Solaris

  • by Stanislaw Lem, Bill Johnston (translator)
  • Narrated by Alessandro Juliani
  • 7 hrs and 42 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

At last, one of the world’s greatest works of science fiction is available - just as author Stanislaw Lem intended it.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Solaris, Audible, in cooperation with the Lem Estate, has commissioned a brand-new translation - complete for the first time, and the first ever directly from the original Polish to English. Beautifully narrated by Alessandro Juliani (Battlestar Galactica), Lem’s provocative novel comes alive for a new generation.
In Solaris, Kris Kelvin arrives on an orbiting research station to study the remarkable ocean that covers the planet’s surface. But his fellow scientists appear to be losing their grip on reality, plagued by physical manifestations of their repressed memories. When Kelvin’s long-dead wife suddenly reappears, he is forced to confront the pain of his past - while living a future that never was. Can Kelvin unlock the mystery of Solaris? Does he even want to?

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Audible Editor Reviews

This fine, new, direct-to-English translation of Solaris allows listeners a new opportunity to marvel at the way Stanisław Lem managed to pack so much into such a compact story. As well as being a gripping sci-fi mystery, his novel stands as a profound meditation on the limitations of knowledge and the impossibility of love, of truly knowing another: how a vast, cold galaxy can exist between two people. In how many relationships does the other turn out to be a projected hologram? At the book's heart is the dark and mysterious planet of Solaris: working out what it means is half the fun of the book. One thing is clear: the possibility it offers of alien contact represents "the hope for redemption", a Schopenhauerian longing to be rid of the endless cycle of want, need, and loss. In one passage, the main character notes with a touch of envy that, "automats that do not share mankind's original sin, and are so innocent that they carry out any command, to the point of destroying themselves". The motivating forces that have traditionally sustained mankind - love, relationships, belonging - are exposed as so much space debris. In a book that contains one of the most tragic love stories in modern literature, the idea of a love more powerful than death is "a lie, not ridiculous but futile".
Alessandro Juliani is a veteran of television's Battlestar Galactica, though here it's a young, pre-parody William Shatner-as-Captain Kirk that his performance sometimes evokes: the same cool, clipped delivery and occasional eccentric choice of emphasis. If he occasionally under-serves the book's dread-filled poetry, his character studies clearly carry the wounds of their earlier lives: at first, his Kris is an opaque tough guy, coolly removed from the unfolding, terrible events, until he touchingly gives way in the end to an overwhelming sense of loss. His performance as Snout is a mini-masterpiece in feral intensity, an intelligence crushed by the immense weight of limbo. As Harey, caught in "apathetic, mindless suspension", he manages to make his voice unfocussed and passive, as if distilling the bottomless sadness of her self-awareness of her own unreality. It's also a strong tribute to his performance that he can carry the pages and pages of philosophising, argumentative theology, and semi-parodic scientific reports without coming across as didactic. What could easily drag the story to a standstill is, in this recording, compellingly conveyed as an essential part of Lem's heartfelt investigation into the painful limitations of human knowledge. — Dafydd Phillips

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What the Critics Say

"Few are [Lem's] peers in poetic expression, in word play, and in imaginative and sophisticated sympathy." (Kurt Vonnegut)
"[Lem was] a giant of mid-20th-century science fiction, in a league with Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick." (The New York Times)
"Juliani transmits Kelvin’s awe at Solaris’s red and blue dawns and makes his confusion palpable when he awakens one morning to find his long-dead wife seated across the room. Juliani’s performance is top-notch." (AudioFile)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A comment on negative reviews

I tend to read reviews before I buy a book if it's something I'm not sure about. I've been wanting to read Solaris for ages, so I didn't bother with reviews when this became available. If I had read the reviews, I might have skipped it. While many are positive, there are also a number of negative reviews with some pretty consistent criticisms.

