We’ll continue exploring Lem’s influence on world SF by discussing his ground-breaking novella Solaris.

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4 min readMay 30, 2021


We’ll continue exploring Lem’s influence on world SF by discussing his ground-breaking novella

Let’s go over the quiz on Solaris

Solaris is: (a) a sun in a distant solar system; (b) a space station orbiting a planet in a distant solar system; © an ocean planet; (d) a corporation that exploits other planets for theirresources.

The crew on the space station fully understand their object of study: true or false.

Harey/Rheya, Kelvin’s romantic partner, journeys with him: true or false.

Start-of-class discussion

Guide questions to the novella. Contributions?

How does Solaris deviate from a clichéd space-exploration/adventuretale?

As with Zamyatin’s We, we won’t analyze this novella (and its implications) in depth. It is a work that you might want to return to for your reflection paper: you won’t find a lack of secondary criticism related to it.

phenomena of a radically and globally destabilizing character, he argued, fiction can hardly keep falling back on the canons of narration practiced by Victorian storytellers” -a Lem critic.

: We weren’t aware of it (or were we?), but we began to understand that the planet is one giant ecosystem in the 1960s and 1970s (i.e., the so-called Gaia hypothesis, which we’ll return to below).

: We started to discuss, research, and document the details of how the climate is changing.

Many (powerful) people denied for a very long time that climate change was caused by human activity.

: We have started preparing for the consequences of increasingly dire climate modeling in certain concrete ways:

But what, then, is Stage 3?

Contextualizing Solaris

Lem wrote the book in 1961, which was an annus mirabilis in Lem’s literary production.

Solaris as great example of Suvinian SF: the estrangement here facilitates a cognitive return.

Lem is mainly a writer of ideas, although he usually also tells a really greatstory.

What is special about the character of Rheya (Harey in the original Polish)? What does her character, and Kelvin’s relationship to it, contribute to our reading?

She also embodies one main theme of the novel in her attempt to come to terms with her “humanity.”

We might say that most SF that deals with this theme depicts aliens as human projections in various ways: the aliens are us in one way or another (cf. H. G. Wells’s War with the Worlds: in one reading, the Martian invaders represent an allegory of Britishimperialism).

One critic asserts that Lem “begins to question the anthropomorphic premises behind the exploration of space,” and another critic has identified a principle that runs throughoutLem’s works-that humankind is not the measure of allthings.

Lem himself: “The common denominator [in a number of his works, including Solaris] is my deep conviction that any meaningful form of contact-or, even less, cooperation or confederation-with extraterrestrial intelligences is simply not possible. The reasons for thisowe to the almost limitless diversity and distribution of evolutionary paths taken by different forms of life andcivilizations.”

Selected bibliography of critical analysis for Lem’s Solaris

Note: I’ve uploaded this to Learn for those who want to follow up on any of the analyses.

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay. “The Book is Alien: On Certain and Uncertain Readings ofLem’s

Text for end-of-class discussion

Weissert, “Lem and a Topology ofMind”

Swirski, “Solaris! Solaris.Solaris?” Contributions?

Your homework is on the week-by-week syllabus! You should definitely start thinking about a topic for your reflection paper, but look at the assignment guide on Canvas first. The paper will be due on 3–31. Please send me questions that you might have by email.



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