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Solaris and Other Books by Stanislaw Lem

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"I have not seen the film, … hence I cannot say anything about the movie itself except for what the reviews reflect, albeit unclearly -- like a distorted picture of one's face in ripply water. However, to my best knowledge, the book was not dedicated to erotic problems of people in outer space…I shall allow myself to repeat that I only wanted to create a vision of human encounter with something that certainly exists … but cannot be reduced to human concepts, images, or ideas."

Stanislaw Lem

The worship of  technique is, in fact becoming the dominant religious reality of our culture.

Frederick Ferre, Shaping the Future.
 

"If [Stanislaw Lem] isn't considered for a Nobel Prize by the end of the century, it will be because someone told the judges that he writes science fiction," predicted a Philadelphia Inquirer critic in 1983. Lem is arguably the greatest living science fiction writer, and even one of the most important European authors of his generation; yet he commands little critical attention, and has failed to reach discerning American science fiction readers who ought, one would think, to be most interested in him.

The reasons for this may be sought, paradoxically, in the high demands he makes of his own work: Lem is a true original, but at the price of being marginal.

Istvan Csicsery

Solaris invites several parallel, and even contradictory, interpretations. It can be read as a Swiftian satire, a tragic love story, a Kafkaesque existentialist parable, a metafictional parody of hermeneutics, a Cervantean ironic romance, and a Kantian meditation on the nature of human consciousness. But none of these readings is completely satisfactory, and Lem intended it to be so. The simultaneously incompatible and mutually reinforcing readings make the process of interpreting the text a metaphor for the scientific problem of articulating a manifestly paradoxical natural universe.

Amazon.com Solaris - Criterion Collection DVD

So back to the film's final shot. Is it better to love an illusion than not to love at all? Which is the illusion, love - or truth? If the ocean is god, what matters more, love or truth? If the ocean is not god, is the illusion of love self-destructive (because self-deluding) or self-enhancing (because it results in survival, and in contact - contact with an unknown part of the psyche, the universe which might enhance or destroy us). Must we be destroyed in order to survive? Is illusion destructive or creative? Is what happens to us within our control?

... .... ...

Solaris is somewhat of an enigma. What is Solaris? Alagorically, it is a barren planet, much like one would imagine the primordial Earth of the Bible before the 7 days. The cosmonauts who go there suffer from bizarre hallucinations, typically their memories, or other crewmates memories, come to life. However, this is only the way Solaris is presented or perceived, being that it is greater than our comprehension, leaving us to ponder what is truly beneath the fog of the planet. Is it the collective subconscious, the persistance of memory, a Solipsistic neutrotransmitter, E.C.C.O., or something else entirely?

Since I do not know this answer, I find it pointless to pursue the question further. I will talk about some things I know more about. The style of this film is very good, it definitely keeps the eye on the tube. The score is effective, and does a good job of enhancing the mood of the film. The mood is alienating and psycologically creepy. I feel that the theme has to be the alienation of man in modern society, but this is a starting point, and is well developed before flipping to side B of disc 1. I also like the directions the director chose to take Solaris in, at times approaching the boundaries of the surreal, but never crossing them. The ambiguity of the ending while still achieving a dramitic conclusion is a masterstroke.


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[Mar 27, 2006] Slashdot/Stanislaw Lem Dies in Krakow

Re:Wasn't he Ukrainian instead ? (Score:2)

by sznupi (719324) on Tuesday March 28, @05:24AM (#15009383)

Don't you think it's better to rely on what them thought about themselves? Both Mickiewicz and Lem considered themselves Polish.

Film Review Solaris

In 1972 Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky brought Stanislaw Lem's novel Solaris to life. Some three decades later Steven Soderbergh, the director of this American remake, is on record as having described his version of Solaris as a cross between Last Tango in Paris and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The central story of a space shrink sent to investigate why the occupants of a space station have all gone loco is common to both versions, as is the planet, called Solaris, and its penchant for bringing to life the crew's memories and/or dreams and/or nightmares.

... ... ...

Potential weakest link, George Clooney actually turns out to be the sole redeeming feature of the movie, turning in a capable if not great performance. The coup of the 1972 version is its slap-round-the-head-with-a-wet-mackerel twist ending which still carries a high "wow" factor today, assuming you have managed to stay awake that long. Soderbergh produces a variation of it but in such a low key way as to merely be irritating.

The upshot, well, this is a film that will find few friends, Clooney fans will wonder why he chose to make it. Sci-fi fans will remain unstimulated. Romance fans stand a better chance but deserve better. This viewer left the cinema extremely dissatisfied.

Movie Review - Solaris (2002) - eFilmCritic

Director Steven Soderbergh has taken one of the greatest science fiction stories of the past century and given it a lobotomy with a dull butter knife; in place of the dark but coherent vision of master writer Stanislaw Lem, we get meaningless glitz, regurgitated glitter, a sanitized politically correct script, and are treated to not one, but two, lingering and gratuitous shots of George Clooney’s ass.

The movie, Solaris, was everything I hoped it wouldn’t be: vapid and banal and a whole bunch of other negative adjectives. Once or twice the promise of Lem’s original idea seemed about to peek through–and it was this false hope that kept me from walking out of the theater.

Basically, the movie is about Chris Kelvin (George Clooney), a psychiatrist who is sent to space station Prometheus, orbiting the planet Solaris, to investigate strange events that are happening there. Once on board, he goes to sleep, only to awaken and find his dead wife, Rheya (Natasha McElhone), in bed with him. Other people at the station also have “visitors” and the planet Solaris is suspected of being behind the manifestations.

