Summary

At last, one of the world’s greatest works of science fiction is available - just as author Stanislaw Lem intended it.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Solaris, Audible, in cooperation with the Lem Estate, has commissioned a brand-new translation, unabridged for the first time, and the first ever direct translation from the original Polish to English. Beautifully narrated by Alessandro Juliani (Battlestar Galactica), Lem’s provocative novel comes alive for a new generation.
In Solaris, Kris Kelvin arrives on an orbiting research station to study the remarkable ocean that covers the planet’s surface. But his fellow scientists appear to be losing their grip on reality, plagued by physical manifestations of their repressed memories. When Kelvin’s long-dead wife suddenly reappears, he is forced to confront the pain of his past - while living a future that never was. Can Kelvin unlock the mystery of Solaris? Does he even want to?
©1961 Stanislaw Lem. Translation © 2011 by Barbara and Tomasz Lem (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
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Critic reviews

"A fantastic book." (Steven Soderbergh)
"[Lem] is one of the most intelligent, erudite, and comic writers working today." (Anthony Burgess)
"Few are [Lem's] peers in poetic expression, in word play, and in imaginative and sophisticated sympathy." (Kurt Vonnegut)
"Juliani transmits Kelvin’s awe at Solaris’s red and blue dawns and makes his confusion palpable when he awakens one morning to find his long-dead wife seated across the room. Juliani’s performance is top-notch." ( AudioFile)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Peter on 16-07-11

Blown away!

Sorry folks. I must be going through a 'purple patch' in terms of my fortunate choice of audio novels. I've not seen the films but no need because this novel paints a vivid and vast techo(colour) canvas. Where have I been all these years not knowing this exceptional writer? Had to listen to some excerpts 4 or more times to get the full meaning, but so much the better (value)! If there is just 1 sci-fi book - GET THIS!!!

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18 of 19 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By K.G. Orphanides on 03-10-15

Seminal SF suffering from patchy narration

Solaris is - as its reputation indicates - an introspective work. It's first and foremost a contemplation of the futility of any human attempt to communicate with a truly alien being. Most of the meat of the narrative is protagonist Dr Kris Kelvin's relationship with his own desires and personal history, set against the backdrop of a research station on an impossibly alien world.

Narrator Alessandro Juliani does a good job of portraying Kelvin and his fellow scientists, but the book is seriously let down by his depiction of Harey, a woman from Kelvin's past who appears on the research station without explanation, and whose presence only leads to deeper mysteries.

The very quiet and unbearably whining voice Juliani gives her was something I found increasingly annoying as the book went on, and it had a negative impact on my enjoyment of the novel, detracting from Harey's complex characterisation.

Translator Bill Johnston has done an outstanding job. He's avoided the problems and changes to the Polish original found in older English editions of the text, which Lem was very critical of. Johnston has in the process also avoided an instance of unnecessarily racist language which appears in the mediocre Kilmartin/Cox translation, but has done so without compromising Lem's harsh characterisation of Kelvin and his fellow scientists, their prejudices and the pettiness of their desires.

Solaris is one of the pillars of the SF canon, and this translation makes for an excellent edition, if you can just get past Harey's voice.

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9 of 12 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Burns on 20-09-11

A comment on negative reviews

I tend to read reviews before I buy a book if it's something I'm not sure about. I've been wanting to read Solaris for ages, so I didn't bother with reviews when this became available. If I had read the reviews, I might have skipped it. While many are positive, there are also a number of negative reviews with some pretty consistent criticisms.

In response that there are long periods of technical description that serve no purpose to the story: I can understand where that sentiment is coming from, but I think these sections are necessary and serve the story in the following ways. For one, they perpetuate the mystery of the planet. Whenever this would happen, I would try to imagine what they were describing. If you've ever stared out at the ocean in awe of the size and mystery of it, this is the type of feeling these sections evoke. It also acts as foreshadowing. The first part that describes the unique properties of Solaris also sets the stage for the paranoia and strange encounters the main character deals with when he first lands on the station. The following descriptions of strange phenomona on the planet hint at the bizarre circumstances on the station, etc. It's subtle, but for me it definitely shaped the way I thought about what was happening in the story. If it wasn't there, one might think this was a ghost story, or a hallucination.

