Review of ‘Solaris’ by Stanisław Lem

This book is a famous science fiction classic. I felt like I was maybe not clever enough to understand it. I did enjoy some of it (i.e. when things were happening) but there were many long paragraphs of pseudo-scientific discussion which were dull. I realise that the translation may be partly to blame but the book would have made a better impression on me if there was more action and less philosophising.

The story is narrated by Kelvin, who arrives at a research station above the planet Solaris. Many scientists have studied the planet and not been able to agree on their theories about the ocean, which seems to be a life-form. They haven’t been able to communicate with it and interest has waned. When Kelvin gets there, he finds the station is eerie, with one scientist dead and the other two acting strangely. Then Kelvin’s wife appears. She seems real, but she died years ago.

Solaris itself is intriguing, mysterious, the restless ocean bathed in red and blue light from the two suns. I also liked the suspense element, which is especially strong in the first few chapters when Kelvin is trying to work out what’s going on. There’s a strange contrast between the emotional side – Kelvin’s feelings about having his dead wife back and not being able to let her go – and the drier, scientific side. Some of the details in the story are of their time and make it seem a little dated, but not more so than other works from around the same era.

First published in Polish in 1961. The English edition appeared in 1970 and was translated by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox, based on the French translation. My edition was published by Faber in 2016.

6 thoughts on “Review of ‘Solaris’ by Stanisław Lem”

  1. This is one of my favourite books and I totally understand what you mean by long pseudo scientific discussions! I always thought it was because of the time period (the 60s) when it was written when sci-fi authors felt they needed to include these deliberations to justify ‘ the sci’ element. Have you seen the films (1972 and 2002)?

    1. Ah, I’m sorry not to have liked one of your favourites! I’m glad you relate to what I’m saying though. I think you must be right about the science element. I actually saw the 2002 film last year and found it very dull, but a couple of people still recommended the book to me. I’m yet to see the 1972 film – do you recommend it even though I didn’t like the remake and wasn’t a big fan of the book?! I know it’s a very well-regarded film.

    1. Perhaps you’ve seen a film of the book, or read a book inspired by the story. I know it has been very influential!

  2. Great review! I am glad you still liked the book, even though not everything worked for you. I actually enjoyed all the philosophical discussions in it, though, I agree, some of it can go over the head.

    I also think the 1972 film is an absolute must-watch. It is engrossing with a distinctive vision, but on a slow, philosophical side. Tarkovsky was a genius, and so many well-known films after his film then took its style and themes, especially Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2011).

    1. Thanks! I remember seeing the book review on your blog, which must have encouraged me to read the book 🙂 I’m not a very patient reader so I prefer more action, less philosophy 😉 I hope to watch the film.

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