The central problem of Soderbergh’s Solaris is that the story’s main character (Solaris, the sentient planet) is missing: In the original plot Solaris has been trying to communicate/interact with humans for some time and by a variety of means. The phenomena occurring onboard Prometheus–probing the deepest level of the crew’s subconscious minds, their Ids, and then producing facsimiles of persons it finds there (their deepest desires)--is the latest phase of its interaction: Unfortunately, Solaris either does not understand, or care, that the higher aspects of human consciousness filter out much of the mucky desire we harbor in the deepest recesses of our minds. Though some of these harbored desires may be productive, most are not. We certainly do not want our friends and families knowing what secret desires, motivations, and guilt we harbor–and this unwanted exposure is exactly what Solaris begins doing: making the specters of our subconscious spring to life.
Of course Soderbergh’s Solaris doesn’t touch on this theme; instead, he changes it to “making the dead we once loved come back to life.”

In the book, one of the first things Chris Kelvin encounters on the space station is an anachronistically placed Negro giantess, naked save a grass skirt--the apparent manifest fantasy of one of the station’s now deceased inhabitants–walking to the morgue cooler to be with her dead progenitor. This telling encounter is altogether missing from the movie. Also in the book, another of the scientists on board will not open his door more than a crack; behind the door Kelvin hears the sound of a giggling child–a clear indication that the pederastic fantasies of the room’s occupant have come to life--to his regret. In Soderbergh’s Solaris, we do get a glance at a child running through the space station, and find that he is the dead son of the aforementioned scientist. Ah, doesn’t’ cleansing that nasty old plot feel good? Never mind that such changes hinder any meaningful interpretation of the story.

Occasionally, Lem’s vision seems about to peak through Soderbergh’s script: A dream visit to Kelvin from his deceased friend Gibarian gives us brief glimpse into what Stanislaw Lem was intending to convey, which is that we don’t always get to understand things. "There are no answers, only choices," the dream vision of Gibarian says in the movie. In Solaris, the novel, Gibarian, sums up the problem of understanding Solaris’ motives by stating: “When there are no men, there cannot be motives accessible to man.” Gibarian’s visit, sadly, is perhaps the only moment in the movie that resonates with Lem’s original idea.

There was one last-minute plot twist not found in the original story that seemed to portend interest: one of the space station’s human residents turns out to be a psychic manifestation that killed the original–but it led absolutely nowhere, leading to the conclusion that it was thrown in for giggles. In the end, it only served to further obfuscate an already tenebrous plot

Wired 10.12 Solaris, Rediscovered

Stanislaw Lem has never been beloved by the science fiction establishment. Philip K. Dick accused him of being a communist agent. Members of the Science Fiction Writers Association booted him from their group. And no wonder: Lem has denounced popular sci-fi as trivial pulp produced by mental weaklings. Science fiction, he once wrote, "is a whore," prostituting itself "with discomfort, disgust, and contrary to its dreams and hopes." But strained relations with his peers hasn't tarnished Lem's career. The author of dozens of books translated into 40 languages, he is considered among the greatest sci-fi writers of all time.

So why is it that Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke are household names, but Stanislaw Lem remains unknown to so many Americans? Start with the obvious: Lem writes in Polish. His most important books have never appeared in English. Even his best-known novel, Solaris, is available in US bookstores only as an English translation of a French abridgement of the Polish original. Yet the main reason Lem's never become established here is that his wit has always been too cruel, his love of science too prominent, his outlook too cerebral to fit easily into a publishing niche devoted to fairy-tale adventures and timeworn astronaut yarns.

Now Lem is getting a shot at fame in the US. In late November, 20th Century Fox releases a remake of Solaris. Produced by James Cameron (Titanic, The Terminator), directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Erin Brockovich), and starring George Clooney, the movie has the pedigree of a Hollywood blockbuster. Soderbergh promises "a cross between 2001 and Last Tango in Paris."

Lem, now 81 and living in Krakow, is skeptical. "If the Americans turn my novel into something bizarre, I won't be very much surprised," he tells me. The first Solaris appeared in 1972, the work of the great Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. And though the film won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, Lem never cared for Tarkovsky's take. "We were like a pair of harnessed horses - each pulling the cart in the opposite direction," he says. In the US, the film never broke out of the art house circuit. The only way to see it was on video or in half-empty theaters, the film's haunting score rasping out through secondhand speakers.

Hollywood's Solaris has the muscle to pack theaters - but Lem's expectations are no higher this time around. "I had doubts about whether I should sell the rights for Solaris in the US," Lem says. "But at a certain point I said to myself: 'I am old; I shall refrain from always saying no.' Now it's past the point of no return, and there is nothing I can do about it."

Lem may be dubious, but his American fans are hopeful. With Soderbergh's picture, the science fiction genius may finally get the recognition he deserves.

Solaris was published in 1961. Lem was living in Krakow at the time, and had already made a name for himself in Poland and Russia. The book's plot fits squarely into the tradition extending from The War of the Worlds to Star Trek to E.T.: Mankind encounters a mysterious nonhuman intelligence. The novel opens with a scientific debate over whether the peculiar ocean covering the planet Solaris is alive - perhaps even intelligent. Scientists have observed complex patterns of behavior, including an orbit that seems to self-correct. But since nothing of the ocean resembles human biochemistry, never mind psychology, its sentience is hard to establish.

