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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Solaris (1961) by Stanislaw Lem

The sentient ocean planet of Solaris creates growths that are described in the books, but absent from the film.
Book Review
Solaris (1961)
by Stanislaw Lem

  Science fiction and fantasy have largely were the exclusive domain of English language authors up to this point.  Solaris is the first  non-English language science fiction title in the 1001 Books Project (unless you count Jules Verne.)  Solaris remains a relevant property.  The sentient planet-ocean of the book and multiple movie adaptations serve as an inspiration for the "Gaia" or living planet hypothesis.    You could make the argument that among all the different genres which flowered within the novel format in the 20th century, Science Fiction is the most important.  One of the major weaknesses of the novel is the backward looking bias of authors looking to create imaginary scenarios from their own memories.  It stands to reason, it's much harder to write convincingly, let alone "realistically" about a time and place that do not exist.

  Unlike all other genres within the larger world of the novel, Science Fiction looks forward, dreaming of new worlds and ideas, but typically based on reality and the laws of physics.  Science Fiction has also continued to have a high accuracy rate over the last half century, from the Space Age to the Internet Age.

   Solaris has been adapted into two films, neither of which are particularly faithful to the book.  The 1972 version was directed by Russian Andrei Tarkovsky and is generally ranked as one of the top 10 science fiction films of all time.  The 2002 version was directed by Steven Soderbergh  The book spends almost half it's length discussing various academic theories that have been brought forward about the sentient ocean living on the planet Solaris.  Both film completely omit this material in favor of multiple flashbacks regarding the life of  Kris Kelvin on Earth.  It's an understandable choice, but it means that both filmmakers sacrifice the most interesting ideas contained in the book in favor of amplifying the human drama.

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