Solaris (novel)

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Cover of the first edition
AuthorStanisław Lem
Cover artistK.M. Sopoćko
CountryPolish People's Republic
GenreScience fiction
PublisherMON, Walker (US)[1]
Publication date
Published in English
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback)
891.8/537 19
LC ClassPG7158.L392 Z53 1985

Solaris is a 1961 science fiction novel by Polish writer Stanisław Lem. It follows a crew of scientists on a research station as they attempt to understand an extraterrestrial intelligence, which takes the form of a vast ocean on the titular alien planet. The novel is one of Lem's best-known works.[2]

The book has been adapted numerous times for film, radio, and theater. Prominent film adaptations include Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 version and Steven Soderbergh's 2002 version, although Lem later remarked that none of these films reflected the book's thematic emphasis on the limitations of human rationality.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

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 gelatinous material that is revealed to be a single, planet-encompassing entity. Terran scientists conjecture it is a living and 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 on the surface of the ocean. Thus far, the scientists have only compiled an elaborate nomenclature of the phenomena, and do not yet understand what they really mean. Shortly before Kelvin's arrival, the crew 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 this intrusion exposes the deeper, hidden aspects of the personalities of the human scientists, while revealing nothing of the ocean's nature itself. It does this by materializing physical simulacra, including human ones; Kelvin confronts memories of his dead lover and guilt about her suicide. The "guests" of the other researchers are only alluded to. All human efforts to make sense of Solaris's activities 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."[4] Lem also wrote that he deliberately chose to make the sentient alien an ocean to avoid any personification and the pitfalls of anthropomorphism in depicting first contact.[3]


  • The protagonist, Dr. Kris Kelvin, is a psychologist recently arrived from Earth to the space station studying the planet Solaris. He had previously been cohabiting with Harey ("Rheya" in the Kilmartin–Cox translation), who committed suicide when he abandoned their relationship. Her exact double is his visitor aboard the space station and becomes an important character.
  • Snaut ("Snow" in the Kilmartin–Cox translation) is the first person Kelvin meets aboard the station, and his visitor is not shown.
  • Gibarian, who had been an instructor of Kelvin's at university, commits suicide just hours before Kelvin arrives at 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.
  • The last inhabitant Kelvin meets is Sartorius, the most reclusive member of the crew. He shows up only intermittently and is suspicious of the other crew members. Kelvin gets a glimpse of a straw hat that may be Sartorius's visitor.
  • Harey ("Rheya" in the Kilmartin–Cox translation, an anagram of Harey), who killed herself with a lethal injection after quarreling with Kelvin, returns as his visitor. Overwhelmed with conflicting emotions after confronting her, Kelvin lures the first Harey visitor into a shuttle and launches it into outer space to be rid of her. Her fate is unknown to the other scientists. Snaut suggests hailing Harey's shuttle to learn her condition, but Kelvin objects. Harey soon reappears but with no memory of the shuttle incident. Moreover, the second Harey becomes aware of her transient nature and is haunted by being Solaris' 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 Snaut to destroy her with a device developed by Sartorius that disrupts the subatomic structure of the visitors.

Criticism and interpretations[edit]

In an interview, Lem said that the novel "has always been a juicy prey for critics", with interpretations ranging from that of Freudianism, critique of contact and colonialism,[5] to anticommunism, proponents of the latter view holding that the Ocean represents the Soviet Union and the people on the space station represent the satellite countries of Central and Eastern Europe. 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".[6] Lem noted that the critic who promulgated the Freudian idea actually blundered by basing his psychoanalysis on dialogue from the English translation, whereas his diagnosis would fail on the idioms in the original Polish text.[7]

We are humanitarian and chivalrous; we don't want to enslave other races, we simply want to bequeath them our values and take over their heritage in exchange. We think of ourselves as the Knights of the Holy Contact. This is another lie. We are only seeking Man. We have no need of other worlds. We need mirrors.

