Solaris – Stanisław Lem (1961)

Solaris is a 1961 philosophical science fiction novel by Polish writer Stanisław Lem. The central theme of the book is the complete failure of human beings to understand an extraterrestrial intelligence. A team of human scientists is probing and examining the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris from a hovering research station; they in turn are being studied by the sentient planet itself, which probes the thoughts of the humans who are analyzing it. Solaris manifests an ability to cast their secret, guilty concerns into a material form for each scientist to personally confront. All human efforts to make sense of Solaris’ activities ultimately prove futile. As Lem wrote, ‘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’. He also wrote that he deliberately chose the ocean as a sentient alien to avoid any personification and the pitfalls of anthropomorphism in depicting first contact. The novel was first published in Warsaw in 1961. The 1970 Polish-to-French-to-English translation of Solaris is the best-known of Lem’s English-translated works. … Solaris chronicles the ultimate futility of attempted communications with the extraterrestrial life inhabiting a distant alien planet named Solaris. The planet is almost completely covered with an ocean of gel that is revealed to be a single, planet-encompassing organism. Terran scientists conclude it is a sentient being and attempt to communicate with it. Kris Kelvin, a psychologist, arrives aboard Solaris Station, a scientific research station hovering near the oceanic surface of Solaris. The scientists there have studied the planet and its ocean for many decades, mostly in vain. A scientific discipline known as Solaristics has degenerated over the years to simply observing, recording and categorizing the complex phenomena that occur upon the surface of the ocean. Thus far, the scientists have only compiled an elaborate nomenclature of the phenomena, and do not yet understand what such activities really mean. … In an interview, Lem said that the novel ‘has always been a juicy prey for critics’, with interpretations ranging from that of Freudism to anticommunism, the latter stating that the Ocean represents the USSR and the people on the space station represent the Soviet satellites. He also commented on the absurdity of the book cover blurb for the 1976 edition, which said the novel ‘expressed the humanistic beliefs of the author about high moral qualities of the human’. …”
Conceptual Fiction
WIRED: Solaris, Rediscovered
A new translation of Solaris

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