The story's hero - an overly objective psychologist named Kris Kelvin - is dispatched to a station orbiting the planet. When he arrives, he discovers that a scientist has committed suicide and the others are in a state of nervous collapse. The planet appears to be reading their minds, and the station is populated with apparitions that correspond to aspects of the researchers' fantasies. Soon after his arrival, Kelvin finds himself face-to-face with his dead wife, who seems human in most ways. With this encounter, the challenge of evaluating the nonhuman intelligence of the ocean suddenly becomes, for Kelvin, emotionally tangled. This is similar territory to Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel that became Blade Runner. But where Dick (and director Ridley Scott) was satisfied with an eerie thriller, Lem slyly threads together psychology with philosophy until every commonsense idea about what constitutes a person is undermined.

It's classic Lem - an intellectual puzzle without the usual sci-fi crutches: shoot-outs, colonial rebellions, intergalactic battles in which a brave young officer overcomes his fear to become a man. Lem prefers comic speculations that dive deep into the social and ideological underpinnings of science. His stories are full of inventors and robots endowed with a disturbing capacity for reflection. Lem follows each idea to its logical extreme: drugs so convincing that reality disappears, computers too intelligent to be of any use.

Such rigor has earned Lem the respect of many academics, especially those whose work involves speculation about machine intelligence. AI experts Marvin Minsky and Douglas Hofstadter once invited the author to visit MIT, but Lem refused, claiming he didn't like disappointing readers who expected an extraordinary personality behind the extraordinary tales. John McCarthy, a longtime Stanford computer scientist, is a fan of Lem's Imaginary Magnitude. That title and A Perfect Vacuum consist, respectively, of prefaces to and reviews of never-written books; these invented works of future science include an account of bacteria that have been taught Morse code and a Nobel speech describing how civilizations in different parts of the universe cooperate without being able to communicate. The books are dry, full of scientific neologisms, but extremely funny and thought-provoking.

Born in 1921 in Lwów, Poland, Lem was a curious child, the type of boy who played with his toys by dissecting them. As a teenager, he was inspired by the classic works of H. G. Wells, who used science fiction as a means of social criticism.

Lem, whose family was of Jewish ancestry, survived the Nazi occupation by a combination of luck and deceit. He worked under a false identity as a welder in a German-owned firm that recycled raw materials, a position that gave him a chance to pass materials to the Polish resistance. When his cover was blown, he went into hiding, resurfacing when the Red army arrived in 1944. After the war, Lem studied medicine but declined to finish his degree, since doctors were prime candidates for the postwar draft. Instead, he turned to science, taking a position at Konwersatorium Naukoznawcze, a Krakow-based research institute.

[Dec 18, 2002] Boston Globe Online - Sunday Focus - The Lem chronicles

The author of 'Solaris' says he's been misunderstood - again By Jeet Heer, 12/15/2002

...Many sci-fi writers have tried to resolve this dilemma by imagining aliens simply as human beings with funny costumes or pointy ears. But Lem has tackled the problem with stories about creatures so strange that they baffle the understanding. In Lem's most famous novel, for example, scientists struggle for decades to communicate with an intelligent ocean that engulfs the planet Solaris. Repeated failure makes some of the scientists bitter and sullen, as if they'd been rejected by a haughty lover. Strangely, Lem's own relationship with his Western audience has long been marked by the same botched communication and wounded love.

Not that the 81-year-old writer, who lives in Krakow, would seem to have much to complain about. Lem's 40-odd books have been translated into 40 languages, and global sales figures top 25 million. The 1972 film adaptation of ''Solaris,'' directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, was hailed at the time as the Soviet Union's answer to ''2001: A Space Odyssey.'' Late last month, Hollywood finally responded with its own version, directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring George Clooney.

...''Solaris'' mixed standard sci-fi themes with philosophical questions and became Lem's breakthrough book. As Lem's hero, the psychologist Kris Kelvin, studies the ocean of Solaris, he encounters a woman who resembles Rheya, his wife - or lover, in many translations of the novel - who'd committed suicide a decade earlier. Kelvin isn't sure if the reborn Rheya is merely a hallucination, or if she's product of an attempt (friendly or sinister) on the part of Solaris to make contact with him.

Among other things, ''Solaris'' is a veiled attack on Marxism and its claim to have replaced religious mystery with a science of human history. Solaristics, the systematic study of the planet's ocean, is said to be a rational pursuit - but it's really, Kelvin notes, just ''the space era's equivalent of religion: faith disguised as science.'' He adds: ''Contact, the stated aim of Solaristics, is no less vague and obscure than the communion of the saints, or the second coming of the Messiah.''

''Solaris'' became a literary sensation in Eastern Europe, although in the Soviet Union it was made available only in a bowdlerized version that omitted a chapter deemed too ''mystical.'' Lem followed this novel with more conventional sci-fi books about space exploration, as well as with satirical attacks on the folly of the arms race, and many nonfiction books. In his massive ''Summa Technologiae'' (1964), Lem presented himself as an ironic Aquinas of the space age, offering detailed speculations on how future technologies might mimic and augment biological processes, yet still leave humanity unable to fully understand itself.

Meanwhile, Lem's work was making its troubled journey to the West. ''Solaris'' first became available to English-language readers in 1970, in a shoddy version derived from a French translation. (Despite every effort by Lem himself, it's still the only English translation in print.) Lem also began contributing essays on English-language sci-fi to scholarly journals and fan magazines alike. These essays were often acerbic: While he admired the work of Philip K. Dick, Lem saw himself as the heir to Kafka and H.G. Wells, so he had little regard for those mere hacks who wrote commercial fiction for the pulps.

Tensions with his American colleagues came to a head in a bizarre international literary incident. In 1973, in an effort to promote ''international goodwill,'' the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) conferred an honorary membership upon Lem, a distinction that had previously been given to only one other foreign writer, J.R.R. Tolkien.