In response to the criticism that the characters do not react realistically, or like scientists: While this is true at times, I think the reviewers are dismissing the environment that these people are in. Like I mentioned above, the characters are experiencing such bizarre events that the first thoughts one might have are that they are hallucinating or dreaming. Two characters have been living like that, the other is suddenly thrust into it. I don't think it's fair to criticize their reactions as being unrealistic when what they are experiencing is irrational.

Also, I wish I could give 6 stars to the narrator, Alessando Juliani. He gave a magnificent performance, especially with the wife, Harey. I'm always nervous when male narrators attempt female voices, but this was done masterfully.

This story is about humans trying to interact with something that is so utterly alien that we can't even understand how it exists. It's about relationships, specifically the complicated one between Kelvin and his wife, but also between humanity and Solaris. Can you even assign motives to such a being? Is it even alive? I was genuinely surprised by the finesse and emotional depth of this book. I was also frequently swept up in the majesty and fear of the living ocean as described in the book. It was a truly unique experience, and a real treat to listen to. If any of this sounds interesting to you, I can't recommend this book highly enough.

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210 of 218 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Ryan on 14-04-12

Profound

I watched the film adaptation with George Clooney a few years ago, but wasn’t overly impressed. I probably would have skipped the book, but Luke at the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast recently convinced me it was worth reading (listening to), and I’m glad I did.

Forget the movie -- the original novel has more dimensions and more subtlety. It’s a work of science fiction at its most cerebral, full of challenging questions about the nature of higher order beings, mind, consciousness, morality, and meaning.

Compared to Lem’s vision, most novels about contact with aliens are downright pedestrian. Here, the “living ocean” that covers the world called Solaris is entirely incomprehensible, despite years of study by scientists. All anyone really knows about it is that it’s beyond human understanding, and defies all human expectations of how an advanced being might behave. Is it a conscious creature? A physical process too complex to understand? Something godlike?

Lem leads us into these questions through the planet’s interactions with a scientist who travels to a research station there. Not long after arrival, he finds himself haunted by an apparition of his dead wife, who seems to have been generated from his own memories, and understands little about herself (the gender dynamics are a bit dated, but whatever). Is she human? Alien? A conscious attempt at contact by Solaris, or an unconscious projection of the scientist’s own psyche?

The plot has a sparsity that puts the primary focus on the protagonist’s inner voice. There are other characters on the station, but they spend a lot of time withdrawn into dealing with their own apparitions, and are present in the story only enough to suggest actions and add a layer of madness (and/or clarity) to Kelvin's psychological drama. In fact, we learn more about the physics of the weird structures that form out of the ocean than we do about these companions (though I found that part strangely fascinating).

I can see why this book has remained so influential -- it explores some profound questions at a depth few other science fiction writers have come close to, even fifty years later. Lem leaves his answers tantalizingly ambiguous, allowing readers to find their own subtexts. Depending on how you read it, this could be a work about the idea of contact with aliens, or it could be about contact with others, period. It could be about guilt and regret. It could be about existential loneliness, man’s search for God, or the limitations of our ability to understand the universe, or even ourselves. There are many intertwining themes.

Obviously, a novel this philosophical isn’t for everyone, but if you appreciate science fiction that gets you to ponder, it’s not a long read, and I think it’s worth your time.

The “definitive” audiobook production is excellent. The actor Alessandro Juliani, who played Lt. Gaeta in the most recent Battlestar Galactica series, has a soft-spoken but firm voice that suits the text very well.

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63 of 69 people found this review helpful

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