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.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
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.
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
If one could rate Lem's descriptions of the planet Solaris and its ocean as stylistic invention, I would have to give the author 5 stars. In Snuff, one of Terry Pratchett’s characters asks another who we presume is Jane Austen (personification) how she could be “a successful author if all the words in the language have already been invented and only their order could be different.” Well, that is kind of the magic of good writing isn’t it? Lem concocts words from those that are familiar but that is not his magic. It is how he strings these inventions into the strings of narrative and description that add a vision to and beauty of a story that I found hard to compare to anything that I have recently read or listened to.
I love science fiction. It is certainly in my top three favorite genres. I probably read more SF/fantasy than any other. However, I always feel the need to fall back to the classics of literature for a fix of human depth, love and relationships, three ingredients that seem to be less than fully satisfying in SF. They were not lacking in Solaris. For some readers, these might have been for them a central focus. If the book was at all character-driven, for me, it would have to have been for as much the character of the human protagonist as it was for that of the alien. And what is so incredible, we know almost nothing about this indescribable alien except for how it manifests itself in the form of the protagonist's deceased wife.
The relationship between the protagonist and his deceased wife/alien-embodiment is beautifully and tenderly rendered. The relationship is a fluid one. In the beginning it is one so adversarial our hero tries to kill her embodiment and later he is willing to die for her [sic]. Both the descriptions and narrative could be tumultuous and serene at the same time. It is this fluidity, including if not especially of that of the changes in the ocean of the planet, that continually adds interest, suspense and mystery to the story. It has been a long time since I have really cared about a character in a book. In fact, it was years ago when I almost stopped reading beyond the first book of the Game of Thrones because all the good characters kept getting killed off and it was downright depressing. How astonishing that I cared at least as much for the alien of Solaris as I did for its hero.
The story is as much a thrilling ghost story and gripping psychological drama as it is science fiction. One need not be a nerdy lover of SF to appreciate Solaris. The book is hauntingly elegant and intelligently written by any standard. It is the story of love, love lost and remorse. It is an exploration of our humanity and the failure at times to find it.
The dialogue was totally credible and, with its sense of time and place, made the story that much more believable. Lem’s descriptions totally transported me to the quiet and loneliness of the orbit above Solaris and its sentient ocean below. While its emotive range never really conjured up much in the way of wit or humor, the story plumed the depths of my soul for almost every other emotion. This is not a story fraught with gratuitous violence and excitement for the sake of what sells many books. And yet, the story is exciting from the very beginning. I did not want it to end. While one was left with more questions than answers, the ending was most satisfying. In fact, it was perfect.
This story is half a century old and still, it not only holds up well in contemporary SF, it stands up head and shoulders above much of what is written today in any fictional genre. This is a masterpiece. I could not recommend a book more highly.
Doctor of misanthropy
I just never realized that anyone else thought so.
I have read the original, bad translation two or three times, have seen the original movie about five times, and the "has little to do with the book or original movie" remake more times than I'd like to admit (one).
It is outstanding that a new read and translation has been done. Listened to an hour so far; love both the translation and the narrator.
Thank you, Audible, for bringing this one to us.
Love having someone read me a story. Fires in the hearth, rain on the roof, sunny days and surf. Good friends, good food and J S Bach.
A great story, well read.
This was my First Contact with Lem Stanislaw. No long slow introductions, just docking to the Station and we are in. Good writing..
The story jumps right in with a puzzle and ends with another question. It is not so much the technical toys but more the assumptions of science, human rationalism, human response to the wonder of discovery and a person's darkest fears/doubts that comes under scrutiny.It keeps this story as fresh as tomorrow. Thanks Audible and previous reviewers.
I've heard of Stanislaw Lem but never read his work until now. Solaris is 50 years old but could have been written last summer. With the exception of some basic terminology, it's just as fresh as anything written by my other favorites, Robert Charles Wilson and Peter F. Hamilton. Wow! Wow! and Wow! Brainy stuff for thinking people. Shout out to Alessandro!: BSG rocked the world, my friend!-- Thanks for some all too rare great television. You read the book very well, especially Snaut. Here's hoping for more Audible gigs.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
I'm kinda giddy about both starting and finishing this on June 5, 2012 (Transit of Venus). I figure if I can measure how long it takes me to read this novel in English and French and Polish, I might be able to figure out the exact distance from Solaris to my Brain. Obviously, this is not science fiction meant to be read by teens, waiting for the next evolution of the Twilight series or Fablehaven or whatever teenagers read now. This is Big Mamma Science Fiction dealing with big issues using philosophy and poetry to communicate both the strangeness of mankind and the gentle waves of the Universe. Being a translation, the reader (or listener) is only able to capture an incomplete shadow of Lem's original text. However, if the shadow is any indication, the height of Solaris in Polish must have been a mimoid on a grand scale.
I had not read any Lem before, and had to use some Audible credits. This came up as a "classic" in SF and so I gave it a shot. Wow. What a brilliant story. I'll have to get the written version now and go through it again, it was that good.
As far as the audio book goes, the narration was quite good, but not as excellent as some of the other books I have heard through Audible. My biggest annoyance was with the narrator's attempt at a female voice. If I actually read the book, it will be hard for me to get that depiction of Harey out of my head. But otherwise this was a very entertaining listen.
I was intrigued by this book and the movie versions, but had not made the jump until it came up here.
I was not disappointed. This is a beautifully written and intelligent story. I was drawn in right from the beginning. The narration is outstanding - although it is really a performance - it is more like a wonderful radio play. The story does end somewhat abruptly without a neat resolution - that is the intent - the story is thought provoking. I loved it, although it is also disturbing in parts. I agree with the reviewer who said it could have been written last week, apart from minor issues. These do not detract from the story at all. This book will be read for many, many years to come. It is a classic.
This is Audible at its absolute best. This story will not be for everyone, but it deserves a very wide audience. Highly recommended.
Wonderfully narrated -- actually one of the best narrators I've ever heard! So many voices were used that it was more like a radio show than a book reading. The story had a very good beginning but it began to drag after a while. Still good... it kept me reading, but I was waiting for more action that did not come. The end was o k a y . Just kind of petered off instead of a real conclusion but there was some interesting philosophy presented, so it was still good. The first and last chapters were the best.