But in 1975, the writer Philip Jose Farmer, whose sexually frank thrillers Lem had criticized, raised objections to Lem's honorary membership. Farmer's concerns were echoed by an addled Philip K. Dick, who was experiencing fits of paranoia at the time. Dick maintained that Lem had embezzled royalties from a Polish translation of Dick's 1969 novel ''Ubik.'' ''The honorary voting of Stanislaw Lem to membership is the sheep voting the wolf a place at the communal hearth,'' Dick warned SFWA members in '75. ''They certainly must be licking their chops back in Krakow right now.''

These attacks might not have gone any farther if Lem hadn't published yet another critical article on contemporary sci-fi, ''SF, or Phantasy Come to Grief.'' The article itself was acidic, but its impact was amplified by yet another translation problem. In 1975, the Atlas World Press Review put out a dubious English-language version of the essay under the inflammatory title ''Looking down on Science Fiction: A Novelist's Choice for the World's Worst Writing.'' In this version, Lem is made to describe American sci-fi as ''bad writing tacked together with wooden dialogue.'' Although he did call American sci-fi ''kitsch,'' the other accusation appears to have been invented by the translators.

The perpetrators of the World's Worst Writing turned on Lem. One SFWA member accused him of attacking American sci-fi writers at the prompting of his Communist masters. Other SFWA members questioned his ability to read English or suggested, falsely, that he was profiting from pirated editions of American books. In a straw vote taken in 1976, 70 percent of SFWA's voting members supported a resolution to revoke Lem's honorary membership.

Lem did have some American defenders. In an open letter to the journal Science Fiction Studies in 1977, Ursula K. Le Guin declared: ''The SFWA is not a powerful organization, nothing compared to the Soviet Writers Union, say; but when it uses the tactics of the Soviet Writers Union, I think there is cause for concern, and reasons for shame.''

Today, former SFWA president Jerry Pournelle insists that Lem's membership was revoked because of technicalities in the group's bylaws, not politics. But in his 1977 exchange with Le Guin, Pournelle described Lem as someone ''who finds a communist regime congenial'' and ''embraces communist egalitarianism.'' In 1983, a letter to the editor in Omni Magazine denounced Lem as ''the most boring writer in the world - and an avowed Communist'' - even as Lem and his family were preparing to go into exile in Vienna. (They returned to Poland in 1988.)

Despite the hostility of the American sci-fi community, mainstream writers such as John Updike and Anthony Burgess started praising Lem's books in prominent places. But Lem himself had already begun to turn away from the genre toward a more inward-looking experimentalism reminiscent of Borges. ''A Perfect Vacuum'' (1971) offered fictional reviews of non-existent books, for example; and a follow-up volume, ''Imaginary Magnitude'' (1974), gathered together introductions to another set of imaginary books.

Unlike more orthodox and optimistic sci-fi writers, Lem emphasizes the paradoxes and problems that new knowledge will bring with it. For Lem, artificial intelligence entails artificial stupidity. As the narrator of ''The Futurological Congress'' (1971) puts it, ''A smart machine will first consider which is more worth its while: to perform the given task or, instead, to figure some way out of it... And therefore we have the malingerants, fudgerators, and drudge-dodgers, not to mention the special phenomenon of simulimbecility or mimicretinism.''

...But is Lem fated to be misunderstood? In his tangled statement on Steven Soderbergh's movie, Lem writes: ''I have not seen the film... hence I cannot say anything about the movie itself except for what the reviews reflect, albeit unclearly - like a distorted picture of one's face in ripply water. However, to my best knowledge, the book was not dedicated to erotic problems of people in outer space.... I shall allow myself to repeat that I only wanted to create a vision of human encounter with something that certainly exists... but cannot be reduced to human concepts, images, or ideas.''

Whenever Lem speaks about science fiction, there is a tangible sense of sadness in his words, like a man discussing a long-dead passion. For all his achievements and honors, Lem knows from experience that even the most well-intentioned attempts at communication can end in farcical misunderstanding.

This story ran on page C1 of the Boston Globe on 12/15/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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Study Guide for Solaris from Washington State University,

An interesting article by Bruce Sterling about Stanislaw Lem

Slashdot Solaris

The wide-ranging, erudite Duncan Lawie goes where few Slashdot reviewers have gone before, exploring books on the fringes of Science Fiction and wacky speculation in the interest of expanding your mind and his own. This time, he reports on Stanislaw Lem's classic work Solaris, first printed in English 30 years ago, and in Russian nearly 40. Read more to find out if it sounds like your kind of page-turner.

... ... ...

Solaris is one of Lem's early works of mature science fiction, differing significantly in focus from the Russian film based upon it and perhaps totally unrelated to Sun Microsystems' Unix. It tells of an episode in the continuing quest by humanity to understand an alien planet. This planet orbits two stars and yet maintains a regular path. It is a ocean-world and science believes that it is the action of this mass - which is not water -- which controls the planet's motion. The planet, which itself is called Solaris, has been studied by science for generations and a large part of the book is concerned with a form of literature review, telling the history of the highs and lows in that research and relating dozens of theories generated through the decades. The style is such that the book manages to relay all this scientific opinion without indicating any genuine support for any particular theory, though most observers seem to accept, to varying degrees, the idea that the ocean may be "alive."