— Solaris (§6:72), 1970 English translation[5]

English translation[edit]

Various translations of Solaris, including the English one

Both the original Polish version of the novel (published in 1961) and its English translation are titled Solaris. Jean-Michel Jasiensko published his French translation in 1964 and that version was the basis of Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox's English translation (Walker and Company, 1970; Faber and Faber, 1971).[8] Lem, who read English fluently, repeatedly voiced his disappointment with the Kilmartin–Cox version.[9]

In 2011, Bill Johnston completed an English translation from the Polish. Lem's wife and son reviewed this version more favorably: "We are very content with Professor Johnston's work, that seems to have captured the spirit of the original."[10] It was released as an audio book and later in an Amazon Kindle edition (2014, ISBN 978-83-63471-41-5). Legal issues have prevented this translation from appearing in print.[10]






  • The 2009 Polish stage production Solaris: The Report (Polish: Solaris. Raport), TR Warszawa, Poland.[19][20]
  • The British stage production Solaris by Dimitry Devdariani (London, England, 2012).[21]
  • La velocidad del zoom del horizonte, a 2014 play written by David Gaitán and directed by Martín Acosta, premiered in Mexico City, was loosely based on the novel.[22]
  • In 2018 the Theater Magdeburg, Germany, staged an adaptation by Tim Staffel directed by Lucie Berelowitsch[23][24]
  • Solaris (2019 play), premiered in Malthouse Theatre, production of an adaptation by David Greig, in association with Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, that ran in Edinburgh[25] in September–October 2019 and at London's Lyric Hammersmith in October–November 2019.[26] Its protagonist was a woman, and the spaceship crew was gender-balanced.[27]



Solaris has been filmed three times:

Lem himself observed that none of the film versions depict much of the extraordinary physical and psychological "alienness" of the Solaris ocean. Responding to film reviews of Soderbergh's version, Lem, noting that he did not see the film, wrote: my best knowledge, the book was not dedicated to erotic problems of people in outer space... As Solaris' author I shall allow myself to repeat that 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. This is why the book was entitled "Solaris" and not "Love in Outer Space".

Cultural allusions and works based on Solaris[edit]

  • Musician Isao Tomita's 1977 album Kosmos, specifically the track The Sea Named "Solaris", is based on music by Bach featured in Tarkovsky's film. Tomita was inspired by the film and even sent his recording to Tarkovsky.[29]
  • Hungarian rock band Solaris named themselves after the novel.
  • The 1990 Russian ballet Solaris by Sergey Zhukov [ru] (Dnipro Opera and Ballet Theatre).[30]
  • The 1990 Russian drama Solaris. Дознание.[citation needed]
  • The song "Solaris", composed by Ken Andrews, from space rock band Failure's 1996 album Fantastic Planet, summarizes some events from the novel.
  • At the conclusion of the 1997 film Funny Games by Michael Haneke, Peter discusses with Paul the philosophical implications of Solaris.[citation needed]
  • The song "Solaris" from musician Photek's 2000 album Solaris.
  • The Macedonian multimedia project Solaris (Соларис) by Zlatko Slavenski (2007).[31]
  • The 2011 album "Sólaris" by Daníel Bjarnason and Ben Frost was inspired by Tarkovsky's film.[32]
  • The 2017 song "Solaris" by Australian post-rock band Fierce Mild.[33]
  • The 2018 simulation based artwork Surface by Australian artist Oliver Hull[34]
  • The plot of 2021 Icelandic TV series Katla uses central elements from Solaris, appreciably inspired by the novel.[35]
  • The 2021 EP "Solaris" by Politaur.[36]
  • The Solaris is the only synchrotron in Central Europe, and takes its name from the novel.[37]
  • The 2023 album "Sólaris" by Goh Lee Kwang was inspired by Lem's Novel, and takes its name from the novel.[38]

See also[edit]

  • Fiasco – 1986 novel by Stanislaw Lem
  • His Master's Voice – 1968 science fiction novel by Stanisław Lem
  • The Invincible – 1964 science fiction novel by Polish writer Stanisław Lem
  • Ocean planet – Planet containing a significant amount of water or other liquid
  • Penguin Highway – 2010 Japanese science fiction novel by Tomihiko Morimi


