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55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Science Fiction of Inner Space
Stanislaw Lem's SF classic Solaris is, like so much of 20th century European literature, a meditation on the mystery of the human condition. Using the central metaphor of a giant planet that appears to possess the characteristics of sentience, but whose ultimate nature has remained mysterious despite generations of scientific research and attempts at communication,...
Published on 12 July 2003 by jimzovich

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but a bit disappointing
Early in this book the pace and suspense is very high and it is gripping. Unfortunately it becomes a bit bogged down with descriptions that don't help the story and the book dips. Overall it's interesting but a bit disappointing.
Published 1 month ago by guy b myles


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gets you thinking..., 3 Feb 2012
This review is from: Solaris (Paperback)
The two film versions of this book, while both good in their own way, could never dive as deeply as this book does. It covers the same themes you find in the films - love, loss, life, death - but much more. Towards the end it questions the limitations of our understanding of life, and what intelligent life is and could be. It's something you can only experience by reading this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful. A Novel of The Truly Alien, 20 Nov 2011
This review is from: Solaris (Paperback)
Polish writer Lem's most famous work, although only recently has his writing been widely available in Europe and the US.
For a relatively short novel it covers a lot of ground thematically, symbolically and stylistically.
The planet Solaris is a mystery. An enigmatic, possibly sentient, ocean covers nearly all of its surface. Despite seventy-eight years of scientific surveys, explorations and tests, Humanity is no closer to understanding what the living ocean of Solaris actually is, and all attempts at communication have failed.
Kelvin, a psychologist and student of Solaristic studies is posted to the scientific station which hovers just above the surface of Solaris, only to find his old tutor and friend, Gibarian, dead from recent suicide and the two other scientists, Snow and Sartorius, behaving oddly and irrationally.
It transpires that after an attempt to beam x-rays into the surface of the ocean, `Visitors' have begun manifesting, something which Kelvin soon discovers. At first he sees a naked black woman roaming the station and the next day he awakens to find his dead girlfriend (for whose suicide Kelvin blames himself) alive and well but with no memory of how she got to the station or indeed, her previous death.
The other scientists have their own visitors, people apparently assembled by Solaris from details dredged from their subconscious; their feelings of guilt or shameful desire.
The others, intriguingly, keep their doppelgangers hidden, although it would seem that the simulacrum assigned to Sartorius is a young child in a straw hat. The creatures do not allow their respective scientists out of their sight and the three devise various means of ridding themselves of their shadows.
It's a story which moves from mood to mood, in some sections slightly humourous, as when Lem provides ironic and satirical reports on Solarist scientific debates, making telling points about the politics of science itself, made all the more absurd by the very fact that ultimately all their theories about the ocean and their attempts to communicate with it in any way have come to nothing.

'A comparison of the `contact' school of thought with other branches of Solarist studies, in which specialisation had rapidly developed, especially during the last quarter of a century, made it clear that a Solarist cybernetician had difficulty in making himself understood to a Solarist-symmetriadologist. Veubeke, director of the Institute when I was studying there, had asked jokingly one day: `How do you expect to communicate with the ocean, when you can't even understand one another?' The jest contained more than a grain of truth.' (p 28)