In response that there are long periods of technical description that serve no purpose to the story: I can understand where that sentiment is coming from, but I think these sections are necessary and serve the story in the following ways. For one, they perpetuate the mystery of the planet. Whenever this would happen, I would try to imagine what they were describing. If you've ever stared out at the ocean in awe of the size and mystery of it, this is the type of feeling these sections evoke. It also acts as foreshadowing. The first part that describes the unique properties of Solaris also sets the stage for the paranoia and strange encounters the main character deals with when he first lands on the station. The following descriptions of strange phenomona on the planet hint at the bizarre circumstances on the station, etc. It's subtle, but for me it definitely shaped the way I thought about what was happening in the story. If it wasn't there, one might think this was a ghost story, or a hallucination.

In response to the criticism that the characters do not react realistically, or like scientists: While this is true at times, I think the reviewers are dismissing the environment that these people are in. Like I mentioned above, the characters are experiencing such bizarre events that the first thoughts one might have are that they are hallucinating or dreaming. Two characters have been living like that, the other is suddenly thrust into it. I don't think it's fair to criticize their reactions as being unrealistic when what they are experiencing is irrational.

Also, I wish I could give 6 stars to the narrator, Alessando Juliani. He gave a magnificent performance, especially with the wife, Harey. I'm always nervous when male narrators attempt female voices, but this was done masterfully.

This story is about humans trying to interact with something that is so utterly alien that we can't even understand how it exists. It's about relationships, specifically the complicated one between Kelvin and his wife, but also between humanity and Solaris. Can you even assign motives to such a being? Is it even alive? I was genuinely surprised by the finesse and emotional depth of this book. I was also frequently swept up in the majesty and fear of the living ocean as described in the book. It was a truly unique experience, and a real treat to listen to. If any of this sounds interesting to you, I can't recommend this book highly enough.
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- Burns

Profound

I watched the film adaptation with George Clooney a few years ago, but wasn’t overly impressed. I probably would have skipped the book, but Luke at the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast recently convinced me it was worth reading (listening to), and I’m glad I did.

Forget the movie -- the original novel has more dimensions and more subtlety. It’s a work of science fiction at its most cerebral, full of challenging questions about the nature of higher order beings, mind, consciousness, morality, and meaning.

Compared to Lem’s vision, most novels about contact with aliens are downright pedestrian. Here, the “living ocean” that covers the world called Solaris is entirely incomprehensible, despite years of study by scientists. All anyone really knows about it is that it’s beyond human understanding, and defies all human expectations of how an advanced being might behave. Is it a conscious creature? A physical process too complex to understand? Something godlike?

Lem leads us into these questions through the planet’s interactions with a scientist who travels to a research station there. Not long after arrival, he finds himself haunted by an apparition of his dead wife, who seems to have been generated from his own memories, and understands little about herself (the gender dynamics are a bit dated, but whatever). Is she human? Alien? A conscious attempt at contact by Solaris, or an unconscious projection of the scientist’s own psyche?

The plot has a sparsity that puts the primary focus on the protagonist’s inner voice. There are other characters on the station, but they spend a lot of time withdrawn into dealing with their own apparitions, and are present in the story only enough to suggest actions and add a layer of madness (and/or clarity) to Kelvin's psychological drama. In fact, we learn more about the physics of the weird structures that form out of the ocean than we do about these companions (though I found that part strangely fascinating).

I can see why this book has remained so influential -- it explores some profound questions at a depth few other science fiction writers have come close to, even fifty years later. Lem leaves his answers tantalizingly ambiguous, allowing readers to find their own subtexts. Depending on how you read it, this could be a work about the idea of contact with aliens, or it could be about contact with others, period. It could be about guilt and regret. It could be about existential loneliness, man’s search for God, or the limitations of our ability to understand the universe, or even ourselves. There are many intertwining themes.

Obviously, a novel this philosophical isn’t for everyone, but if you appreciate science fiction that gets you to ponder, it’s not a long read, and I think it’s worth your time.

The “definitive” audiobook production is excellent. The actor Alessandro Juliani, who played Lt. Gaeta in the most recent Battlestar Galactica series, has a soft-spoken but firm voice that suits the text very well.
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- Ryan

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-07-2011
  • Publisher: Audible Studios