|Publisher||MON, Walker (US)|
|Published in English||1970|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)
|Dewey Decimal||891.8/537 19|
|LC Classification||PG7158.L392 Z53 1985|
In probing and examining the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris from a hovering research station the human scientists are, in turn, being studied by the sentient planet itself, which probes for and examines the thoughts of the human beings who are analyzing it. Solaris has the ability to manifest their secret, guilty concerns in human form, for each scientist to personally confront.
Solaris is one of Lem’s philosophic explorations of man’s anthropomorphic limitations. 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.
Plot summary 
Solaris chronicles the ultimate futility of attempted communications with the extraterrestrial life on a far-distant planet. Solaris, with whom Terran scientists are attempting communication, is almost completely covered with an ocean that is revealed to be a single, planet-encompassing organism. What appear to be waves on its surface are later revealed to be the equivalents of muscle contractions.
Kris Kelvin arrives aboard the scientific research station hovering (via anti-gravity generators) near the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris. The scientists there have studied the planet and its ocean for many decades, a scientific discipline known as Solaristics, which over the years has degenerated to simply observe, record and categorize the complex phenomena that occur upon the surface of the ocean. Thus far, they have only achieved the formal classification of the phenomena with an elaborate nomenclature — yet do not understand what such activities really mean in a strictly scientific sense. Shortly before psychologist Kelvin's arrival, the crew has exposed the ocean to a more aggressive and unauthorized experimentation with a high-energy X-ray bombardment. Their experimentation gives unexpected results and becomes psychologically traumatic for them as individually flawed humans.
The ocean's response to their aggression exposes the deeper, hidden aspects of the personalities of the human scientists — whilst revealing nothing of the ocean’s nature itself. To the extent that the ocean’s actions can be understood, the ocean then seems to test the minds of the scientists by confronting them with their most painful and repressed thoughts and memories. It does this via the materialization of physical human simulacra; Kelvin confronts memories of his dead lover and guilt about her suicide. The torments of the other researchers are only alluded to but seem even worse than Kelvin’s personal purgatory.
The ocean’s intelligence expresses physical phenomena in ways difficult for their limited earth science to explain, deeply upsetting the scientists. The alien (extraterrestrial) mind of Solaris is so greatly different from the human mind of (objective) consciousness that attempts at inter-species communications are a dismal failure.
The protagonist, Dr. Kris Kelvin, is a psychologist recently arrived from Earth to the space station studying the planet Solaris. He was married to Rheya (Harey in the original Polish), who committed suicide when he abandoned their marriage. Her exact double is his visitor aboard the space station and becomes an important character.
Snow (Snaut in Polish) is the first person Kelvin meets aboard the station, and his visitor is not shown. The last inhabitant Kelvin meets is Sartorius, the most reclusive member of the crew. He shows up only intermittently and is always suspicious of the other crewmembers. His visitor remains anonymous, yet there are indications it might be a child with a straw hat.
Until recently, there was also another member of the crew, Gibarian, who had been an instructor of Kelvin's at university, and who committed suicide just hours before Kelvin came to the station. Gibarian's visitor was a "giant Negress" who twice appears to Kelvin; first in a hallway soon after his arrival, and then while he is examining Gibarian's cadaver. She seems to be unaware of the other humans she meets, or she simply chooses to ignore them.
Rheya, who killed herself with a lethal injection after quarrelling with Kelvin, returns as his visitor. Overwhelmed with conflicting emotions after confronting her, Kelvin lures the Rheya visitor into a shuttle and launches it into outer space to be rid of her. Her fate is unknown to the other scientists. Snow suggests hailing Rheya's shuttle to learn her condition, but Kelvin objects. Rheya soon reappears but with no memory of the shuttle incident. Moreover, the second Rheya becomes aware of her transient nature and is haunted by being Solaris's means-to-an-end, affecting Kelvin in unknown ways. After listening to a tape recording by Gibarian, and so learning her true nature, she attempts suicide by drinking liquid oxygen. This fails because her body is made of neutrinos, stabilized by some unknown force field, and has both incredible strength and the ability to quickly regenerate from all injuries. She subsequently convinces Snow to destroy her with a Sartorius-developed device that disrupts the sub-atomic structure of the constructs (visitors) and prevents their reappearance.
