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Solaris (novel)

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Cover artist  K.M. Sopoćko
Publisher  MON, Walker (US)
Published in English  1970
Author  Stanisław Lem
Genre  Science Fiction

Country  Poland
Publication date  1961
Originally published  1961
Page count  204
Original language  Polish
Solaris (novel) t3gstaticcomimagesqtbnANd9GcTekYXOGgErLpJbb
Media type  Print (hardcover and paperback) Audio
Adaptations  Solaris (1972), Solaris (2002), Solaris (1968), Revisiting Solaris (2007)
Similar  Works by Stanisław Lem, Polish Language books, Science Fiction books

Solaris novel

Solaris is a 1961 philosophical science fiction novel by Polish writer Stanisław Lem. The book centers upon the themes of the nature of human memory, experience and the ultimate inadequacy of communication between human and non-human species.


In probing and examining the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris from a hovering research station the human scientists are, in turn, being apparently 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 cast their secret, guilty concerns into a material 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 is almost completely covered with an ocean that is revealed to be a single, planet-encompassing organism. Terran scientists concluded it is a sentient being and are attempting communication with it.

Kris Kelvin arrives aboard Solaris Station, a scientific research station hovering near the oceanic surface of the planet Solaris. The scientists there have studied the planet and its ocean for many decades, mostly in vain. A scientific discipline known as Solaristics over the years has degenerated to simply observing, recording and categorizing the complex phenomena that occur upon the surface of the ocean. Thus far, they have only compiled an elaborate nomenclature of the phenomena — yet do not understand what such activities really mean. 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 intrusion exposes the deeper, hidden aspects of the personalities of the human scientists — while 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 simulacra, including human ones; Kelvin confronts memories of his dead lover and guilt about her suicide. The torments of the other researchers are only alluded to.

The ocean’s intelligence expresses physical phenomena in ways difficult for the protagonists to explain using conventional scientific method, which deeply upsets the scientists. The alien mind of Solaris is so greatly different from the human mind 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 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.

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; Kelvin only gets a glimpse of a straw hat.

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.

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'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 Snaut to destroy her with a Sartorius-developed device that disrupts the sub-atomic structure of the visitors.

Cinematic adaptations

Solaris has been filmed three times:

  • Solaris (1968), directed by Boris Nirenburg. Follows the plot quite closely, and keeps the emphasis on the planet rather than the human relationships.
  • Solaris (1972), directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The film loosely follows the novel's plot, emphasizing the human relationships instead of author 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), directed by Steven Soderbergh, starring George Clooney and produced by James Cameron, also emphasizing the human relationships — and again excluding Lem's scientific and philosophical themes.
  • Lem himself observed that none of the film versions depict much of the extraordinary physical and psychological "alienness" of the Solaris ocean:

    Criticism and interpretations

    In an interview Lem commented that the novel "has always been a juicy prey for critics", with interpretations ranging from that of Freudism to the anticommunism, the latter stating that the Ocean is the USSR and people on the space station are the Soviet satellites. He also commented on the absurdity of the book cover blurb for the 1976 edition that the novel "expressed the humanistic beliefs of the author about high moral qualities of the human". Lem noted that the critic who promulgated the Freudist idea actually fell into a blunder, because he based his psychoanalysis on dialogues from the English translation, whereas his diagnosis would fail on the idioms in the original text.

    Cultural allusions

  • Musician Tomita's album (1978), Kosmos, Track (The Sea Named "Solaris"), is based on the music by Bach featured in Tarkovsky's film.
  • The Hungarian rock band Solaris named themselves after the novel.
  • The German opera Solaris by Michael Obst (Munich Biennale, Germany) (1996).
  • Space rock band Failure's album (1996), Fantastic Planet, Track 9 (Solaris, composed by Ken Andrews), summarizes some events in the novel.
  • Funny Games (1997) film by Michael Haneke, in the movies conclusion, Peter discusses with Paul the philosophical implications of Solaris
  • Musician Photek's album (2000), Solaris, Track 7 (Solaris).
  • The Macedonian multimedia project Solaris (Соларис) by Zlatko Slavenski (Macedonia) (2007).
  • The British BBC Radio 4 version Solaris by Hattie Naylor (2 one-hour episodes) (2007).
  • The Polish stage production Solaris: The Report (according to Życie Warszawy) (TR Warszawa, Poland) (2009).
  • The Italian opera Solaris by Henry Correggia (Torino, Italy) (2011).
  • The Austrian opera Solaris by Detlev Glanert (Bregenzer Festspiele, Austria) (2012).
  • The British stage production Solaris by Dimitry Devdariani (London, England) (2012).
  • The Song Solaris by Australian Post-Rock band Fierce Mild (2017).
  • 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 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. Since Lem sold his rights to the book to his Polish publishers, an improved English book translation seemed unlikely. 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, 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 (ISBN 978-1-937624-66-8 ) of the Johnston translation followed.


    Solaris (novel) Wikipedia