Review: Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Solaris By Stanislaw Lem

My first knowledge of Solaris came for me in the form of the 2002 Steven Soderbergh film, which I still love to this day. Only years later did I learn that it was based off of the novel written by Stanislav Lem. I could never find the book in my local library, and got caught up reading other books. Until this year, when I finally bought it for myself.

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The back flap of the book reads:

When psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives on the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds himself confronting a painful memory embodied in the physical likeness of a past lover. Kelvin learns that he is not alone in this, and that other crews examining the planet are plagued with their own repressed and newly real memories. Could it be, as Solaris scientists speculate, that the ocean may be a massive neural center creating these memories, for a reason no one can identify?

Long considered a classic, Solaris asks the question: Can we understand the universe around us without first understanding what lies within?

SPOILERS AHEAD!

The start of the novel begins with Kelvin’s launch from another station to travel to Solaris. Unlike the film, the Solaris station is not in orbit, but rather floating several hundred meters above its surface.

The introduction to the other crew members on the station is one of an eerie, too quiet meeting. The third member Gibarian, committed suicide before Kelvin’s arrival. Snow and Sartorius are clearly disturbed, and refuse to explain what’s been happening on the station. They both figure he will see for himself soon enough, and he does.

Kelvin delves into the onbaord library, occupying some of his time reading over the works of the many scientists who have studied Solaris, their theories, observations, etc. He tries to reason with Sartorius who has become agoraphobic in his lab, making little headway and getting no further explanation for why.

Kelvin then catches sight of Gibarian’s ‘visitor’ walking through the corridor of the station and then entering his room. The apparition is described as a tall African woman, mostly naked except for a grass skirt. She also later appears in the cold store lying next to Gibarian’s corpse. Terrified, and concerned he may be ill, Kelvin tests himself with mathematical equations to check if he has gone insane. To his dismay, he hasn’t.

Soon, Kelvin has his own visitor, Rheya, his past lover who committed suicide years before. She acts childlike and has no memory of living on Earth, or her suicide. An odd detail I picked up on was that when she appeared, her dress has no seams, or fasteners to remove it. She has to be cut out of it. Kelvin is horrified by this Rheya, but continues to act as if she were the real one. At least until he tricks her into a small shuttle and sends her away. The screams he hears while it launches away gradually turn to something inhuman. Eventually, he discovers Gibarian’s scribbled notes, and from their discovers certain books describing a pilot’s account that is nothing less than disturbing.

A second Rheya appears soon after, with no memory of what happened to the first. This Rheya eventually becomes more human to Kelvin, and he cannot send her away. We see her come to question her existence, her own half remembered memories, but she is shown to truly love Kelvin. She even attempts suicide, but her strange physiology won’t allow her to die. Whether she is a facsimile, or not, he loves her. As she doubts her own nature while Kelvin intends to keep her, Rheya disappears with little explanation.

The ocean of Solaris itself is an enigma. It is an oily red-black mass who’s movement is compared to muscle contractions rather than currents. It is observed creating large structures known as symmetriads, assymetriads, mimoids, and extensors. These immense intricate creations are thrust from the living sea only to die back into its depths. There is no rhyme or reason known for why it does this, nor how or why it creates the visitors.

Toward the end of the book, Kelvin has a discussion with Snow that struck me. They are talking about the imperfect god concept in how it must relate to the ocean.

Taking a few bits from Kelvin’s dialogue. :

“A god limited in his omniscience and power, fallible, incapable of foreseeing the consequences of his acts, and creating things that lead to horror. He is … a sick god, whose ambitions exceed his his powers and who does not realize it at first. A god who has created clocks, but not the time they measure. He has created systems or mechanisms that served specific ends but have now overstepped and betrayed them. And he has created eternity, which was to have measured his power, and which measures his unending defeat.“

“This god has no existence outside of matter. He would like to free himself from matter, but he cannot…”

Then he states:

“No, not the ocean either. Somewhere in its development it has probably come close to divine state, but turned back into itself too soon. It is more like an anchorite, a hermit of the cosmos, not a god. It repeats itself, Snow, and the being I’m thinking of would never do that. Perhaps he has already been born, in some corner of the galaxy, and soon he will have some childish enthusiasm that will set him putting out one star and lighting another. We will notice him after a while…”

The above statement almost sounds as if it suggest that something grew out of the ocean of Solaris, in essence making the ocean its cradle. There is also the idea that the ocean is child-like entity on the way to becoming a god. Kelvin states jokingly that they’ve all been the baby’s toys for a while.

