof, incomprehensible and mysterious… And this enigmatic mind must be explored… However this tremendous outlandish consciousness starts exploring the explorers…
When I opened my eyes I had the feeling I’d only been sleeping a few minutes. The room was filled with a cloudy red glow. I felt cold and I felt fine. I lay naked outside the covers. Across from the bed, by the window, which was half covered by the shades, someone was sitting in the light of the red sun. It was Harey, in a white summer dress. Her legs were crossed, she was barefoot, her dark hair was tied back; the sheer material was taut over her breasts. Her dangling arms were tanned to the elbows; she sat motionless, looking at me from under dark eyelashes. I gazed at her for a long time, entirely calm. My first thought was: “I’m glad this is one of those dreams where you know you’re dreaming.” All the same, I’d have preferred her not to be there. I closed my eyes and began to wish this intensely, but when I opened them again she was still sitting there.

Like an omnipotent alien psychoanalyst, the sentient ocean perceives the scientists’ subconscious phobias, materializes them and makes the researchers face their revived nightmares…
First off, look at yourselves…
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
March 29, 2009
I'm afraid I'm a philistine. I liked the Soderberg remake of the movie most, then the book, and last the original Tarkovsky movie. If you're cultured and sophisticated, I think that you're supposed to have the exact opposite ordering. Oh well.

In my defense, I recall that, when I watched the Tarkovsky version, I looked around at one point and discovered that the people on both sides of me had fallen asleep. As far as I can remember, this is the only time I've ever see it happen.
Profile Image for Patrick.
Author 89 books232k followers
June 24, 2011
I've been meaning to read this for a while, and bought the book years ago because I know Lem is one of the greats of SF. Plus, I figured if they made a movie out of it, the story had to have some good staying power.

But I had a hard time getting into it. True, I haven't read much Sci-fi lately. But I'm certainly not a genre snob. I like me some Sci-fi, vintage or otherwise.

But the story just felt cumbersome to me. Half of it was an engaging psychological teaser/thriller/mystery, the other half read like the research bibliography covering 100 years of fictional science surrounding a fictional planet.

The first half was pretty good. The second half was numbing. It's possible that I was missing some cunning interplay between these two parts of a book, but if that's the case, then that level of the book was utterly lost on me.
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.5k followers
February 8, 2020

The premise of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (1961) is not unusual: on a small isolated planetary research station, scientists exploring the nature of alien life begin to suspect they are being threatened in some way. What makes Solaris unique are three things: 1) Lem’s treatment of the premise (nuanced, philosophical, detailed), 2) the nature of the threat (lifelike simulacra from the scientists guilty pasts have begun to appear at their sides), and 3) the nature of the planet Solaris (it is uninhabited, consisting of one planetary ocean, where the only sentient life form is itself.)

Psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives at the research station to find things in disarray. Gibarian, the only one of the three scientists he knew, has recently committed suicide, and the other two, Snow and Sartorius, seem suspicious and withdrawn. Kelvin researches the history of Solaris, how humans have described and interpreted its waves, and how they have attempted not only to influence those movements but also to communicate with whatever intelligence lies beneath. His research gives him much to think about, but he only begins to realize what the other two scientists already know when his visitor arrives: Rheya (or something that looks just like her), an earth-girl who committed suicide years ago, after a lover’s quarrel with Kelvin.

The overall theme of the book appears to be the woeful inability of humanity to communicate with an alien consciousness, but subsidiary themes undermine and complement it as well. Are these simulacra human or not? If, not, what are they? Are they creations of the ocean? If so, are they research tools, weapons, or messages? Or are they semi-independent, sentient entities brought to life by the scientists’ grief and regret, acting upon the susceptibilities of ocean? One of the purposes of the book also seems to be both a celebration and appreciation of humanity, sparked by the magnificent ingenuity of science—its nuanced descriptions of phenomena, its elegant speculations. This nuance and elegance seems to suggest that there is just a little basis for hope, if only man can step out of his shell, and begin to see things from an “oceanic” perspective.

The three things I liked most about this book are: the character of Rheya, how she shows herself both human and not human (a theme reminiscent of Philip K. Dick) ; the elaborate, fantastic descriptions of the waves; and the final scene involving a tactile encounter between Kelvin and the ocean itself. Rheya’s almost-humanity permeates much of the fabric of the narrative, so you must discover her mystery for yourself. The other two themes are more easily represented by extracts.

First the waves. Here is a partial—only partial!--description of the wave-structure called the “symmetriad”:
The symmetriads . . . are the least “human” formations, which is to say that they bear no resemblance whatsoever to anything on Earth . . . It is not their nightmare appearance that makes the gigantic symmetriad formations dangerous, but the total instability and capriciousness of their structure, in which even the laws of physics do not hold. The theory that the living ocean is endowed with intelligence has found its firmest adherents among those scientists who have ventured into their unpredictable depths.

The birth of a symmetriad comes like a sudden eruption. About an hour beforehand, an area of tens of square miles of ocean vitrifies and begins to shine . . . . The gleaming sheath of the ocean heaves upwards to form a vast ball that reflects sky, sun, clouds and the entire horizon in a medley of changing, variegated images. Diffracted light creates a kaleidoscopic play of color.

. . . The immense flaming globe has scarcely reached its maximum expansion above the ocean when it bursts at the summit and cracks vertically. It is not breaking up; this is the second phase, which goes under the clumsy name of the ‘floral calyx phase’ and lasts only a few seconds. The membraneous rches soaring into the sky now fold inwards and mergeto produce a thick-set trunk enclosing a scene of teeming activity. . . . The mind-bending architecture of this central pillar is held in place by vertical shafts of a gelatinous, almost liquid consistency, constantly gushing upwards out of wide crevasses . . . . Simultaneously the gelatinous geysers are converted into mobile columns that proceed to extrude tendrils that reach out in clusters towards points rigorously determined by the over-all dynamics of the entire structure: they call to mind the gills of an embryo, except they are revolving at fantastic speed . . . .
And here is a passage from the final pages, when Kelvin, ready to leave Solaris, comes to the beach “to acquaint myself with the ocean”:
I went closer, and when the next wave came I held out my hand. What followed was a faithful reproduction of a phenomenon which had been analyzed a century before: the wave hesitated, recoiled, then enveloped my hand without touching it, so that a thin covering of “air” separated my glove inside a cavity which had been fluid a moment previously, and now had a fleshly consistency. I raised my hand slowly, and the wave . . . rose at the same time, enfolding my hand . . . I stood up, so as to raise my hand still higher, and the gelatinous substance stretched like a rope, but did not break. The main body of the wave remained motionless on the shore surrounding my feet but not touching them, like some strange beast patiently waiting for the experiment to finish. A flower had grown out of the ocean, and its calyx was moulded to my fingers. I stepped back. The stem trembled, stirred uncertainly and fell back into the wave . . .
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book862 followers
September 6, 2021
Solaris fut traduit en français en 1964, trois ans seulement après sa publication en Pologne (les tournures de cette traduction sont d'ailleurs assez datées). Le roman de Stanislas Lem devint très tôt un classique du genre, sans doute propulsé par l’adaptation cinématographique d’Andrei Tarkovsky en 1972.