The narrator, Kelvin, is a Solarist by training and has come from Earth to obtain his own first hand experience of the planet. In this period of declining research, he arrives at the research station to find it in disarray; the station leader dead and the other occupants utterly preoccupied with matters they will not explain and which Kelvin cannot understand. The development of Kelvin's character is central to the book. His history is related in tandem with that of Solarist research as he attempts to come to terms with himself and with events on the station. Kelvin is the rational man of science, attempting to understand the apparently incomprehensible. His story recapitulates the scientific journey to the heart of incomprehension as he attempts to handle the impossibly real experiences the planet seems to be imposing on him. Beyond this bulk of complexity, there is a clear perspective on Kelvin's position in the final pages which shows how far this ghostly story has come, and how far our species has yet to travel.

Given the origin of its author, and the vintage of the novel, it is hardly surprising that Solaris is so far removed from the American tradition of science fiction. The mood of the book is passive and thoughtful, building a paranoiac atmosphere through understatement and calm description. The alien environment of the planet is described in the language of science and yet manages to remain largely incomprehensible. The book appears to avoid any kind of extreme; no event so great as triumph or disaster is ever described as such. This approach can make it difficult to care about the characters but it sustains the quiet, brave despair at the heart of the novel.

Eastern European SciFi + geek credo (Score:2, Interesting)
by al_shopov on Friday October 20, @09:34AM EST (#43)
(User #153224 Info)

Stanislaw Lem is one of the greatest Sci Fi writers of all times. His works do not concentrate solely on technology, but on the way people react to new environment and what they do to cope with it. He is all about our human failings. Even though he writes in Polish, he is easy to translate in English because his puns are in English. If you can find his books - by all means - read them. They are great. He has funny and absurd writings like the stories of the pilot Pyrx and Iion Tichi. If you believe in Murrphy's laws - just read some of this - you will be laughing out loud. The theme of the impossibility of contact with alien intellignce (not extraterrestrial - alien to our thinking) goes on in such books as "The Voice of God" and "Fiasco" where Pyrx dies. Other great eastern european Sci Fi authors are the Russian brothers - Arkadii and Boris Strugatski. If you consider yourself a geek - go and read your credo in "Monday begins on Saturday". This is the one book that exemplifies what being geek is all about and how do you hack life and the universe in general. And by the way 2+2 is SEVEN - even if drink the sky and turn the sea upside down. Don't listen to Trurl

Yes, good stuff (Score:1, Insightful)
by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, @11:37AM EST (#79)

Although I wouldn't recommend "Solaris" as somebody's introduction to Lem. Like many of his works, "Solaris" is kind of a ponderous read. (I've only read English translations, does the original Polish plod along like that?). I would reccommend the Robot stories and the Pirx stories first.
It seems like one of Lem's big themes is that human understanding is finite and there are just some things that we (currently) can't grasp. Aliens are well, alien - see "Solaris" and "Eden" for example. And the whole series of computer history "lectures" where man can't comprehend the end product of the evolution he initiated.

I read some of the Strugatskis' stuff a long, long time ago. I don't recall them being such slow going as some of the Lem stuff, but they weren't exactly gripping page turners, either. I think maybe Slavic writers just aren't real beach reading.

BTW, Hollywood is remaking the movie "Solaris", supposedly going back to the book as a source, not the Russian (?) production. I can't see how anyone (Hollywood in particular) could make an interesting adaptation of the book to film.

Lem likes playing with ideas, but about half his stuff wouldn't qualify as a light read. If you couldn't stand "Neuromancer", "A Clockwork Orange", A.E. van Vogt or E.E. Smith, you might find something like "Solaris" pure drudgery.

Glad to see this book reviewed. (Score:1)
by arkadiy (arkadiy@surfree.nos.pam.plea.secom) on Friday October 20, @09:14AM EST (#36)
(User #30024 Info)

I've red it when I was around 14 back in Russia. I feel that Lem has a lot to offer to English-speaking world out there, and with a little help from Slahsdot, it may finally happen. While the review is very positive, it doesn't do justice to the book. Read and you will see. Other good books by Lem include "Invincible" and "Eden". "Invincible" is more traditional, but "Eden" is almost as dark and alien as "Solaris". There are other books by Lem that deserve mention, too (Go see the list at Amazon). Some of his early writing smacks of Communism, but he grew out of that stage eventually.

Link to (Score:1)
by pfft on Friday October 20, @09:38AM EST (#46)
(User #23845 Info) http://home.swipnet.se/villeweb/

I think the planet Solaris plays a minor role of the book, the main point being made about the human psychological makeup. The final conclusion (as I read it) is something along the lines of "we cannot possibly hope to understand alien life, as we cannot even understand ourselves".

For the interested, there is a Study Guide for Solaris from Washington State University, which also links to some information about Lem.

Finally a small off-topic point: my own favourite Lem book is Fiasco (1986). It has a somewhat different flavour from Solaris (more technology and less futile love), but it is still serious in its tone. (unlike the more playful Cyberiad).

Stanislaw Lem and his influence (Score:1)
by juicy (juicy@girlslife.com) on Friday October 20, @10:14AM EST (#53)
(User #3121 Info)

It is very refreshing to read about Stanislaw Lem, as he is very obscure while at the same time is certainly one of the most important and influential science fiction writers of all time.

In the review, the author doesn't mention that much of Lem's work makes a powerful allegorical statement about our technological society, usually criticising it. This explains many strange turns of events and symbols in his work.

Also, another masterful work by Lem is 'Return from the Stars,' where an astronaut returns from a long mission to find the world changed permanently - the will to explore has been bred out of Earth's citizens. I loved that book.
-- Eli Juicy Jones

Fiasco also good. (Score:1)
by jpietrzak on Friday October 20, @10:33AM EST (#61)
(User #143114 Info) http://www.pietrzak.org

I agree that Solaris is good, although my favorites are The Cyberiad, Eden, and The Invincible. One of his works that I really enjoy that hasn't been mentioned yet is Fiasco; I thought the speculative gravity-based technology in that story was wonderful.