  1. ^ "Solaris". Solaris. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  2. ^ Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia, fourth edition (1996), p. 590.
  3. ^ a b c Lem, Stanisław (8 December 2002). "The Solaris Station". Stanislaw Lem. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  4. ^ Stanisław Lem, Fantastyka i Futuriologia, Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1989, vol. 2, p. 365
  5. ^ a b Ann Weinstone (July 1994). "Resisting Monsters: Notes on "Solaris"". Science Fiction Studies. SF-TH Inc. 21 (2): 173–190. JSTOR 4240332. Retrieved 4 February 2021.
  6. ^ Lem's FAQ
  7. ^ Lem's commentary on Solaris
  8. ^ Kellman, Steven G., "Alien autographs: how translators make their marks", in Neohelicon (2010) 37:15 (online).
  9. ^ "Obituary: Stanislaw Lem". The Guardian. 8 April 2006. Retrieved 22 May 2021.
  10. ^ a b Alison Flood, "First ever direct English translation of Solaris published", The Guardian, 15 June 2011
  11. ^ Solaris, 1963, Encyklopedia Teatru Polskiego
  12. ^ Solaris (odcinek 1), 1975, Encyklopedia Teatru Polskiego
  13. ^ Solaris: The Classic Serial
  14. ^ Лем Станислав - Радиоспектакль Солярис
  15. ^ Flood, Alison (15 June 2011). "First ever direct English translation of Solaris published". The Guardian. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  16. ^ Solaris: The Definitive Edition audiobook
  17. ^ Lem, Stanislaw (22 November 2014). Solaris [Kindle Edition] - Bill Johnston (translator). Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  18. ^ "Superprodukcja Solaris - Audioteka".
  19. ^ "Solaris.Raport"
  20. ^ "Ofiary umowności", Agnieszka Rataj, Życie Warszawy, 4 October 2009
  21. ^ Devdariani, Dimitry (2012). "Solaris Play". Dimitry Devdariani. Retrieved 13 July 2013.
  22. ^ La velocidad del ZOOM del horizonte Martín Acosta (full play on YouTube)
  23. ^ SOLARIS von Stanisław Lem | Bühnenfassung von Tim Staffel
  24. ^ "Science Fiction ohne Schnickschnack"
  25. ^ "Solaris - Royal Lyceum Theatre". 12 September 2019. Retrieved 15 September 2019.
  26. ^ "Solaris - Malthouse Theatre". Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  27. ^ "Solaris review – love and loneliness collide in best take yet on sci-fi classic, The Guardian, 15 September 2019
  28. ^ "Stefano Tempia: Incursioni contemporanee, Omaggio a Berio e Correggia, 16-17 giugno 2013 Torino", News Spectaccolo, 14 June 2013
  29. ^ "TATYANA EGOROVA: "EDWARD ARTEMIEV: HE HAS BEEN AND WILL ALWAYS REMAIN A CREATOR..."" - An interview with Eduard Artemyev the author of the music to Tarkovsky's film. Originally published by Muzykalnaya Zhizn ("Musical Life"), No.17, 1988
  30. ^ Размышления после премьеры, at ballet author's website
  31. ^ Le monde du théâtre: édition 2008: un compte-rendu des saison théâtrales 2005-2006 et 2006-2007 dans le monde, 2008, ISBN 9052014582, p.309
  32. ^ "Sólaris". Daníel Bjarnason. 7 November 2011. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  33. ^ "Single of the Day: Fierce Mild "Solaris" (2017) – the AU review". the AU review. 2 February 2017. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  34. ^ "Bus Projects | endless oceaning-image".
  35. ^ "Katla (TV Series 2021– )". IMDb. Retrieved 25 June 2021.
  36. ^ "Politaur - Solaris".
  37. ^ "Cyclotron and Solaris",, March 22, 2017
  38. ^ "Sólaris - appreciably inspired by Stanis​ł​aw Lem's novel"

External links[edit]