Il s'agit d’un livre assez troublant. Kelvin, le narrateur et personnage principal, est un psychologue envoyé sur une station spatiale en orbite basse autour d’une planète-océan : Solaris, découverte plusieurs année auparavant et gravitant autour d’un soleil double. Cette station / laboratoire / bibliothèque est habitée par un petit groupe de scientifiques étranges, qui vivent reclus, chacun dans sa cabine. Très vite, Kelvin découvre que des « revenants » rendent visite aux habitants de la station. Dans son cas, il reçoit la visite de Harey, un double de son épouse, morte des années plus tôt. La relation qui s’installe avec cette femme est un mélange amer de tendresse, de doute et de dissimulation. La fin est à la fois dramatique et énigmatique.

Le thème essentiel de ce roman tient moins à cette relation amoureuse qu’à la recherche incessante et infructueuse d’une explication : que sont ces simulacres ? Qu’est-ce que cet océan qui semble vivant ? Est-il doué de conscience et d’intention ? Peut-on entrer en contact avec lui ? La plus grande partie du roman est consacrée à décrire la surface de l’océan, telle que le narrateur l’observe ou la rêve depuis sa cabine (les successions diversement colorés d’aubes et de crépuscules) et à relater les nombreuses théories scientifiques, les hypothèses philosophiques, les épouvantables bestiaires « métamorphiques », qui entourent la découverte de cette planète et constituent cette science (fiction) étrange qu’est la « solaristique ». En définitive, tout ce corpus confus laisse une déroutante impression de futilité, semblable à celle que produit la lecture de textes de scolastique médiévale traitant de la nature de Dieu. Sur Solaris, comme sur Terre, l’homme cherche, en vain, une réponse à la question de son origine.

Addendum : Le film d’Andrei Tarkovsky (1972) visait, à l’origine, a démontrer que le cinéma soviétique pouvait faire aussi bien, voire mieux, que le 2001 de Stanley Kubrick et Arthur C. Clarke. Evidemment, le film devint finalement le produit très personnel d’un cinéaste génial, une rêverie étrange faite de souvenirs atmosphériques autour d’une ancienne isba, ponctuée de morceaux de Bach et de tableaux de Brueghel. Les éléments proprement « de science-fiction » apparaissent un peu datés, convenus, voire bizarroïdes (le parcours en voiture dans les tunnels de Tokyo).

En 2002, Steven Soderbergh et James Cameron proposèrent une autre adaptation, avec George Clooney, qui joue un psychothérapeute pris dans un drame psychologique et identitaire. Le cadre futuriste n’est pas essentiel et la dimension métaphysique du roman est mise au second plan. Toutefois, le style envoutant du film de Soderbergh, par de nombreux aspects, rappelle, là encore, 2001, l’Odyssée de l’espace .
Profile Image for William2.
745 reviews2,958 followers
January 5, 2016
This is the classic gothic horror haunted house story revisited with an SF twist. It's a testament to the obtuseness of mankind, particularly unemotional, Cold-War era, scientific man. Three scientists on the remote planet Solaris seek contact with the lone enormous creature occupying it -- the ocean. All sorts of experiments are tried over a century or more, but the planet and the humans never achieve, at least to the humans' satisfaction, adequate evidence of a measurable intellectual exchange. The ocean busies itself morphing into these massive shapes -- geometic, organic, and otherwise -- which strike the reader as expressive, but which are nevertheless inarticulate in human terms. When the scientists start bombarding the ocean with xrays, for lack of a better idea, the planet sends to each of them a visitor from an emotionally charged period of their own lives. The simulacra are derived from their memories and dreams. Kris Kelvin has just arrived on the planet. In his case, the simulacrum assumes the identical physical appearance and personality of his late wife, Rheya, who took her own life years before. The simulacra obviously constitute contact of a very high order, an enormously rich opportunity, it seems to me, to communicate one on one with the entity. But the horrified scientists never see that. They never talk to their visitors. They never come clean. Their fear drives them, purely fear, so all they can think of is a way to destroy the visitors. Therefore, they miss their chance. How sick and sad is that? This reader came to understand what was necessary after about page 100 or so. Yet the book drones on for another hundred pages. The novel is imaginative, certainly, but it runs out of ideas far too soon. The scientists never get it. One grows disgusted with them. The book never seems to end.
Profile Image for Kay.
197 reviews362 followers
November 11, 2011
11/11/11 Update: Reflected on it a bit more, and bumped up the rating to 5 stars. Darn those coercive, psychic ocean mind waves!


Despite work, an appalling lack of sleep, work, life, work, copious amounts of laundry, work, and MORE WORK, I finally finished this little gem of a book. I am giving it four stars for now, but depending on how I feel after I absorb more of the book, I may bump up the rating.

Solaris is beautifully written, and the message behind the book is chilling if not eye-opening. In most sci-fi, humans interact with non-humans violently, peacefully, symbiotically, or however else we communicate with them (the key words being interact and communicate). However, Lem pushes us to think waaaay outside our comfortable, boxy way of thinking and makes us wonder--what if there were beings so inherently different from us that we couldn't even begin to understand them? Do we even fully understand ourselves enough to communicate clearly with them?

The planet Solaris is inhabited by one living organism--a vast "ocean" that covers the entire planet. Solarists, academics who study Solaris, attribute nomenclatures to various phenomena that occur in the organism. The book is chock full of academic arguments about the psychology and behavior of the organism. We quickly grasp, however, that despite the theorizing and debating, they know close to nothing about the ocean, whereas the ocean knows...so much more.