One thing about Lem I've always liked is that he can write a great Sci-Fi tragedy. I've noticed that the great majority of modern (Western) Sci-Fi is almost always written as heroic opera; even when it centers on an anti-hero, it's a truly heroic anti-hero, inevitably saving the world by the end of the story. Lem is far more unpredictable; he doesn't follow a set formula, and you can't always tell how the story is going to end. One of his tales of Pirx the Pilot (I can't quite remember the name; I think it's "The Albatross") always sticks with me; while the main character is Pirx, his role in the story is little more than as a witness to a spacecraft in the process of a catastrophic failure. Even though nobody wins in the end, the scenes drawn in the story of desperation and selfless sacrifice against a backdrop of hard vacuum are starkly beautiful.

Rather than a fight against evil aliens or mega-corporations, Lem's heroes strive against the very world around themselves. They may succeed or fail at the tasks given them in each story, but their heroism (or lack thereof) is implicit in how they uphold their own ideals in the face of adversity, rather than in what they actually accomplish. Wonderful stuff.

Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky(1972)

VHS Tape / Published 1991 -- famous Russian movie
Underman's 2001 Andre Tarkovsky's Solaris -- "Solaris" as brought to widescreen cinema by the legendary master director Andrey Tarkovsky focusses on the psychological aspects of Stanislaw Lem's story and can, like 2001, mean almost anything you want it to mean. This page contains my view. There are as many other views as there are people who have seen the movie, though Underman's Solaris remains one of the first and few published reviews.

The film is interesting too.. (Score:3, Insightful)
by mpk (username@vanitydomain.org) on Friday October 20, @08:58AM EST (#26)
(User #10222 Info) http://www.well.com/~mpk/

The Russian film based on the book is definitely worth a watch if you can get hold of it, and if you have the patience - it's sometimes rather slow-moving, to say the least, and runs to over 2.5 hours in some cuts.
It's worth seeing largely because it's such a startlingly different portrayal of a future in space to those doing the rounds in the West at the time. The space station orbiting Solaris is a comfortable-looking place that's very unfuturistic, and the trip to an alien planet, with the inevitable separation from family and friends, is told from a far more human viewpoint than in most science fiction. It's a movie about people, not about technology. There are echoes of this technique in later movies. For instance, 2010 covers Floyd's preparation for the trip to Jupiter, and the impending separation from his family, in great detail, with the actual journey being skipped almost entirely.

It's a strange, starkly beautiful and intriguingly different film. Worth seeing if you get the chance.

Re:The film is interesting too.. (Score:1)
by AndyElf (andyelf:at:yahoo:dot:com) on Friday October 20, @10:20AM EST (#55)
(User #23331 Info) http://ceesaxp.org/

Mind you, that the director of the movie is Andrei Tarkovski -- a very interesting figure in Russian cinematography. You may want to check out Stalker as well, and then read the original book by Strugatski brothers, called The Roadside Picnic (here is entire text of the novel in English, and here in Russian).

Directed by Andrey Tarkowski (Score:1)
by porky_pig_jr on Friday October 20, @12:46PM EST (#91)
(User #129948 Info)

This movie is directed by A. Tarkowski, one of the best Russian movie directors. It is different from Lem's book. I believe there is Tarkowski web site somewhere, and there was a discussion 'Movie vs book'. Tarkowski made it very personal. In any case, I glad to hear this topic came up on a slashdot. This staff (both Lem and Tarkowski) is very different from american-made.

Lem, movies, etc. (Score:3, Insightful)
by Tal Cohen (tal@forum2.org) on Friday October 20, @09:03AM EST (#29)
(User #4834 Info) http://www.forum2.org/tal

Two comments: Much like in the case of "2001", I believe "Solaris" the book, and "Solaris" the movie (Russia, 1972; the book itself was originally published in Polish, not Russian) go hand in hand. Only after reading the book and watching the movie do you get a better grasp of both. (Read the book first, though.)

It should be noted, though, that Lem himself mentioned more than once that he did not like the movie and disagreed with the Tarkovsky's (the director's) interpretation of the book.

Solaris is one of my two most favorite Lem books, the other one being The Cyberiad. In the discussion above, somebody already mentioned the issue of translation; it should be noted that Kandel's English version of The Cyberiad is a brilliant translation (I haven't read the original, but I did read a different translation).

E! Online - Movie Facts - Solaris (1972)

A scientist travels to the mysterious planet Solaris in order to discover what caused the failure of an earlier mission. When his long-dead wife appears on the space station, he realizes that the planet has the power to perceive human desires and grant them.

The Andrei Tarkovsky On-Line Movie Poster Museum

Major books

Solaris ~ Usually ships in 24 hours
Stanislaw Lem, et al / Paperback / Published 1987
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Study Guide for Solaris from Washington State University,
An interesting article by Bruce Sterling about Stanislaw Lem

Slashdot Solaris --The wide-ranging, erudite Duncan Lawie goes where few Slashdot reviewers have gone before, exploring books on the fringes of Science Fiction and wacky speculation in the interest of expanding your mind and his own. This time, he reports on Stanislaw Lem's classic work Solaris, first printed in English 30 years ago, and in Russian nearly 40. Read more to find out if it sounds like your kind of page-turner.

... ...  ...