The end of the novel ends with a unique interaction between Kelvin and the ocean. He leaves the station on a small aircraft and lands on a fleshy mimoid( a hard protrusion the ocean no longer seems to control) and reaches out to the ocean with his hand. It reacts to him and curiously wraps about his hand, even forming a flower-like structure, and then falls away. He is able to repeat this interaction a few times before the ocean loses interest. He seems to feel himself forgiving this strange entity for everything. It is implied that Kelvin stays, even as he knows his reasons may not rational, in the hopes that he will one day see Rheya again.

An incredible read, and several welcome differences from the Soderbergh film. Those changes added more detail to fleshing out what Solaris may actually be, and some of the strange behaviors not seen on film. Though, I think doing those giant structures on film would’ve been amazing to see.

Definitely suggest this as reading material for anyone who loves science fiction. Truly alien stuff in this novel.

Also wanted to post a few pages I found on some amazing Solaris inspired artwork. I don’t want to post any images without permission, but I will supply the links for you to take a look.

Black & white artwork of the ocean structures

http://www.bjarre.org/works/solaris.html

A Deviant Art Artist- Amazing work!

Symmetriade

The-Old-Mimoid

Solaris 4

Old-Mimoid

Solaris-3

Solaris-5

 

Next review : The Forever War

 

 

 

 

 

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Exile Dawn – Ch. 2

 

Nevi woke the following morning intent on finding an up-to-date star map to begin her search. She used the room’s terminal to download one of the latest versions to her Occam; an all-in-one device for communication and computing needs. The map would be able to update itself periodically when connected to a terminal.

 

Nevi tapped a small button on the Occam’s keypad, activating the holo-display function. A luminous green menu materialized in the space in front of her. She quickly accessed the map, and a quarter of the room lit up with star systems. Most of the systems were numbered or labeled with their given names.

 

The level of her task would be daunting, Nevi knew. She first searched the Ayehelene system, since she was already within it. About four worlds were already colonized, with two in the process of terraforming, and three being inhospitable to life. She did note, however, that several moons were as of yet untouched. She’d need to sift through their profiles to gauge which of them would be the best candidates.

 

Nevi saved the preliminary search results, and went out to the hotel’s cafe for a quick breakfast. She left to take a walk before returning to her room. She followed a boardwalk path through a nearby park filled with alien greenery and the sound of distant waterfalls. Nevi didn’t get very far without realizing someone was following her. She instantly chided herself for wandering off alone.

 

She had no option to turn back the way she came, and running forward was a risk without knowing where the path ended. Before she could think further on it, a gravelly voice cried out behind her, “World killer Ynewt! You die today!”

 

A hooded man came running round the bend aiming a gun, his face possessed by rage. Nevi ran as fast as her legs would move, mentally anticipating hot piercing bullets entering her flesh. She saw a clearing up ahead where the path crossed into a local marketplace. Desperately, she kept pushing her body to run just to reach that exit.

 

One shot rang out, followed by a second, urging Nevi to run faster. She barely made the clearing as the third shot hit its mark. The white hot bullet seared through her, spinning her around enough to catch sight of the escaping gunman. Her whole body tensed from the impact as she collapsed into the throngs of the marketplace. Nevi could hear people screaming at the sight of her gushing blood, and the nervous footfalls of those surrounding her fallen form.

 

Blood spurted from Nevi’s wound, pumping in rhythm with her slowing heartbeat. A weakness spread through her body, as sight and sound began to fade. As time seemed to drag on and become dream-like, Nevi thought she felt a pressure being applied to her wound, and a large figure looming over her. All she had time to parse was a striking pair of heterochromic eyes, and a man’s voice asking, “Can you hear me?” And then her world went black.

 

 

Slowly emerging from unconsciousness, Nevi’s vision was blurred for a few moments. Dull aches in her body made themselves known upon waking. As she motioned to lift her left arm up to run her eyes, a sharp pain spasm in her shoulder retaliated. She gasped and winced, and it was then the memory of the attempt on her life resurfaced. Her left arm was in a sling to restrict movement. It was also then that she realized her would-be murderer was a bad shot.

 

Nevi turned her attention to her immediate surroundings. She found herself to be in a hospital room without remembering when or how she got there.

 

“Oh, you’re awake.” Someone said.

 

Then she remembered that voice, and the pair of differently colored eyes.

 

Weakly, Nevi turned her head to the side to see a man sitting in a chair next to the bed. He was of a pale peach complexion with close cropped light brown hair. As he stood slowly, she saw that he wore a old pilot’s jacket and a pair of beat up jeans.

 

“You’re in a hospital,” he said. “You were shot in the street. I managed to stop the bleeding and brought you here. I figured I’d wait until they said you were stable.”