This theme of communication is central to the novel. The initial chapter in which Kelvin arrives on the station is full of instances of communication failing or going awry. The station scientists' ability to communicate even with each other is hampered, both by the presence of their visitors and by the deleterious effect that the creatures are having upon them.
The point that Lem makes, in various ways, is that Mankind is not ready for contact with other intelligent life. Humans have so much trouble communicating amongst themselves that there seems little point in attempting communication with another species.
Kelvin cannot come to terms with the presence of a replica of his dead lover or the reality of her being an alien construct, and ultimately fails to communicate properly even with her. The only solution - the human solution - is to destroy the doppelgangers rather than attempt to study or communicate with Solaris through them.
Structurally, Solaris is told in first person narrative by Kris Kelvin, whose reading of various books and reports gives us an overview and history of Solaris and the seventy-eight years of almost fruitless scientific investigation.
The living ocean itself is masterfully depicted in a mixture of scientific precision and poetic metaphor. Lem makes it a truly alien unknowable phenomenon.
Could Solaris itself be a metaphor for the unconscious, an area we seek to explore but with which we can never enter a dialogue.
Some things remain a mystery. Who/what was Snow's visitor? What was the secret shame that produced a child in a straw hat from Sartorius' subconscious?
I have read some criticisms which suggest that Kris Kelvin's reading amounts to `info-dumping' but I don't see that as the case. Lem uses the opportunity here and there to lighten the mood while supplying critical commentary on the scientific establishment and obliquely, I suspect, the Science Fiction establishment.
The scientists fail to even begin to understand Solaris because they are thinking of it in human terms. There is an entrenched anthropomorphism in the field of Solaristics as indeed, to a certain extent, there is in SF literature in general. SF seldom deals with the truly alien. This is particularly true of contemporary SF films and TV series which invariably feature humanoid aliens so like ourselves they are socially indistinguishable from Human cultures. This is certainly the case with a lot of SF Literature of the Twentieth century and much of the TV and Film presentations.
This, however, is a novel of the truly alien, and one which rewards rereading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND..., 4 May 2008
By 
Lawyeraau (Balmoral Castle) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Solaris (Paperback)
Having seen the film that starred George Clooney and was based upon this book, and having found it wanting, I decided to go to the source. I am glad that I did, as it is certainly better as a book than it is as a film. It is also far more profound than the film, which concentrated on the love story.