Solaris is one of Lem's early works of mature science fiction, differing significantly in focus from the Russian film based upon it and perhaps totally unrelated to Sun Microsystems' Unix. It tells of an episode in the continuing quest by humanity to understand an alien planet. This planet orbits two stars and yet maintains a regular path. It is a ocean-world and science believes that it is the action of this mass - which is not water -- which controls the planet's motion. The planet, which itself is called Solaris, has been studied by science for generations and a large part of the book is concerned with a form of literature review, telling the history of the highs and lows in that research and relating dozens of theories generated through the decades. The style is such that the book manages to relay all this scientific opinion without indicating any genuine support for any particular theory, though most observers seem to accept, to varying degrees, the idea that the ocean may be "alive."

Given the origin of its author, and the vintage of the novel, it is hardly surprising that Solaris is so far removed from the American tradition of science fiction. The mood of the book is passive and thoughtful, building a paranoiac atmosphere through understatement and calm description. The alien environment of the planet is described in the language of science and yet manages to remain largely incomprehensible. The book appears to avoid any kind of extreme; no event so great as triumph or disaster is ever described as such. This approach can make it difficult to care about the characters but it sustains the quiet, brave despair at the heart of the novel.

Eastern European SciFi + geek credo (Score:2, Interesting)
by al_shopov on Friday October 20, @09:34AM EST (#43)
(User #153224 Info)

Stanislaw Lem is one of the greatest Sci Fi writers of all times. His works do not concentrate solely on technology, but on the way people react to new environment and what they do to cope with it. He is all about our human failings. Even though he writes in Polish, he is easy to translate in English because his puns are in English. If you can find his books - by all means - read them. They are great. He has funny and absurd writings like the stories of the pilot Pyrx and Iion Tichi. If you believe in Murrphy's laws - just read some of this - you will be laughing out loud. The theme of the impossibility of contact with alien intellignce (not extraterrestrial - alien to our thinking) goes on in such books as "The Voice of God" and "Fiasco" where Pyrx dies. Other great eastern european Sci Fi authors are the Russian brothers - Arkadii and Boris Strugatski. If you consider yourself a geek - go and read your credo in "Monday begins on Saturday". This is the one book that exemplifies what being geek is all about and how do you hack life and the universe in general. And by the way 2+2 is SEVEN - even if drink the sky and turn the sea upside down. Don't listen to Trurl

Yes, good stuff (Score:1, Insightful)
by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, @11:37AM EST (#79)
 

Although I wouldn't recommend "Solaris" as somebody's introduction to Lem. Like many of his works, "Solaris" is kind of a ponderous read. (I've only read English translations, does the original Polish plod along like that?). I would reccommend the Robot stories and the Pirx stories first.
It seems like one of Lem's big themes is that human understanding is finite and there are just some things that we (currently) can't grasp. Aliens are well, alien - see "Solaris" and "Eden" for example. And the whole series of computer history "lectures" where man can't comprehend the end product of the evolution he initiated.

I read some of the Strugatskis' stuff a long, long time ago. I don't recall them being such slow going as some of the Lem stuff, but they weren't exactly gripping page turners, either. I think maybe Slavic writers just aren't real beach reading.

BTW, Hollywood is remaking the movie "Solaris", supposedly going back to the book as a source, not the Russian (?) production. I can't see how anyone (Hollywood in particular) could make an interesting adaptation of the book to film.

Lem likes playing with ideas, but about half his stuff wouldn't qualify as a light read. If you couldn't stand "Neuromancer", "A Clockwork Orange", A.E. van Vogt or E.E. Smith, you might find something like "Solaris" pure drudgery.

Glad to see this book reviewed. (Score:1)
by arkadiy (arkadiy@surfree.nos.pam.plea.secom) on Friday October 20, @09:14AM EST (#36)
(User #30024 Info)

I've red it when I was around 14 back in Russia. I feel that Lem has a lot to offer to English-speaking world out there, and with a little help from Slahsdot, it may finally happen. While the review is very positive, it doesn't do justice to the book. Read and you will see. Other good books by Lem include "Invincible" and "Eden". "Invincible" is more traditional, but "Eden" is almost as dark and alien as "Solaris". There are other books by Lem that deserve mention, too (Go see the list at Amazon). Some of his early writing smacks of Communism, but he grew out of that stage eventually.

Link to (Score:1)
by pfft on Friday October 20, @09:38AM EST (#46)
(User #23845 Info) http://home.swipnet.se/villeweb/

I think the planet Solaris plays a minor role of the book, the main point being made about the human psychological makeup. The final conclusion (as I read it) is something along the lines of "we cannot possibly hope to understand alien life, as we cannot even understand ourselves".

For the interested, there is a Study Guide for Solaris from Washington State University, which also links to some information about Lem.

Finally a small off-topic point: my own favourite Lem book is Fiasco (1986). It has a somewhat different flavour from Solaris (more technology and less futile love), but it is still serious in its tone. (unlike the more playful Cyberiad).

Stanislaw Lem and his influence (Score:1)
by juicy (juicy@girlslife.com) on Friday October 20, @10:14AM EST (#53)
(User #3121 Info)

It is very refreshing to read about Stanislaw Lem, as he is very obscure while at the same time is certainly one of the most important and influential science fiction writers of all time.

In the review, the author doesn't mention that much of Lem's work makes a powerful allegorical statement about our technological society, usually criticising it. This explains many strange turns of events and symbols in his work.