 

Nevi sighed, relaxing a little. “Thanks.”

 

The fascinating heterochromic eyes belonged to this man, she realized.

 

“My name’s Leon Erastis,” he said. “Yours?”

 

She answered, feeling mouse-like in her current condition. “Nevi Ynewt.”

 

“Well, Miss Ynewt, I don’t know what you’re involved in,” Leon mused. “But you’re lucky that guy was a bad shot. You still lost a lot of blood.”

 

“Thanks, for coming along when you did.” she replied meekly.

 

Leon nodded. “You’re welcome.” He paused. “You staying somewhere?”

 

“Yeah, a hotel, in town,” she answered. “I arrived here from another system two days ago.”

 

“I live in town,” he said. “Once you get patched up here, I can drive you back to the hotel.”

 

“I’d appreciate that,” Nevi said. “I guess I lay low for a while, since it appears I’m being followed.”

 

Leon asked, “Why, if you don’t mind me asking, are you being followed by people who want you dead?”

 

Nevi let out another heavy sigh. “It’s a long and sordid story.”

 

Leon nodded, clearly intrigued. “You can tell me later,” he said. “You should rest for a while. I’ll be back to pick you up in a few hours.”

 

Feeling incredibly drained, and gave an agreeable nod. “Thank you, Leon.” she said, the gold-white chromatiphores florescing on her cheeks just before she drifted off.

 

 

Nevi awoke about four hours later, her stomach growling furiously. Leon arrived not long after she awoke.

 

“Good evening,” he said. “Feeling any better?”

 

“Yes, better,” she said. “And hungry.”

 

“Good, we’ll grab something on the way to your hotel.” said Leon.

 

As Nevi dressed, she got a good look at her wound. It was going to leave an ugly scar. She signed off on all the discharge forms, and was given a supply of prescribed antibiotics and painkillers.

 

Leon’s truck looked weathered and beaten, with paint scuffed, a little rust, and worn upholstery. The truck’s bed was filled with parts, old and new, from a multitude of aircraft.

 

Despite its worn condition, the truck ran smoother than Nevi had expected. While in route, she applied one of the antibiotic bio-patches to her arm to keep the risk of infection down. The patch would slowly dissolve as its utilized its payload. There were painkillers in her supply that worked that same, but she hadn’t needed any yet. She’d been given an injection of pain meds that would last at least twelve hours.

 

Nevi was hungry, and while Leon drove, she occupied herself by staring out the window. Helena was beautiful, she thought. Too bad her enemies had followed her here. She found herself wanting to stay the more she saw of it.

 

Leon stopped at a cozy cafe tucked into one of the city’s modest shopping malls, not far from the hotel. They bought coffee, and Nevi chose a sweet fruit-filled pastry to sate her hunger. She devoured it appreciatively, and sipped at the foam cup of coffee.

 

“I really should be thanking you more.” she said.

 

Leon allowed a slight smile to creep across his mouth. He couldn’t hide his curiosity. She’d noticed him staring at the glowing dots that danced on her skin.

 

“They’re called chromatiphores,” Nevi informed him. “They glow and dim depending on health or mental state. Some animals have them, but hardly as flashy as those evolved on Seras.”

 

“Seras? I’ve never heard of that world.” he admitted.

 

“It’s a small world, a moon actually. Not many other colonies know about us.” she explained.

 

“Us?” Leon inquired.

 

“Strobes,” Nevi answered. “That’s what my people call themselves. Mainly due to our personal light shows, but also for a defense mechanism we’ve evolved.” She let a smirk slide across her face then.

 

Leon leaned across the table to peer at Nevi’s face, his eyes tracking the tiny pores flashing and dimming in patterns and sequences uniquely her own.

 

“Almost like watching stars twinkle in the night sky.” he murmured.

 

Nevi smiled, and Leon bashfully backed away. He proceeded to tell her that he hadn’t even planned to be in the marketplace were it not for a specific part he needed. It had all been an odd stroke of luck that he’d been at the right place at the right time.

 

“So, have you lived here always?” Nevi asked him.

 

“No, I came here after I served as a merc for a while.” he answered, his demeanor turning slightly more serious somehow.

 

“How long?”

 

Leon sighed heavily. “Since childhood.” Then he looked her dead in the eye. “I was born an indentured clone. We built an enclave here for ourselves when we were liberated. One which I’m no longer allowed to return to.”

*****************************************************

Second chapter of this project. Just a taste of things to come. I have other older projects I need to work on finishing. I’ll drop little pieces of projects here and there when I can.

Let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.

~ Angela