Without spoiling the book, a psychologist named Kris Kelvin arrives in a space station above the ocean to study the organism. However, after a series of x-ray bombardments on the ocean's surface, the ocean reacts by somehow creating physical manifestations of the space station inhabitants' repressed anguish and regrets. In Kris's case, the ocean creates a striking likeness of his dead wife, whose memories has haunted him even before his arrival. The exchanges between Kris and his wife were shocking, tragic, and quite eerie, especially since she (1) cannot die, (2) physically cannot be out of his presence, and (3) she's creation of the ocean, for heaven's sake! As Kris’s and his wife’s relationship progresses, what becomes more and more evident is how little we know in comparison to how much we think we know.

Though the book spans a little over 200 pages, Lem tells a great story and presents interesting ideas. The writing is stodgy at times; Lem’s style reminded me of academic papers written decades ago by professors locked for far too long in their ivory towers. The story behind the writing, however, hooked, lined, and sinker-ed me. What were very dense passages, I blew right through with the concentrated focus that I should have employed more often during school. (Even though sci-fi, for the most part, is so much more fun than political theories.)

4.5 (and most probably 5) stars. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
May 9, 2023

I’ve been reading science fiction novels since middle school so about forty years. Somehow, this exceptional book never made it to my reading list until now.

This is top tier SF, in the ranks with Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451 and Foundation. I looked on some lists of best SF books ever and this is on most lists just way farther down the list than it should be. This needs to be near the top.

Actually, the book that I most thought of was Clarke’s 1973 novel Rendezvous with Rama. In both works we find Earth scientists completely baffled by an alien intelligence that is conspicuously indifferent to us. Lem first published this in 1961 in his native Polish and then an English language translation began making the rounds about ten years later.

Solaris is a planet that strangely orbits two suns and is inhabited by a single living ocean that is inconceivably powerful and also intelligent though the fundamental alienness of this entity is beyond the comprehension of our best researchers. A school of study has originated amongst scientists who study Solaris and it’s notable single resident, creating decades of research material and libraries of information though we have not even scratched the surface of what to do with this alien.

Our protagonist arrives just as one of the three domiciled scientists has committed suicide. The hero is disconcerted by the bizarre behavior exhibited by the reclusive and paranoid remaining scientists. He soon learns why they are acting weird when his dead lover shows up in the flesh and wants to visit. Apparently the ocean has vast psychic powers and can materialize human simulacra presumably from the minds of the humans aboard the research station.

What follows is a strange trip that is also one of the best science fiction stories I’ve ever even thought about reading. The imagery that Lem describes, with alternating red and blue sunrises and sunsets and the alien ocean adds an artistic range and depth to the already intriguing SF story.

Lem wrote later that he purposely created the alien to be a great gelatin ocean to avoid any personification of the monster. I say “monster” because a little discussed element of this book is the inclusion of horrific themes that make this work so well. This is SF but also scary as hell, the kind of nightmare that could have come from Stephen King - if King was even half as cool as Lem. Lem’s description of the ocean made me think of Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos.

This also has elements of romance in the story that was thought provoking. Our hero’s relationship with the personification of his dead lover was mesmerizing and the added romantic aspects of the story, mixed in with the horrific themes, added an almost gothic quality to the narrative.

A MUST read for SF fans, don’t wait 40 years like I did, read it today!

Profile Image for  ⚔Irunía⚔ .
409 reviews2,651 followers
October 8, 2021
What I did expect before starting this classic work of science fiction:

🏴Developing boredom over the sci-fi stuff
🏴 A yawning session because 💅🏻classics💅🏻
🏴 A ruthless attack of severe headache as a result of braincells' overstimulation
🏴 Coming to the realization one more time that I'm soundly stupid

But the reality proved to be so much worse:

🟣 Me on the brink of drinking myself into mental aberration so that my mind can deal with all the philosophical themes raised in this book with the right amount of efficiency

🟣 Effulgent revelation of the fact that I waste the half of my life on musing about things that are primitive and mediocre instead of using any intellectual potential I possess (but I might be wrong) 🥲

🟣 My utter fascination with the unprecedentedly tender and touching love story in a science fiction work... fascination exarcebated by the surprise factor of it being one of the major aspects of the story

🟣 Vivid pictures of the beautiful, ominous but fascinatingly serene planet with the mysterious ocean conjuring up in my head with my involuntary, passive consent

🟣 Tingles running down my spine, and stomach churning from the vague sense of anxiousness, combined, quite paradoxically, with serenity that invaded me throughout the book

🟣 Frustration coming from the necessity to skim read a large chunk of text dedicated to explaining scientifically the inner workings and profound research on the fictional planet 🥲 (it was amazing and it made me feel obnoxiously stupid; I thought it could have been cut short because a lot of the details didn't add up much neither to the philosophical agenda nor to the plotline)

This book deserves a very thorough, analytical review I'm incapable of right now because 1) my body is devoid of alcohol in its system; 2) I'm too disappointed in my current self to procrastinate productively.

See y'all here to discuss this thrilling, surprisingly romantic, deeply psychological and philosophical work written by an extremely gifted person once I'm in a better place 🫂
Profile Image for Frank Hidalgo-Gato Durán.
Author 10 books213 followers
October 21, 2021
Releída por tercera vez. Y era que tenía que “vencer” al libro y su historia! Sensaciones muy raras me acompañan tras la lectura de este libro. Como si me hubiese adentrado en la profundidad de un estado psicodélico de naturaleza lo mismo estimulante, como depresiva.Es una historia oscura, una ciencia ficción dura(consciencial)y su filosofía humanista intrínseca no se la puede tomar uno a la ligera. Siento que a lo largo de su lectura el autor me apresaba entre la redes neuronales de un cerebro de proposiciones gigantescas, en el que me permitió conocerle, sí, pero comprenderle a medias. Y es que esta historia se trata de ello, de un todo y una nada “consciente ”, y según cada cual.Uff, me pasé? 🤔
Muy recomendable!
Profile Image for Stjepan Cobets.
Author 14 books493 followers
March 10, 2017
Although the book was written back in 1960, the last century, I must admit that I did not notice it at all. This book is a timeless masterpiece of science fiction. Everything we know about the universe in the book there is a review, not to speak of the human psyche that the writer brought to the last hidden parts of humanity. The book examines all. At the end of what we know about the universe, only tiny details and the man is not at all aware of what hidden in the vastness of the stars. The whole book permeated by challenging the planet Solaris, which is, in fact, a living being. For years, scientists theorize, that are falling like the cards because everything is known humankind just does not fit the mold that people imagined, and the various theories tried to explain. The story takes us on a space station Solaris, which has stationed three hundred meters above sea level. New Scientist Kelvin to take office at the station as a researcher planet. First, it reveals that the leader of the expedition was dead and that the other two members of the team are acting strangely. But soon will discover the reason for his materializes long dead girl Harey. All his knowledge and love she felt for her coming to trial. The book I would recommend to all fans of science fiction, I enjoyed in the author's imagination.
Profile Image for John Mauro.
Author 5 books397 followers
May 26, 2023
Solaris is Stanislaw Lem's classic 1961 science fiction novel about a researcher, Dr. Kris Kelvin, who lands on the planet Solaris after an 16-month journey from Earth. Solaris raises very interesting astrobiological questions about whether a planet that orbits two suns can support life. In the case of Solaris, the two suns that it orbits have vastly different intensities. Hence, the climate on Solaris varies drastically depending upon which of the two suns it is currently near. These climatic variations occur on a timescale equivalent to millions of Earth years. However, since biological evolution takes tens or hundreds of millions of years, scientists doubt that the climate on Solaris would be stable enough to support life.

