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Solaris by Stanisław Lem | Audiobook | Audible.com



Solaris: A Classic Science Fiction Novel by Stanisław Lem




If you are a fan of science fiction, you have probably heard of Solaris, a novel by the Polish author Stanisław Lem. Published in 1961, Solaris is widely regarded as one of the most influential and original works in the genre, exploring themes such as communication, identity, memory, and alienation. It tells the story of a human expedition to a mysterious planet covered by a sentient ocean that can create physical manifestations of their subconscious memories. The novel has been adapted several times into films and audio versions, each with its own interpretation and vision. In this article, we will give you an overview of Solaris, its plot, its themes, its adaptations, and its legacy. We will also give you some reasons why you should read or watch Solaris if you haven't already.




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The Plot of Solaris




The novel follows Kris Kelvin, a psychologist who arrives at a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. He is sent there to investigate why the previous crew members have been acting strangely and sending incomprehensible reports. He soon discovers that they are haunted by "visitors", physical replicas of people from their pasts, created by the ocean that covers most of Solaris. Kelvin himself is confronted by his dead wife Rheya, who committed suicide after he left her. He initially tries to get rid of her, but then becomes attached to her, even though he knows she is not real. He also learns more about Solaris from his colleagues, Dr. Sartorius and Dr. Snaut, who have their own visitors. They tell him that Solaris is an ancient and incomprehensible intelligence that has been studied for decades by humans, but without any success. They also reveal that they have been experimenting with a device called "the annihilator", which can send signals to the ocean in an attempt to communicate with it or influence it.


The novel alternates between Kelvin's personal experiences with Rheya and his scientific inquiries into Solaris. He reads the books and reports left by the previous researchers, who have proposed various theories and hypotheses about the nature and purpose of the ocean. He also watches some films that show the bizarre and beautiful phenomena that occur on the surface of Solaris, such as giant symmetrical structures that defy the laws of physics. He wonders if the ocean is trying to communicate with humans, or if it is just reacting to their presence. He also questions his own sanity and identity, as he feels more and more drawn to Rheya, who seems to have a will and personality of her own, despite being a product of his memory. He faces a dilemma: should he accept her as a new reality, or should he reject her as an illusion?


The Themes of Solaris




Solaris is not a typical science fiction novel that focuses on action, adventure, or technology. Rather, it is a philosophical and psychological novel that uses science fiction as a means to explore the human condition and the limits of knowledge. Some of the main themes that Lem addresses in Solaris are:


Communication and the Limits of Language




One of the central questions that Solaris poses is: can we ever truly communicate with an alien intelligence? The novel shows the failure and frustration of human attempts to understand and interact with the ocean, which remains silent and enigmatic throughout. The ocean does not respond to any of the messages or signals that humans send to it, nor does it seem to have any interest in them. The only way it communicates is by creating the visitors, but their meaning and intention are unclear. Are they a form of contact, a form of attack, a form of experiment, or a form of indifference? The novel suggests that human language and logic are inadequate and irrelevant when faced with such a radically different and superior being. As Dr. Snaut says: "We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don't know what to do with other worlds."


Identity and the Role of Memory




Another theme that Solaris explores is: how do we define ourselves and our relationships with others? The novel shows how the visitors challenge and change the identities and memories of the human characters, who have to deal with their pasts in a new and unexpected way. Kelvin, for example, has to confront his guilt and grief over his wife's death, and his ambivalence over his love for her. He also has to accept that Rheya is not really his wife, but a copy based on his incomplete and inaccurate memory of her. Rheya herself has to cope with the fact that she is not human, but a creation of the ocean, and that she has no past or future apart from Kelvin. She also has to deal with the gaps and inconsistencies in her memory, which make her feel insecure and suicidal. The novel suggests that our identities and memories are not fixed or reliable, but fluid and subjective, and that they can be influenced and manipulated by external forces.


Alienation and the Search for Meaning




A third theme that Solaris examines is: what is the purpose and value of human existence in an indifferent universe? The novel shows the isolation and despair of the human characters, who are trapped in a remote and hostile environment, surrounded by an incomprehensible and indifferent being. They have no hope or goal, except to survive and escape from their visitors. They also have no connection or empathy with each other, as they are consumed by their own problems and secrets. They are alienated from themselves, from each other, and from the world. The novel suggests that human life is meaningless and absurd in the face of cosmic mystery and indifference.


The Adaptations of Solaris




Solaris has been adapted several times into different media formats, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Some of the most notable adaptations are:


The 1972 Film by Andrei Tarkovsky




The 2002 Film by Steven Soderbergh




The second film adaptation of Solaris was made by the American director Steven Soderbergh in 2002. It stars George Clooney as Kelvin and Natascha McElhone as Rheya. It is a much shorter and simpler version of the novel, focusing more on the romance and drama between Kelvin and Rheya, rather than on the philosophical and psychological issues. It also changes some details of the plot and the characters, such as making Kelvin a psychiatrist rather than a psychologist, and making Rheya his wife rather than his lover. The film also uses more realistic and modern visual effects and sets, rather than the abstract and futuristic ones of the novel and the previous film. The film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences, some praising its emotional impact and visual style, others criticizing its lack of depth and originality.


