Stanislaw Lem was born in the Polish city of Low in 1921 and died in Krakow in 2006. He is an undisputed master of modern Polish literature and science fiction. He is the author of ‘The transfiguration hospital’, ‘Astronauts’, ‘The investigation’, ‘Memories found in a bathtub’, ‘The voice of the master’ or ‘The hay fever’. He is also the author of a varied philosophical and metaliterary work.
‘Solaris’ It is the novel that established Lem as a cult author. It is a classic of modern literature. It is a very profound novel that raises essential questions about creation, identity, communication, which also speaks of science fiction itself as a genre and that tells a wonderful love story, but above all it is a novel that tells us about ourselves , of our fears, of who we are, of what we know about ourselves or of the possibility of starting over.
The novel that established Stanislaw Lem as a cult author
When ‘Solaris’ was released in 1961 it became practically an automatic classic. Translated a few years later into numerous languages (although almost always starting from its French version and not from the Polish original) and made into the cinema on two occasions, it was erected in consecration of its author as the absolute genius of modern science fiction and in the work of cult, which cannot be absent in any minimally complete canon of the genre.
But still, despite the film versions, synopses and summaries included in science fiction manuals and even in general literature, Stanisław Lem’s masterpiece has not lost an iota of its original impact, nor the welcome dangers it poses to the first-time reader, as well as to the skilled dreamer.
Those who dare to enter the interior of Solaris must be ready for anything. But very especially to give up everything they have learned before about science fiction, about intelligent life on other worlds, about the so brought and carried first contact of the human being with an alien intelligence. None of this will help them to move on the eternally changing and always the same surface of ‘Solaris’, as none of it will allow them to escape their own specters, if they do not first learn to understand and accept them. Both the pristine and objectivist, almost scientific style of the author, not without irony, as well as the cosmic and existential adventures of the protagonists continue to produce in the reader a pleasant feeling of discomfort, a fascinating restlessness.
A work of science fiction and about science fiction
‘Solaris’ is a science fiction and science fiction novel that, through its plot and proposals, questions the very nature of gender and even that of the human race in terms of its belief in the possibility of understanding the universe. At least the non-human universe for which our minds are unprepared and which, in fact, we always try to shrink to our deceptive size, in a desperate (and futile) attempt to make it understandable and manageable.
Lem’s novel raises the impossibility of communication with any non-human entity, however intelligent it may be (intelligent from the human point of view? From what other point of view could it be?) And our inevitable tendency to anthropomorphize every attempt of approach to forms of life – imaginary or real – that do not belong to the human species.
Lem points out the great failure of science fiction in general and that of alien life in particular: its inability to conceive a form of intelligence that has absolutely nothing to do with our own, and therefore the imposition of human characteristics to their supposedly in-human creations, even when what is intended is to describe their complete otherness, their absolute divergence from the human being.
‘Solaris’, an adventure that drags the reader to the very center of the wonder
Both Kelvin and the other scientists “trapped” in the space station that Solaris, the living planet, must “watch over”, trying to accumulate data that will allow them to communicate with “him”, are victims of mirages. There are monsters. But those monsters are nothing but the ones we carry inside and with which we try to fill and understand the disconcerting void that surrounds us.
‘Solaris’ is, above all, an adventure that draws the reader to the very center of wonder. The incommunicable, the inexplicable and the unfathomable is also the fascinating, the astonishing. The mistery. And his eternal challenge to the human mind, a spur to insist again and again on knocking on the doors of infinity, to search for the right answers, even if it is impossible to find them or, precisely, because it is impossible to find them.
‘Solaris’ is a science fiction masterpiece because, in addition to posing the epistemological paradox par excellence, it is also a novel full of intrigue and ingenuity. At times it works as a true work of cosmic horror, which causes a chill in the reader. It is also a love story, but unlike the two film versions, it does not take over the book.
This article contains excerpts from Jesús Palacios’ introduction to the Editorial Impedimenta edition
The last audios of A Book One Hour
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.