Nonetheless, life on Solaris appears to exist in the form of its organic ocean, which is believed to be a single giant organism. Scientists from Earth have been sent to study this mysterious and possibly intelligent lifeform. However, the ocean lifeform treats the scientists occupying the planet as a type of tumor that it tries to excise through psychological manipulation, i.e., by creating hallucinations in the minds of the scientists.

Nobody rushes out to greet Dr. Kelvin when he arrives on Solaris. Of the three residents Kelvin expects to meet on Solaris, one is dead and the other two are apparently crazy. It doesn't take long for Kelvin himself to start having visions and succumb to the same type of madness as the other two remaining researchers.

The setup for this novel is brilliant. Based on the above description, I was fully expecting this to be a five-star book. Unfortunately, the first vision that Kelvin sees is incredibly racist. This type of "surprise racism" came out of nowhere, having no legitimate context and occurring just as I was getting into the plot of the novel. Lew introduces this racism without ever confronting the issue. It completely threw me out of the story, and I was unable to get myself mentally engaged again after that incident.

Another serious problem is the pseudoscience that is constantly spewed throughout the book. The astrobiological setup of the story is brilliant. Unfortunately, all the rest of the "science" is laughable, consisting of Lew name-dropping scientific terms and principles, apparently without much understanding of what they mean. There was a warning of incoming pseudoscience early in the book, when Lew invokes the thermodynamic concept of Le Chatelier's Principle in a context that made no sense. The worst offense is Lew's nonsensical references to neutrinos, suggesting that the hallucinations seen by the scientists could be real and made up of neutrinos. Of course, a ridiculous theory such as this only supports the notion that the scientists have gone crazy.

There are also massive plot holes. For example, why is there no communication between the Solaris crew and the home base on Earth? If it only takes 16 months to travel from Earth to Solaris, then communication between the planets should be trivial. Why do they keep sending scientists to Solaris if they don't even bother to communicate with them? It makes no sense.

With the brilliant setup of this book, this could have been a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the plot is thrown off by racism and pseudoscience, without any satisfying answers about the astrobiological questions raised by the novel.
Profile Image for Fernando.
680 reviews1,091 followers
October 14, 2021
"Entendí demasiado bien las palabras de Snaut -si suponía que existía algún Snaut y que alguna vez había hablado con él, porque las alucinaciones podían haber comenzado mucho antes-, fulminado por algún ataque de actividad mental, y todo lo que había vivenciado era una creación de mi cerebro dañado."

Llevaba mucho tiempo con ganas de leer este libro del afamado Stanislaw Lem porque muchos lectores habían expresado excelentes críticas sobre él.
Debo reconocer que es una novela estupenda orientada, dentro de una sofisticada ambientación de la ciencia ficción a la cuestión de la naturaleza humana, a nuestras reacciones y sentimientos.
La cuestión central aquí es el planeta Solaris.
La extraña atmósfera de Solaris que impregna a todo aquel que respira su aire.
El solo hecho de caminar esa estación espacial emplazada allí altera a todos.
Kris Kelvin, un psicólogo enviado desde la Tierra para observar y analizar el comportamiento de los pocos humanos que viven allí termina convirtiéndose en uno más de ellos.
Las extrañas fuerzas que Solaris imprime en ellos lo confunde todo.
Kelvin tiene que dilucidar qué sucedió con Gibarian, un científico que se ha suicidado y que la vez lidiar con personajes: Snaut y Sartorius que trabajan en la estación de Solaris, afecta a todos con desórdenes psicológicos importantes y logra que el propio Kelvin sucumba a esa atmósfera ilusoria,  onírica, que confunde los límites de la realidad.
Es que Kelvin cree estar acompañado de  Hareys, su esposa ya fallecida de Kelvin con quien cree convivir.
Sea por diálogos,  sueños, alucinaciones o alteración de la imaginación, los personajes y muy especialmente Kelvin estarán sometidos a altas presiones psicológicas.
Realmente una novela atrapando, brillantemente narrada por Lem que además no me necesita forzar las características de la ciencia ficción clásica para brindarnos una historia que nos acerca más como seres humanos.
Profile Image for [P].
145 reviews511 followers
August 27, 2015
When I was a kid my dad was obsessed with the idea of UFO’s and alien contact. He made me and my brother watch endless episodes of trashy American documentaries about sightings and abductions. In fact, I sat through so many of these that I started to have nightmares about bug-eyed extra terrestrial beings entering my room at night. I guess that for my dad – who did not have a partner, whose children were emotionally, if not physically, estranged from him, and whose job was not exactly stimulating – the promise of other planets and other species, of being whisked away from his humdrum life, must have been pretty appealing. While I too wanted to somehow escape the situation I found myself in, the prospect of other worlds or beings never fired my imagination. I found it difficult enough to get my head around the behaviour and motivations of humans, I had enough problems understanding my own world, that the possibility of engaging meaningfully with aliens struck me as, to all intents and purposes, impossible.

For this same reason, I have never been particularly drawn to Sci-Fi. The writers and books I most enjoy are ones that I believe contain insights about human nature, that help me come to terms with who I am and how my world works. This is, I guess, where Stanislaw Lem comes in. First of all, Lem himself was not particularly enamoured of the genre, he thought the majority of it too reliant upon the adventure story formula. My introduction to the Pole’s work was His Master’s Voice, and, on the basis of that novel, I could see why he considered himself as a kind of outlier in the Science Fiction community. The plot is almost non-existent, and entirely plausible; there are no weird creatures, no space travel. More than anything, His Master’s Voice is a speculative, philosophical novel of ideas that says more about us than it does about what is potentially out there. And so is this one.