Also, another masterful work by Lem is 'Return from the Stars,' where an astronaut returns from a long mission to find the world changed permanently - the will to explore has been bred out of Earth's citizens. I loved that book.
-- Eli Juicy Jones

Fiasco also good. (Score:1)
by jpietrzak on Friday October 20, @10:33AM EST (#61)
(User #143114 Info) http://www.pietrzak.org
 

I agree that Solaris is good, although my favorites are The Cyberiad, Eden, and The Invincible. One of his works that I really enjoy that hasn't been mentioned yet is Fiasco; I thought the speculative gravity-based technology in that story was wonderful. 

One thing about Lem I've always liked is that he can write a great Sci-Fi tragedy. I've noticed that the great majority of modern (Western) Sci-Fi is almost always written as heroic opera; even when it centers on an anti-hero, it's a truly heroic anti-hero, inevitably saving the world by the end of the story. Lem is far more unpredictable; he doesn't follow a set formula, and you can't always tell how the story is going to end. One of his tales of Pirx the Pilot (I can't quite remember the name; I think it's "The Albatross") always sticks with me; while the main character is Pirx, his role in the story is little more than as a witness to a spacecraft in the process of a catastrophic failure. Even though nobody wins in the end, the scenes drawn in the story of desperation and selfless sacrifice against a backdrop of hard vacuum are starkly beautiful. 

Rather than a fight against evil aliens or mega-corporations, Lem's heroes strive against the very world around themselves. They may succeed or fail at the tasks given them in each story, but their heroism (or lack thereof) is implicit in how they uphold their own ideals in the face of adversity, rather than in what they actually accomplish. Wonderful stuff.

Summa Technologiae  

Stanislaw Lem 1964

Avaliability in English unknown

psi  prophecy, psi, science

Discusses a very broad spectrum of achievements and failures of real and possible science or myth based technology. Lem understands futurology as analysis and valuation rather than as (pseudo-)prediction of the course of events. In a brief section entitled "Extrasensory phenomena" just before the conclusion of the book and in appendix xvi (a total of less than a dozen pages), Lem inquires into parapsychological phenomena and presents a most powerful argument against taking telepathic, telekinetic, and telaesthetic claims seriously. Lem argues against the existence of para-phenomena by pointing out the great "experiment" performed by nature in the course of evolution. If such capabilities existed at all, he says, then at least some lines of phylogenesis should have capitalized on its slightest manifestations. Instead of developing costly noses, eyes, ears, and brains to process sensory input, successful species could have evolved comfortable and ever more effective para-means for finding their prey by ESP and killing them by PK. Even more simply, instead of developing locomotion they could get their mobile victims right into their fangs by telepathic "calls." Naturally, this would have left little chances for species not so equipped.

Reviewed by Alfred Lang

THE PHANTOMAT MENACE (via Political Theory): Gimme the blue pill (John Gray, 2003/07/11, NEW STATESMAN)

The idea of a technology that can create virtual worlds is usually attributed to American computer scientists, who began writing about virtual reality in the 1980s and 1990s. But the Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem anticipated it some decades earlier. In his Summa Technologiae, published in 1964, Lem envisaged a Phantomat, a virtual reality machine that allows its users to exit the real world and enter a simulated environment of their own choosing. In the real world we are delicate organisms that can only live once, but in the Phantomat we can live over and over again - as whatever we want to be. The Phantomat gives us what mystics have always sought - liberation from the material world. Rid of our mortal bodies, we can roam cyberspace for all eternity.

But, Lem believed, the more realistic the virtual world the machine creates, the more imprisoned we are in our own imaginations. As our embodied selves, we interact with a world we know only in part, and which operates independently of our desires. In contrast, the virtual worlds we encounter in the Phantomat are human constructions. Fabricated from our dreams, they are worlds in which nothing can be hurt or destroyed because nothing really exists. In short, they are worlds in which nothing really matters.

Lem feared that humanity might come to prefer the virtual worlds of the Phantomat. It is a fear echoed in The Matrix, when Cypher chooses a life of pleasure and illusion over the contingencies of life outside the program. He happily defends his choice: "You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it into my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious . . . you know what I realise?" He takes a bite of steak. "Ignorance is bliss."

Lem's suspicion that humanity might opt for the dream world of the Phantomat over the intractable conflicts of the real world is well founded. Much of the affluent majority in Western countries make the same choice as Cypher. They opt to live in the virtual world created by the mass media, knowing full well that it is an illusion. Here I mean not just "reality television", which conjures up a world from which commuting, debt, illness and almost all the activities in which we actually pass our days have been banished. Look at media reportage of war. We know that bereavement, mutilation and unhealed psychological scars linger on for generations after wars have officially ended; but we do not want to be unnecessarily reminded of these things. We honour the reporters who insist on reporting the aftermath of war, but we are secretly relieved when the media move on. That way, we can avoid the pain of too much reality and sustain the virtual world we prefer to inhabit.

It is in no way far-fetched, then, to think that many people might opt for an unreal life in the Phantomat. Even so, Lem's fear that humanity might exit the actual world for an eternal half-life in cyberspace is groundless. The virtual environments that may be possible in future through the use of ever more advanced computer programs may be more realistic than anything that we can now create or even imagine; but they will never enable humanity to detach itself completely from the earth. No computer will ever create a self-sustaining virtual world. The dream of humanity spending eternity in cyberspace is just a nightmare.

Films

There were two films based on Solaris: Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky(1972) and later Hollywood version.

Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky(1972) / VHS Tape / Published 1991 -- famous Russian movie

[ 20th Century Fox -- Solaris ] DIRECTOR: STEVEN SODERBERGH Starring George Clooney , Jeremy Davies , Natascha McElhone , Ulrich Tukur , Viola Davis

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