The 2011 Audiobook by Bill Johnston




The first direct English translation of Solaris from Polish was made by Bill Johnston, a professor at Indiana University, in 2011. It was published as an audiobook by Audible, narrated by Alessandro Juliani, who played Gaeta in Battlestar Galactica. It is a faithful and accurate translation of the novel, restoring Lem's original language and meaning that were lost or altered in the previous English version, which was translated from French. It also captures the tone and mood of the novel, using a clear and elegant style that conveys both the scientific and poetic aspects of Lem's writing. The audiobook received positive reviews from fans and critics, who praised Johnston's work and Juliani's performance. However, due to legal issues, it has not been released as a print or ebook edition yet.


The Legacy of Solaris




Solaris is not only a classic science fiction novel, but also a cultural phenomenon that has influenced and inspired many other works and authors in the genre and beyond. Some of the aspects of its legacy are:


The Reception and Criticism of Solaris




Solaris has received both praise and criticism from various sources since its publication. On the one hand, it has been acclaimed as a masterpiece of science fiction literature, a profound and original exploration of the human condition and the limits of knowledge. It has also been recognized as a landmark of Polish literature and culture, a reflection of Lem's own experiences and views under the communist regime. On the other hand, it has also been criticized as a boring and confusing novel, a pretentious and obscure exercise in philosophy and psychology. It has also been accused of being sexist and misogynist, portraying women as passive and dependent objects of male desire and guilt.


The Influence and Inspiration of Solaris




Solaris has influenced and inspired many other works and authors in science fiction literature and culture. Some examples are:



  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), a film by Stanley Kubrick, which shares some similarities with Solaris, such as the theme of human-alien encounter, the use of classical music, and the presence of a mysterious monolith.



  • The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), a novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, which explores the theme of communication and understanding between different cultures and genders.



  • Contact (1985), a novel by Carl Sagan, which deals with the theme of communication and contact with an alien intelligence.



  • Blindsight (2006), a novel by Peter Watts, which features a similar premise to Solaris, involving a human expedition to a planet inhabited by an incomprehensible alien entity.



  • Annihilation (2014), a novel by Jeff VanderMeer, which depicts a mysterious area called Area X that creates bizarre phenomena and mutations.



  • Arrival (2016), a film by Denis Villeneuve, which focuses on the theme of communication and language with an alien species.



The Future and Relevance of Solaris




Solaris is a novel that will continue to resonate with future generations and challenges, as it raises timeless and universal questions about the human condition and the nature of reality. It also anticipates some of the issues and developments that we face today and tomorrow, such as:



  • The ethical and moral implications of artificial intelligence and biotechnology, especially in relation to human identity and memory.



  • The environmental and ecological consequences of human interference and exploitation of nature, especially in relation to alien life forms.



  • The social and psychological effects of isolation and alienation in a globalized and digitalized world, especially in relation to communication and meaning.



Conclusion




In conclusion, Solaris is a novel that deserves to be read or watched by anyone who is interested in science fiction, literature, philosophy, or psychology. It is a novel that challenges and enriches the mind and the soul, offering a unique and unforgettable experience. It is also a novel that invites and rewards multiple readings or viewings, as it reveals new layers and nuances each time. Whether you prefer the original novel by Lem, or one of the adaptations by Tarkovsky, Soderbergh, or Johnston, you will not regret diving into the world of Solaris.


FAQs




Here are some frequently asked questions about Solaris:



  • What is the meaning of the title Solaris?



The title Solaris refers to the name of the planet that is covered by a sentient ocean. The name is derived from the Latin word for "sun", which suggests a connection between the planet and the star. The title also implies a contrast between the brightness and warmth of the sun and the darkness and coldness of the space station.


  • What is the genre of Solaris?



Solaris is a science fiction novel, but it also belongs to other genres, such as psychological fiction, philosophical fiction, and existential fiction. It combines elements of science, philosophy, psychology, and art to create a complex and rich narrative.


  • Who is Stanisław Lem?



Stanisław Lem was a Polish writer who was born in 1921 and died in 2006. He is considered one of the most important and influential science fiction writers of all time. He wrote over 40 books, including novels, short stories, essays, and criticism. Some of his other famous works are The Cyberiad, The Futurological Congress, The Star Diaries, and The Invincible.


  • What are some of the symbols and motifs in Solaris?



Some of the symbols and motifs that appear in Solaris are:



  • The ocean: It represents the alien intelligence that is beyond human comprehension and communication. It also represents the subconscious mind that can create and project memories and emotions.



  • The visitors: They represent the physical manifestations of the human characters' memories and desires. They also represent the ethical and moral dilemmas that they face.



  • The library: It represents the human attempt to understand and document Solaris. It also represents the futility and arrogance of human knowledge.



  • The films: They represent the human fascination and curiosity with Solaris. They also represent the aesthetic and artistic aspects of Solaris.



  • The mirror: It represents the reflection and introspection that Solaris provokes in the human characters. It also represents the distortion and illusion that Solaris creates.



  • What are some of the quotes from Solaris?



Some of the quotes from Solaris are:



  • "We take off into the cosmos, ready for anything: for solitude, for hardship, for exhaustion, death. Modesty forbids us to say so, but there are times when we think pretty well of ourselves. And yet, if we examine it more closely, our enthusiasm turns out to be all sham. We don't want to conquer the cosmos, we simply want to extend the boundaries of Earth to the frontiers of the cosmos."



  • "We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors. We don't know what to do with other worlds."



  • "Man has gone out to explore other worlds without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed."



  • "There are no answers, only choices."



  • "I wanted her to exist. And therefore she existed."

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