Having said that, Solaris provides more conventional, less cerebral enjoyment than His Master’s Voice, and is therefore more approachable. Lem may have been critical of Science Fiction’s use of the adventure story formula, but the dynamics of Solaris’ plot are borrowed from the equally formulaic horror/thriller genre. Doctor Kris Kelvin arrives on the space station that has been studying the planet Solaris, and which is meant to be manned by three other people. However, Kelvin finds that one of them is blind drunk and clearly spooked, one has locked himself in his laboratory, and the other is dead. Of course, he is suspicious and senses that something is wrong. Not only is Snow visibly shaken, but he has blood on his hands; alarming noises are coming from Sartorius’ lab; and Kelvin himself feels as though he is being watched. As the narrative progresses things get even stranger: there are, it is revealed, other people on board and it is not clear how they got there or whether they are friendly.

“Successive bursts of static came through the headphones, against a background of deep, low-pitched murmuring, which seemed to me the very voice of the planet itself.”

While all this is lots of fun, and genuinely tense and unnerving at times, especially if you haven’t seen either of the two film adaptations, if it was all Solaris had to offer it’s unlikely that I would rate the book so highly. In order to begin to explain why I do I would, first of all, point to a quote from the text, which is ‘“How do you expect to communicate with the ocean, when you can’t even understand one another?” This, for me, sums up the philosophical, emotional heart of the novel. The ‘ocean’ is the alien life-form [if it is indeed alive; it certainly displays behaviour consistent with ‘being alive’ and appears to exhibit some kind of intelligence] that resides upon Solaris. As with His Master’s Voice, Lem is interested in what ‘alien’ actually means. The ocean is absolutely non-human, and is, therefore, not accessible to us, can never be accessible to us, because we can only attempt to understand it by using human concepts, ideas, reasoning etc.

The focus here is not on the ‘personality’ or capabilities of the ocean, but on our own limitations and arrogance. At one point in the book Lem writes that we, the human race, are not actually interested in the genuinely alien, but simply want to extend the boundaries of the human world. In other words, confronted with something that we do not understand, that we can never understand, we want to explain, to interpret it in human terms; in essence, we strive to find all things human. I found all this blistering stuff, and it is something I see around me every day. Not with aliens, of course, but with animals, cars, mountains, and so on. Consider how what most pleases or charms us about our pets are the moments when we can see ourselves in them, when they do something that we see as being recognisably human.

“We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. A single world, our own, suffices us; but we can’t accept it for what it is.”

For a book that is on the surface concerned with our relationship [or non-relationship] with the alien, Solaris somehow manages to be extraordinarily moving. That is all down to Rheya. I must admit that she broke my heart. There are a number of ways to interpret her role in the novel, just as there is more than one Rheya. First of all, there is the original Rheya, the young woman who Kelvin was married to, who took her own life years before he came to be on a space station on Solaris, and whose death he feels responsible for. Therefore, the counterfeit Rheya, Rheya2, the one who turns up at the space station, could be said to be a physical manifestation of Kelvin’s grief or guilt. In this way, Rheya2 is a kind of tormentor; it is not a blessing for Kelvin to be confronted with a facsimile of the woman he feels as though he failed and treated badly, a woman who looks so much like her but isn’t her. No, it is a form of torture.

It is also possible to interpret Rheya’s appearances in the text outside of any alien context. Throughout my reading I kept returning to that key line, ‘“How do you expect to communicate with the ocean, when you can’t even understand one another?” We know that Kelvin and Rheya had a tumultuous relationship on earth, one that ended with an argument and the woman committing suicide. With Rheya2, Kelvin re-enacts this relationship. If you forget that she is non-human for a moment, the interactions between the couple are indistinguishable from the interactions of any couple going through a rough time, a couple that isn’t communicating well, who keep things from each other, who snap at and goad each other out of exasperation, who love and need each other but cannot, despite their best intentions, always show each other the patience and affection that they ought to. In this way, Solaris is a classic marriage-in-crisis narrative; it is a novel about the intense hardships of love.

Finally, and most heartrending of all, there is the issue of personal identity. Rheya2 is, in the beginning, ignorant of what she is; she believes herself to be Rheya, a human woman in love with a human man named Kris Kelvin. She is, therefore, not a malevolent entity, not consciously anyway. As the narrative progresses, she senses that something is wrong; she doesn’t need to eat or sleep, she cannot be physically hurt, she remembers very little of her life before Solaris, and she cannot bear [i.e. it causes her intense physical pain] to be away from Kelvin for longer than a minute or so. Eventually, her true situation, the true nature of her being, dawns on her, and, I’m not ashamed to admit, I had a lump in my throat the size of a football.

[A still from Andrei Tarkovsky’s film adaptation of the book]

There is something about this set-up, about a being who believes herself to be human, who feels human, who has a human consciousness, and human emotions, suddenly realising that she has been created by an alien presence, for reasons that are not clear, that really got to me. Her confusion, her anxiety, her struggle, her bravery and nobility [yes, I am aware of how ridiculous this sounds, but I’m in earnest here] in coming to terms with herself all but ruined me. And here’s the rub, who or what exactly is she? Isn’t she Rheya? She is not the same as the original Rheya, that is true, but what does that prove? There is a woman in front of Kelvin, whose heart beats, who breathes, who calls herself Rheya, so who, or what, else can she be? There is a point in the text, when Kelvin says that he no longer sees Rheya and Rheya2 as the same person, that he accepts and loves Rheya2 as herself. The nature of personal identity is thorny; just what is it that makes you, you? Your memories, your appearance, your personality? Rheya2 ticks all these boxes. Solaris makes you ask, is Rheya2 a facsimile or is she a distinct person? Is she a person at all? If not, why not?

