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Reviews of Solaris (1961)

Review by ernestolake (2008-01-21)
This is one of the best examples of philosophical SF. Most of the action takes places inside the protagonistís head, and it is mainly through his thoughts and the evaluation of different subjects (reality, mind, and so on) that we can calibrate the strange situation encountered by the main character.

For an excellent movie version of the book, look for the Russian movie directed by Andrej Tarkovsky. But you have to be patient. This is a very slow movie, with the proverbial Tarkovskian tempo. Nevertheless, it is one of the jewels of the international cinema.

The first time I watched it, I did not know what to think. But its haunting atmosphere impressed me. And it had an incredible ending. Then I watched it again, and again, and againÖ Each time I discovered something different. The same happens with Lemís novel.

(This review refers to the 1970 version titled “Solaris”)

Review by mrdude (2005-02-15)
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem is the story of Kris Kelvin, a psychologist who travels to the planet solaris to study its mysterious ocean.

The book starts off with Kris Kelvin, called simply Kelvin throughout the book, arriving at a small science station at the planet solaris to meet with his colleague, Gibarian. Kelvin finds that his friends has died on the station and sets off to find out how this happened.

I read the only English version of this book, which is translated from the already translated French version by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox (the story was actually originally written in polish). I myself did not have any problem with this translation and found the writing to be quite good, although reading about the book from the author's website I discovered that he himself is displeased with the translation.

Like I said before the book was very well written. It is written entirely in the first person, from the point of view of Kelvin. Because of this the reader is often just as confused as to what is happening as Kelvin is. The dialogue is rich if not a little bit long winded and preachy at times.

I did find some of the book tedious. Stanislaw describes a lot of history for solaris but chooses to do this by having the main character, Kelvin, read text books to try to uncover the mystery behind his friends death. I found these portions of the book to be much more slow going, although it is an inventive way to relay lots of fictitious history on the reader, it's pretty slow going to hear the main character summarise the contents of each textbook he reads. Also I found myself somewhat overwhelmed with the amount of fictitious scientists that wrote all these books that Kelvin is reading, Lem not only needs his readers to understand all the history he has created for his universe but insists that it seems as real as possible.

Overall I found the story quite compelling and original. I was also extremely pleased with the ending, which I defiantly did not expect. The entire book in itself is quite different from the 2002 movie with George Clooney. All and all a great science fiction novel, well worth the read!

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

We are only seeking Man. 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. We are searching for an ideal image of our own world: we go in quest of a planet, of a civilisation superior to our own but developed on the basis of a prototype of our primeval past. At the same time, there is something inside us which we don't like to face up to, from which we try to protect ourselves, but which nevertheless remains, since we don't leave Earth in a state of primal innocence. We arrive here as we are in reality, and when the page is turned and that reality is revealed to us -that part of our reality which we would prefer to pass over in silence- then we don't like it any more. (pg 72)

The fate of a single man can be rich with significance, that of a few hundred less so, but the history of thousands and millions of men does not mean anything at all, in any adequate sense of the word. (pg 120)

Just you think, in a rocket a man takes the risk of bursting like a balloon, or freezing, or roasting, or sweating all his blood out in a single gush, before he can even cry out, and all that remains is bits of bone floating inside armored hulls, in accordance with the laws of Newton as corrected by Einstein, those two milestones in our progress. Down the road we go, all in good faith and see where it gets us. Think about our success Kelvin; think about our cabins, the unbreakable plates, the immortal sinks, legions of faithful wardrobes devoted cupboards... (pg 185)

Review by clong (2004-08-06)
Solaris was the first Stanislaw Lem book to be widely distributed in America and is recognized as a sci-fi classic. It is a quick read, without much action, but much rumination on science and scientists.

The planet Solaris takes snippets from the minds of the scientists who are supposed to be studying it, and uses what it learns from these snippets to experiment on the scientists. At a fundamental level Solaris is about how scientists' past/memories/beliefs impact their work. In a way it is asking "how can we (as individuals and as a race) expect to understand the universe around us if we don't understand ourselves?"

From the cover of the edition I bought, it looks like they turned this into a "love story in space" movie starring George Clooney. I can only hope that I manage to avoid ever seeing it!

©Steven Jeffery /, 2017
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