Cinematic adaptations 
Solaris has been filmed three times:
- Solaris (1968 TV film), directed by Boris Nirenburg.
- Solaris (1972 film), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The film loosely follows the novel’s plot, emphasizing the human relationships instead of Lem’s astrobiology theories — especially Kelvin’s Earth life, before his space travel to the planet. The film won the Grand Prix at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival.
- Solaris (2002 film), directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring George Clooney and produced by James Cameron, emphasizes the relationship between Kelvin and his dead wife — again excluding Lem's scientific and philosophic themes.
Lem himself observed that neither film depicts much of the extraordinary physical and psychological "alienness" of the Solaris ocean: "I only wanted to create a vision of a human encounter with something that certainly exists, in a mighty manner perhaps, but cannot be reduced to human concepts, ideas or images".
Theatrical adaptations 
"Solaris.Raport" directed by Natalia Korczakowska in TR Warszawa, October 2009 http://www.trwarszawa.pl/wydarzenia/solaris
Solaris receives its theatrical premiere in the UK at the Courtyard Theatre, London throughout November 2012.
- Solaris (2012 play), directed by Dimitri Devdariani. The play explores the novel's philosophical themes & the human encounter with the 'alien'.
Cultural allusions 
- The Hungarian progressive rock band Solaris named themselves after the novel.
- The German opera Solaris, by Michael Obst.
- Życie Warszawy of 25 August 2009 reported that TR Warszawa (former Teatr Rozmaitości on Marszałkowska Street) was preparing a theatrical adaptation: 'Solaris. The Report', directed by Natalia Korczakowska for October 2009.
- Musician Photek released an album titled Solaris in 2000; track 7 is the Solaris title track.
- Track 9 of the 90s space rock band Failure's third album, titled Fantastic Planet, is named after the novel, and summarizes some events; Ken Andrews composed the Solaris song.
- Isao Tomita’s 1978 album Kosmos features a track titled “The Sea Named ‘Solaris’ ”, based upon the character-thematic J. S. Bach music selections in Tarkovsky’s film.
English translation 
Both the original Polish version of the novel (first published in 1961) and its original English translation are titled Solaris. Jean-Michel Jasiensko published his Polish-to-French translation in 1964 and that version was the basis of Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox's English translation of 1970 (published by Walker & Co., and republished many times since). Lem himself, who read English fluently, repeatedly voiced his disappointment about the Kilmartin/Cox version and it has generally been considered second-rate. Lem frequently expressed the wish for an improved English translation to be done and made available. He had, however, sold his rights to the book to his Polish publishers. Always remaining in print, the rights to it never reverted to the author.
- ISBN 0-8027-5526-7 (1970)
- ISBN 0-15-683750-1 (1987)
- ISBN 0-15-602760-7 (2002)
- ISBN 0-571-21972-1 (2003)
On 7 June 2011, Audible.com released the first direct Polish-to-English translation as an audiobook download narrated by Alessandro Juliani. The original Polish text was translated into English by Bill Johnston, with the approval of Lem's estate. An ebook edition (eISBN 978-1-937624-66-8 ) of the Johnston translation followed.
See also 
- His Master's Voice, Fiasco, The Invincible - some of Lem's other novels with similar themes (the futile attempt at communication with alien phenomena which possess apparent traits of intelligence)
- Ocean planet
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Solaris (novel)|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Solaris|
- Solaris book page on Stanisław Lem's official site
- Stanisław Lem's essay on Solaris, ibid.
- Study Guide for Stanisław Lem: Solaris (1961), by Paul Brians, Department of English, Washington State University
- Solaris by Stanisław Lem, reviewed by Ted Gioia (Conceptual Fiction)