I could go into all this in more detail, but I’ll quit while some readers are still with me. Before concluding, I want to quickly deal with the translation. I have read Solaris twice, once, and first, in the most recent [and only] rendering directly from Polish. For this reread, I read the version that is widely available, which is a translation from a French translation from the Polish. I loved the book in both versions. Moreover, despite Lem’s claim that the Polish-French-English translation is inadequate, and taking into consideration my own concerns about authenticity and accurate translations, I thought it was smooth and not at all inferior to the version translated directly from the original. I would have to read both versions simultaneously, or at least close together, to be able to compare them in detail, but I do think, taking into account its negative reputation, that the Polish-French-English version ought to be defended. I criticise translations a lot, and no doubt some people think I am too picky, but I am genuinely happy that the version of Solaris that most people will come across is an excellent read, because, whether you like Sci-Fi or not, you should read Solaris. It is as engaging, thrilling, intelligent and beautiful as any novel you will ever encounter.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,688 followers
September 23, 2016
“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.”

- Stanislaw Lem, Solaris


I'm kinda giddy about both starting and finishing this on June 5, 2012 (Transit of Venus). I figure if I can measure how long it takes me to read this novel in English and French and Polish, I might be able to figure out the exact distance from Solaris to my Brain.

Obviously, this is not science fiction meant to be read by teens/tweens, waiting for the next evolution of the Twilight series or FableHaven or whatever teenagers read now. This is Big Mamma Science Fiction dealing with big issues using philosophy and poetry to communicate both the strangeness of mankind and the gentle waves of the Universe. Being a translation*, the reader (or listener) is only able to capture an incomplete shadow of Lem's original text. However, if the shadow is any indication, the height of Solaris in Polish must have been a mimoid on a grand scale.

* of a translation (see comments below).
Profile Image for 7jane.
678 reviews256 followers
September 13, 2016
(I will review this properly after re-read, but I can say that this book was fantastic; I've seen the newer movie - which was good - and will watch the older at some point. Not action-packed, but more pondering kind of a book.)
Profile Image for John.
5 reviews9 followers
July 14, 2007
It is unfortunate that Lem is labeled as an author of "science fiction", but really only because of what the american traditions for that genre have imprinted on our culture. Solaris is a deeply philosophical look at the notion of "otherness", a meditation on the hard limits at the edges of human cognition, and science's inability to look outside of problems that science can describe.

Read this book instead of watching either of the films derived from it. Tarkovsky's Solaris is brilliant for it's own reasons, but it misses the deep meditation on science that makes Lem's work so interesting. That other guy's version of Solaris is well worth forgetting.
Profile Image for Scott.
290 reviews301 followers
March 18, 2017
Have you ever watched a reputed champion for the first time - a Muhammed Ali, a Michael Schumacher, an Andre Agassi by reputation - and been disappointed? Have you heard so much, been expecting something so great, and then watched the title fighter hit the mat in round three, the pole position driver stall on the second bend or the top seed play a dull match with only tantalizing flashes of the brilliance you’ve heard so much about?

That experience is how Solaris felt for me.

Solaris has a big reputation. The iconic film, the recent Clooney remake, decades of cultural references... this is a book I’ve been waiting to read for a long time. Sadly, despite its great central concept, I found it to be a less than scintillating read.

Solaris begins with scientist Kris Kelvin journeying to a distant research station orbiting the strange and mysterious planet Solaris, a world covered with a vast living ocean, a being of indecipherable intent whose power is such that it controls to some degree the orbit of its world around the binary system it inhabits. On his arrival he finds the station in disarray. One of the three resident scientists, Kris’ old friend and mentor Gilbarian, has suicided while the other two seem paranoid and deranged.

It soon becomes clear that unsanctioned x-ray experiments performed on the station have led the ocean-being to respond, and it has done so by delving into the memories of the men on the station, recreating perfect, walking, talking copies of the people most important to them. If they try to escape from these copies they are relentlessly pursued. If they destroy a copy, it reappears the next morning, with no memory of its destruction. Tortured by physical manifestations of their pasts the men on-board the station struggle to understand what the Ocean creature is doing and why, opening up interesting questions as to whether it will ever really be possible to understand a truly alien consciousness.

If you think this is a cool setup, you aren’t alone. Two films have been made of Lem’s book, and it the central concept is what drew me to it (along with the aforementioned big reputation).

However, this promise didn’t deliver for me and I found Solaris to be quite patchy. While the sections where Kris deals with his deranged colleagues or the clone of his wife are great, there are some seriously dull patches in this book. As Sreyas advised me in a Goodreads comment (thanks Sreyas!), whenever Kris enters the library, start skimming pages. Unfortunately, Kris is a frequent library user and the long, tedious outlines of all the research that had been performed on Solaris really started to grate on me (and it takes a lot of library-dullness to bore me- I’m a Librarian by trade). These fairly regular boring bits really kicked my reading enjoyment in the sensitive bits.

Considering this book's great reputation, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the fault lay with me- did I miss the point? Is my typical 2017, smartphone-addled attention span too short for Lem’s slower paced story? Or are the dull sections too many and too long? After finishing Solaris I feel it is the latter, and I am genuinely disappointed that this isn’t the great book I had hoped it would be.

In saying this, Lem’s world is beautifully realized, and the story is one of genuine sadness and poignancy. I haven’t seen either of the films but I’m guessing they cut Kris’ library visits and focused on the meat of the story, something that I feel this book would have benefited from. It’s by no means a boring read, or a bad story, it just contains numerous dull sections that I recommend you skim over.

P.S: I love spotting dated tech/attitudes in old SF works and I collected a few in Solaris- The radio set Kris uses needs time for its ‘valves’ to warm up, the station is packed with heavy old paper books, and the 'auto-librarian' spits out bits of cardboard when asked questions. It’s all very 1960s In Space and I kept expecting someone to bust out some vinyl or for Robbie the Robot to show up.

Profile Image for Spencer Orey.
540 reviews123 followers
June 11, 2020
Thoughtful classic psychological sci fi! I found the language here to be excellent, striking a solid mix of scientific-sounding jargon with flowing descriptions of the station and the raw feelings of the scientists. It's a short book but feels evocative of a much larger galaxy and of humans who are still trying to find their place and their purpose within it.

It ain't perfect. The personal psychological journey of the main character feels dated. Very little from the past can hold up to our politics today, and there's some odd casual sexism and racism, especially in the opening chapters. Blegh.

I recommend this to anyone who wants to write or think about aliens. A great takeaway idea here is how fundamentally alien the planet of Solaris is. Usually when we read sci fi, the aliens were more human. Here, it's unclear what alien life might even look like. We get long but somehow interesting sections depicting a lot of fake scholarship and theories about what the planet might BE. Usually, that kind of material would drone on and on, but here, I found myself loving those sections more than the main narrative. And really, the whole idea of what counts as alien and how would aliens contact us and can we even read their intentions, leads to fantastic thoughtful questions.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,548 reviews1,821 followers
October 2, 2019
What I like about this is that Lem throws away what for another writer might have been the central reveal of the story - the sentienancy of the planet. Instead he is relentlessly focused on showing us the one implication of that idea.

