Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

A single organism, similar to an ocean, covers the planet of Solaris. The mysterious forma has shown signs of a supreme yet incomprehensible intelligence, an enigma that has been subject to numerous theories and interpretations by researchers. Numerous voyages to the planet have only resulted in mere descriptions and further questions. What scientists did not realize was that they were the subject of the alien’s fascination.

The novel blasts off with Kris Kelvin, a psychologist, on his ship called the Prometheus arriving in the Solaris Station. The hub is in complete disarray, Gibarian has killed himself, and the other two scientists, Sartorius and Snow are behaving strangely, one barricading himself in the laboratory and the latter acting manic.

Kelvin attempts to find out what happened by looking through the dead researcher’s belongings and questioning Snow, who does not give him any answers. In order to check if he is merely hallucinating, he pits himself against the computer and finds out that the situation in the station are very real. Phantoms in human form appear, the most striking of whom is one who takes the shape of Kelvin’s dead lover, Rheya. It is clear that her manifestation is not her ghost, but based on his memories since she asks him about people he had met after her death. Her presence upsets him, not only because it comes from the organism but also because he carries the guilt of her suicide. He sets her back to space, only to have another one appear without any recollection of what had happened.

Kelvin begins a relationship with the replica and he tells her of the ‘original’ version, which frustrates her. However, their liaison comes to a tragic end and a flower blooms from his hand. Though the mystery of Solaris seems to have been solved, Kelvin is aware that it is merely another hypothesis in a series of many and that the ambiguity of creatures beyond our world will remain. Thus, man’s efforts to comprehend the alien and supernatural is ultimately futile, but in doing so, run further away from facing his own nature. Therefore, mans search for answers is merely a search for the meaning of one’s humanity.

Veering away from the standard ‘alien’ images that are mere caricatures of man, Polish author Stanislaw Lem, preferred to create a story steeped in philosophy and irony. He viewed most popular science fiction creations as shallow and only depicting exaggerated versions of the world and favored the style of traditional Eastern European fantasy.

Lem’s work did not gain the same  popular in mainstream and Western Science Fiction circles, since it does not follow the formulaic format of heart-pumping action, humanoid aliens or data-filled narrations.

However, Solaris, published in 1970, still has a strong following and was made into two films. The first version was by the Russian experimental director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972, and also in 2002 by Steven Soderbergh featuring George Clooney.

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