This book is much more than that, covering many themes. It is, first and foremost, about contact with an alien entity and communication of a type beyond our comprehension. Is it friend or foe? Who can say, as the source of the communication makes its pitch based upon an individual's memories, some good, and some bad? What it is communicating remains unfathomable. Still, the book provides much food for thought.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sci Fi spectacular!, 25 Sep 2000
This review is from: Solaris (Paperback)
Although it is a rather short novel, Solaris packs a powerful punch. Unlike Phillip.K.Dick who's Paranoid visions always questioned reality, Lems characters live in self inflicted realities, tortured by their own personal bug bears. This is really the genius of the story. Feel your flesh creep as the main character gains an inkling of his colleagues dark secrets! Lem could have padded the story out, but the premise is a very simple one, and the story is direct. Unlike the Film!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When the Ocean is alive..., 5 May 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Solaris (Paperback)
Solaris is really one of the most interesting book of all. I've read it 10 years ago and still, I cannot forget how Stanislas Lem played with our deepest human feelings of love and despair, showing us that living a lie could be a goal in itself. This Ocean on a distant planet is alive, and needs information from us. He is alone, and does not understand very well what's surrounding him when humans first step into orbit. But he is smart and clever! Unlike the situation we know on earth, his cells did not create myriads of creatures but one: The Ocean itself!
This is a real Great book. Don't wait to order it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The human condition explained by an entirely un-human entity, 17 Dec 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Solaris (Paperback)
Where to begin. As the first book I've ever read by Stanislaw Lem, it took me a bit to get into his style. Once I did, I was captivated. I couldn't get enough. Solaris, in brief, is the story of an astronaut (Kris Kelvin) who arrives on a space station orbiting Solaris, a world orbiting a binary star which has been of much interest to the scientific community over the last hundred years. Immediately upon landing, he discovers a friend (Gibarian) who had been the commander of the expedition, has died under mysterious circumstances. The man to deliver this information is the shady Dr. Snow, who babbles incoherently about "visions" before calming down and speaking lucidly. It's not too long before Kris finds himself seeing "visions," and to tell you anything else would be to spoil the story. Aside from a rip-snorting plot, the laborious attention to detail only enhances the story. The words create a perfect picture in your mind, and every person I've talked to who's read this novel has had more or less the same impression of the station. It has a too-large quality, as if there ought to be more than simply three people on it. This only adds to the suspense. The explorations of the planet's surface itself are fascinating scientific descriptions of formations the ocean creates. The grand "floral calyx stage" is incomprehensible to the human mind, yet Lem can describe it in sparkling clarity. The story also contains much human emotion. Kris is dealing with the suicide of his wife, which he blames on himself. Snow is half mad with "visions," and Sartorius, a third scientist, has locked himself in his lab, with only the odd sound escaping. As Kris strives to understand this colossal mind orbiting beneath him on the planet, he is unconsciously attacking his own brain, racking it for clues as to what he is really feeling. Thought provoking and ultimately tragic, Solaris is a classic from beginning to end. The only problem is the double-translation (Polish-French-English) which is at times clunky. This, however, is a minor complaint against a grand piece of literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solaris and The Invincible - 2 great books by a great author, 15 Oct 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Solaris (Paperback)
Humans tend to classify everything they deal with - including the books they read. Clearly, every classification is imperfect. In certain cases this imperfection is especially damaging. Some books, labeled "Espionage", or "Children", or "Science Fiction" - are never read by many people just because they are labeled as such.
Stanislav Lem, clearly, is one of the most striking examples of this problem. Unfortunately, he became a victim of another damaging trend, which is endemic to the North American book market. Once you enter a Science Fiction domain here - the ratio of books to trash becomes much closer to zero, than in any other section.
How can one determine for himself the significance of a book in his life? I read Solaris for the first time when I was 15. There are many other books I read at the same age which I still consider to be very good - and read many-many times since then. Some of them, though I would - probably - never read again, because they ceased to bring anything new to me when I re-read them. I still do love them - but there is no mystery any more - no unanswered questions, no new landscapes around the corner.
There are other books, which you would read again and again - and every time you would find something new in them. "Solaris" is a book like this. Lem never was a SciFi writer - even in his earliest works - and "Solaris" is the most powerful proof of this fact. Space travel and scientific theories are here - but is this book about space travel? Or a scientific theory? What is this book about? I think it is about quite different things. It is conceived and written about the things which are most important for humans: love, shame, human dignity, and compassion.
Solaris is also a philosophical book: it offers only questions, no answers, but the questions asked in "Solaris" are formulated such, that a serious reader has no way to avoid trying to answer them. And the questions are - again - about the things which are of the greatest importance for the humanity: what is consciousness? are we able to overcome our xenophobia? how do we behave if we encounter something which is not hostile, but still - causes great pain to us?
The last two questions are offered in another great book of Lem: "The Invincible", which is - architecturally - much simpler, than Solaris, but - as it is frequently the case with shorter works of really great writers - "The Invincible" strikes the reader with this highly concentrated power, similar to a laser beam, equally disturbing thoughts and emotions - which is exactly what is expected from any work of art.
I only hope that over the years the world will reevaluate Lem's work and he will become as prominent a writer and philosopher as he deserves to be.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!, 20 Jun 1996
By A Customer
This review is from: Solaris (Paperback)
A great book of ideas. Lem's proposition here is that
truth, although it may be knowable, is certainly not known
by us. Much of the book is a satire of wrong-thinking
scientific theories. The main story of the book deals with
contact with an alien intelligence of unknown nature. The
main thrust is that, while we can try to interpret its
nature, the best we can hope for is for our interpretations
to throw some light on ourselves. We are looking into an
abyss, and the only thing we can possibly see is a mirror.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and the unknown, 28 Feb 2007
This review is from: Solaris (Paperback)
Our narrator, Kelvin, arrives at the Solaris space station to discover that many aspects of conventional conduct have been abandoned there. Through his musings we learn of the remarkable phenomena associated with the planet Solaris and the controversial and scandalous history of human attempts to understand it. Meanwhile, a major aspect of Kelvin's past unexpectedly dominates his tenancy on the space station, above the planet's mysterious ocean.

The scenario provoked intense curiosity from this reader and a deep engagement with the story and its intricate excursions. Lucid discussions are repeatedly punctuated by extraordinary dramatic developments. Thus, Lem's speculations are interwoven with a compelling narrative, to which a love-relationship is central. The profound and incomprehensible phenomena witnessed by Kelvin's predecessors in the vicinity of Solaris somehow compound the dramatic tension of the main scenario.

Unusually for a science fiction novel, the characters mostly speak with distinctive and powerful voices and their behaviors evoke highly realistic psychologies. The characterisation of Rheya, however, may well be an exception. It could largely be a typical product of a male perspective at the time of authorship.