Very well says Lem, intellectually we can imagine all kinds of crazy things - travel to distant planets, strange unexpected forms of life, but psychologically can we cope with them, can we cope with ourselves, and what we have done in our lives? Probably not very well.
Profile Image for Adina ( On hiatus until next week) .
827 reviews3,231 followers
February 15, 2016
It is very hard for me to rate this since I was mesmerized by the first half of the book and fell a bit out of love in the second part.

I was fascinated by the idea of an "alien" ocean. Most of the times when people think of aliens they see beings more or less similar to humans, at least possessing some characteristic that humans can relate to. One of the ideas of Solaris is that we hardly accept that something cannot be understood or explained by the existing human laws.

The problem with the book, and the reason for my 4 stars, was the insertion of some dry, since-text chapters about the different theories about the planet and the ocean. Although a bit too sci-ency I enjoyed reading some of them in the first part. However, in the second part, there was a lengthy lecture about different formations created by the mysterious ocean on Solaris (mimoids, symmetriads and asymmetriads etc) which was really boring. It gave me the impression I was reading a science compendium it did not seem to add much to the plot or allowed any progress in solving the mystery.

The ending was a bit unsatisfactory but maybe it was meant to be this way, not to find the real reason behind "the visitors".
Profile Image for مجیدی‌ام.
213 reviews108 followers
January 15, 2022
*بدون خطر لو رفتن داستان

اصلا انتظارش رو نداشتم! اصلا فکرشم نمی‌کردم که با همچین کتابی طرف باشم! نه اینکه بگم بهترین کتاب دنیا بود، نه، بلکه به دلیل متفاوت بودنش غافلگیر شدم! :))
سولاریس، کتابی تخیلی بود، به معنای واقعی کلمه تخیلی! یعنی از این تخیلی‌ها نبود که نویسنده در هر ده-دوازده صفحه یک چشمه نشون بده، نه، این کتاب سطر سطرش تخیلی بود! :))

نمی‌خوام از داستان کتاب چیزی لو بدم ولی وظیفه خودم می‌دونم که یک نکته رو براتون شرح بدم، که مثل من دچار اشتباه نشید!
من، جایی خونده بودم که سولاریس، سبک آخر زمانی داره، مثل میرا، مثل کالوکائین، مثل هزار و نهصد و هشتاد و چهار. خلاصه، کتاب رو شروع کردم و از همون صفحات اولش دیدم که نه! اصلا کتاب آخر زمانی نیست، بلکه تخیلیه! فضاییه!
طعنه و کنایه نزدما! کتاب واقعا فضاییه! :))

سولاریس، داستانی روند و تروتمیز داره، با پایانی مشخص و شسته و رفته. کتاب، کاملا داستانی و رمان‌طور شروع می‌شه و هرچه به انتها نزدیک می‌شیم، عطر و بوی فلسفی و اگزیستان می‌گیره به خودش، به‌طوری‌که پایان کتاب، از نظر بار فلسفی، اصلا هم‌‌وزن شروع کتاب نیست.
در بطن داستان هم، گاهی جملات فلسفی‌ای به چشم می‌خوره که جای تامل داره، البته ناگفته نماند که این جملات به ناشیانه‌ترین شکل ممکن ترجمه شدن! ویراستاری کتاب هم ناشیانه‌اس. کلا کار ترجمه و چاپ این کتاب، کار حرفه‌ای‌ای نیست متاسفانه، ولی قابل خوندنه.

داستان کتاب، انقدر خطی و ساده‌اس که کوچکترین اشاره‌ای بهش، ممکنه کل کتاب رو برای خوانندگان جدید پوچ کنه، پس هیچ حرفی ازش نمی‌زنم.

کلام آخر، اگر حوصله‌ی بودن در دنیایی تخیلی و زندگی در سیاره‌ی دیگه‌ای رو دارید، سولاریس رو بخونید. در غیر این صورت این کتاب اصلا جذبتون نخواهد کرد.
من از کتاب راضی بودم، امتیاز این کتاب چهار ستاره بود، که نیم ستاره به دلیل کمبودهای داستانی و ادبی ازش کم می‌کنم و نیم ستاره به دلیل ترجمه و ویراستاری ضعیف‌اش. سه ستاره کافیه براش.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
January 23, 2011
Who could have thought? Who could have thought of a planet, almost covered by ocean and that the ocean is in reality an organism enveloping the planet? Where the waves are actually muscle contractions of that organism? And that organism can "communicate" to the mind of human beings and has the ability to probe and analyze people's mind and manipulate it innermost secrets (guilt included)? And this can lead human beings to lunacy and commit suicide?

I am already at the stage of my life when I already find this genre (alongside formulaic fantasy, mystery, thriller and horror) almost always too unbelievable. However, if the author is good in his storytelling, the manner of writing takes the front seat and the plot, theme and characters become secondary. This is the case for Solaris (1961) by Polish novelist, Stanislaw Lew (1921-2006).

One of the very few novels that underwent "double translations" from Polish (1961) to French (1966) to English (1970) and filmed thrice. The last one was in 2002 starring George Clooney, who according to a Goodreads friend, appeared in one scenes in his birthday suit. It was directed by Steven Soderbergh and produced by James Cameron. However, the film emphasized the relationship between Kelvin and his dead wife — again excluding Lem’s scientific and philosophic themes so the book is definitely better than the film. The reason is that, in my opinion, it is the writing that makes this book worth reading. Unless, of course, if you want to see the younger George Clooney in his full glory ha ha.

Yes, the writing is exceptional. I read a good portion of the book while our motorboat was afloat the notorious Devouring Bay last weekend, the passengers uncertain of their fate, considering the strong wind and the mile-high waves. Last Saturday going to my island hometown for 4 hours (the boat afloat docked at the bay waiting for passengers) and the following day, Sunday for 1 hour going back to the mainland. Since the main alien character of this book is the organism enveloping the planet Solaris, Lem made sure that the ocean, alongside all those technical terms that made his narration felt believable. While reading, I kept on glancing at the ocean and these questions actually crossed my mind: what if our oceans are actually the same organism? And we do not know it? And that is the reason for our depressions, guilt, suicidal tendencies, divorce, etc? What if?

