Are you a fan of Polish science fiction? Do you fantasize about visiting the old stomping grounds of Stanislaw Lem – Lviv? Krakow? Do you venerate his name? If none of this applies to you, it is hereby suggested that you give Stanislaw Lem’s strange and hypnotic novel Solaris a chance.
When Kris Kelvin, a psychologist, after an extended and exhausting journey through space arrives to the planet Solaris, he is expecting a warm welcome. He has been sent to the planet to investigate the situation there, but instead of being received by fellow human beings his vessel is automatically transported to an empty hangar for spaceships, and the space station seems empty. When he begins to familiarize himself with the space station, what he sees bear witness of destruction and disintegration. Something unusual is going on here, and the process is not yet over.
But to describe the plot will not do Solaris justice. The inner and outer events are equally important and there is not necessarily a clear distinction between the two, and Solaris is a deeply psychological and philosophical tale about – well, read and find out for yourself, for this novel is on the most fundamental level a collaboration between the author and the reader and the reader’s will and ability to create meaning.
Stanislaw Lem once said that Solaris was an adventure in his career. He never planned the book, and he never thought that he could write a book like Solaris. The novel, he explained, came into existence through a process of self-organization.
Solaris was published in 1961 and Lem’s reputation as an author eventually began to grow, initially in the Federal Republic of Germany (or West Germany). Ultimately his fiction spread over the world and Solaris was filmed three times (twice in the Soviet Union – the second time around by Andrey Tarkovsky – and once in the U.S. by Steven Soderbergh). His books were translated to more than 40 languages and sold more than 30 million copies. Poland has a proud literary tradition, so it is not surprising that Polish authors every now and then reach international recognition. Lem’s themes tend to center on alienation, the problems of communication, and the relationship between mankind and technology. All this makes him an author that has endured the test of time, but Solaris especially reflects a speech by John F. Kennedy in 1960. “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier [...] the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats.”
Welcome to 2012. And Solaris.