The tense episodes of the story are embellished by fascinating descriptive passages. By focusing on details, Lem avoids inducing the illusion of recognition, which commonly disables a reader's imagination. In the same way, he simulates the disordered nature of experience, prompting the sorts of imaginative inferences we make in ordinary life. I recall in particular the way Lem describes the scientific apparatus littering a room or the whites of the eyes of an apparitional 'negress'. This also evokes the highly concentrated perspective symptomatic of emotions of love. Such detail contrasts with the diffuse, blustering front of Snow, Kelvin's first acquaintance on the space station.

Lem in no way succumbs to the tendency of many science fiction writers to portray implausible and obtrusive sociological advancements to match the elegant technological ones of his invention. Those few innovations he makes use of are referred to with a light touch, in a way that does not compromise the coherence of the first person narrative voice.

The fictional scientific advances project the reader into the void-like unknown that resides beyond our current scientific and sociological perspectives. The author alludes to the limitless extent of this enigmatic 'beyond' and its inevitable presence in future human societies and individual consciousnesses. The torrid engagement of the characters on the frontiers of understanding offers insights, especially into the nature of love and the possibilities of "Contact".

In Solaris, more than in many of his other novels, Lem's writing transcends the science fiction genre. In particular, Solaris lacks the flippancy of some of his other works and is better for that.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Contact Lem's, 14 Feb 2003
This review is from: Solaris (FF Classics) (Paperback)
A book which can attract dramatisations by, on the one hand, strokey-beard Russian experimentalist Tarkovsky, and on the other, quasi-Hollywood dream team Clooney and Soderbergh, must be worth a look. Particularly when it's a classic of sci-fi in its own right.
Solaris is set, whether you are reading it now or when it was first published in 1961, at least 150 years in the future and is the story of Kris Kelvin, who travels to the space station orbiting the planet Solaris to prepare a report on the activities and future of the station. Solaris is a planet where the only living organism is the ocean which covers its surface, and which expresses itself in ways ineffable to man and from which he is constantly trying to take meaning. It has given rise to a whole sect of scientists and explorers who term themselves Solarists, and whose fundamental belief is that contact (or "Contact") between humans and the ocean-entity is possible. Lem's main points seem to be the limited ability of mankind to understand other forms of life and their inevitable tendency to anthropomorphise (as I did just then by saying the ocean "expresses itself" - because as humans, we assume that activity must somehow have a purpose), although this shouldn't be confused with misanthropy since, as the character Snow points out to Kelvin, the ocean may no better understand them than they understand it.
There is a suggestion though that the ocean of Solaris has *some* way of knowing its parasites: all the members of the space station have had visitors from their past, created presumably (there I go again) by Solaris. In Kelvin's case this is Rheya, his former lover who killed herself ten years ago at the age of 19, when he left her. She is still 19 now. Kelvin's immediate reactions of guilt and fear melt into something less hostile as he finds that the replacement Rheya has no knowledge of her past or that she is not the real Rheya - and so, effectively, *is* the real one. Eventually a sort of equilibrium is achieved, although the tests his colleagues want to carry out and which could destroy their visitors, leave him torn between forms of knowledge and belief.
What I liked about Solaris was the stately, unhurried pacing, rather like a Shyamalan film; and the matching dispassionate prose, which may have been deliberate or just the result of a combination of Lem's stoical eastern European stylings and the artificial sense of distance that is always a feature of literature in translation. What I liked less about it was the unshakeable feeling that it all could have been done in far fewer pages and with no loss of effect. One difficulty was that the descriptions of the activities of Solaris, because we know early on that there will never be any explanation or understanding for them, come to seem superfluous and slightly boring. So it simply doesn't matter in the end whether the sea's manifestations take the form of (a) throwing up 'symmetriads' made of light stone, or (b) playing the hits of Boney M on the pan pipes. Similarly all the Solarist theory is so much (pink-foam-spewing) marsh gas, imitative scientifickry for the sake of it. Page after page of it.
But it wins me over in the end simply because the book itself displays unknowability that makes it worth revisiting; and because of the considered and ambiguous ending which hefts more emotional weight than you might think in such a cold, cloudless climate.
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Solaris
Solaris by Lem Stanislaw (Paperback - 3 Feb 2003)
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