Needless to say, this book is an intelligent well-written science fiction. I actually enjoyed this more than say Isaac Asimov's I, Robot or Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. It will not insult your intelligence as it will make you think that there could really be a planet with two moons somewhere in the other still undiscovered universe.

If you are a sci-fi fan and you know how to appreciate a well-written work, go for this one. It is a 1961 novel but nothing in it is outdated except for the cassette tape recorder hanging on the wall in the opening scene.
Profile Image for Eliasdgian.
409 reviews110 followers
May 29, 2018
Σολάρις, ο: (αστρον.) Πλανήτης που περιστρέφεται γύρω από δύο ήλιους: έναν ερυθρό κι έναν κυανό. Η επιφάνειά του καλύπτεται από Ωκεανό με διάσπαρτα αμέτρητα νησιά και η διάμετρός του είναι κατά το ένα πέμπτο μεγαλύτερη από τη διάμετρο της Γης. Η ατμόσφαιρα του Σολάρις δεν περιλαμβάνει οξυγόνο και κανένα ίχνος ζωής δεν βρέθηκε ποτέ εκεί, στα νησιά ή τον Ωκεανό.

Όμως, ο Ωκεανός, που καλύπτει τον Σολάρις σαν κολλοειδές περιτύλιγμα, με έναν απολύτως μυστήριο τρόπο μοιάζει να είναι ζωντανός ο ίδιος. Δείχνει να σκέφτεται και να ενεργεί, φαίνεται να ξεπερνά σε πολυπλοκότητα (έως και αυτές) τις γήινες οργανικές δομές. Και το πιο εντυπωσιακό είναι πως ασκεί επίδραση στην τροχιά του πλανήτη, σταθεροποιώντας τον, παρότι οι αντίθετες βαρυτικές δυνάμεις που ασκούν στον Σολάρις τα δύο διαφορετικά ηλιακά συστήματα θα έπρεπε να τον είχαν καταστρέψει εκατομμύρια χρόνια πριν.

Πάνω από την επιφάνεια του Ωκεανού, σε ύψος μεταξύ πεντακοσίων και χιλίων πεντακοσίων μέτρων, διατηρείται ο Σταθμός, ένα από τα σπουδαιότερα τεχνολογικά επιτεύγματα του ανθρώπου. Σε αυτόν τον σταθμό, που έπρεπε να έχει τρεις ενοίκους (τους επιστήμονες Γκιμπάριαν, Σνάουτ και Σαρτόριους), αλλά μοιάζει να είναι εγκαταλελειμμένος, θα προσεδαφιστεί η άκατος του Κρις Κέλβιν και θα φέρει τον επιβάτη της αντιμέτωπο με τον εφιάλτη.
"Δεν θέλουμε να κατακτήσουμε το σύμπαν, θέλουμε να επεκτείνουμε τα σύνορα της Γης μέχρι τα όρια του σύμπαντος... δεν θέλουμε να κατακτήσουμε άλλες φυλές, θέλουμε απλώς να τους κληροδοτήσουμε τις αξίες μας και να πάρουμε ως αντάλλαγμα τη δική τους κληρονομιά. Βλέπουμε τους εαυτούς μας ως τους Ιππότες της Ιεράς Επαφής. Άλλο ψέμα και τούτο. Το μόνο για το οποίο ψάχνουμε είναι ο άνθρωπος. Δεν χρειαζόμαστε άλλους κόσμους. Καθρέφτες χρειαζόμαστε. Τους άλλους κόσμους δεν ξέρουμε τι να τους κάνουμε... Αυτό που αναζητούμε είναι μια ιδανική εικόνα του δικού μας κόσμου.''

Στο magnum opus του Stanisław Lem, στο κλειστοφοβικό σύμπαν του Solaris, είναι το φάντασμα της αφειδώλευτης αγάπης που στοιχειώνει τον κόσμο του Κρις Κέλβιν• κι ο φόβος του να αντιμετωπίσει (ξανά) την οδυνηρή συντριβή που συνεπάγεται η απώλεια του πιο αγαπημένου του προσώπου ή, έστω, της (φασματικής;) προβολής του στον κόσμο μας.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
October 26, 2017
448. Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
Solaris is a 1961 philosophical science fiction novel by Polish writer Stanisław Lem. The book centers upon the themes of the nature of human memory, experience and the ultimate inadequacy of communication between human and non-human species. In probing and examining the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris from a hovering research station the human scientists are, in turn, being apparently studied by the sentient planet itself, which probes for and examines the thoughts of the human beings who are analyzing it. Solaris has the ability to cast their secret, guilty concerns into a material form, for each scientist to personally confront. All efforts of human probing into the secrets of Solaris proved to be futile. As Lem wrote himself, "The peculiarity of those phenomena seems to suggest that we observe a kind of rational activity, but the meaning of this seemingly rational activity of the Solarian Ocean is beyond the reach of human beings".
تاریخ نخستین خوانش: شانزدهم ماه اکتبر سال 1987 میلادی
عنوان: سولاریس؛ نویسنده: استانسیلاو لم؛ مترجم: صادق مظفرزاده؛ تهران، فاریاب، 1364؛ در 306 ص؛ چاپ دوم: تهران، نشر مینا، 1371؛ در 257 ص؛ موضوع: داستانهای خیال انگیز و علمی تخیلی از نویسندگان - قرن 20 م
کلوین راهی سیاره سولاریس میشود، سیاره ای که در زمین بسیار مشهور است و سالهای بسیاری توجه دانشمندان را به خود جلب کرده است. بر روی این سیاره یک اقیانوس هوشمند وجود دارد. کلوین هنگام ورود به سیاره با پدیده ای عجیب رو به رو میشود. اقیانوس دست به کار تازه زده، او تصورات و خاطرات ساکنین را به صورت مادی عینیت میبخشد. در حقیقت او به هنگام خواب، به ذهن فضانوردان نفوذ کرده، و فرد خاصی در ذهن آنها را که مرده، دوباره زنده میکند و .... اگر یادم مانده باشد، جایی در همین کتاب نوشته بود: هر دانش حقیقی همواره یک دانش حرامزاده در کنار خود دارد. ستاره بینی روایت تمسخرآمیز و دلقک وار ستاره شناسی است. شیمی، زمانی کیمیا بوده. کاریکاتور علوم طبیعی هم، جادوگری و رمالی است. ... ا. شربیانی
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