the Little Red Reviewer

The Orbit of One’s Soul

Posted on: January 4, 2020

I finished Lem’s Solaris shortly after drafting my last blog post.  I hadn’t realized how close I was to the end of the book!


I’d been warned (thanks wikipedia) that the books ends rather abruptly.  And it does!  the end is going along nicely,  and then it just BAM, ends.  I was like “where’s the rest of the story?”  but no, all the rest of the pages in the book were blank.


Lemme give you some context, plot-wise.   Kris Kelvin, a psychologist, has traveled out to the Station on the ocean planet Solaris, to continue his studies.  There are only a few other scientists on the station,   and when Kris arrives, he learns the man he hoped to meet and study with, Gibarian, has committed suicide.

All sorts off other weird things happen, that I won’t spoil, because they are the meat of the story.  And if I mention them, I will color your experience, and I don’t want to do that.


Cool things about the station:    there is a library! and it is full of paper books!  When Kris needs to kill time, or just needs a quiet place to think,  he goes to the library!   The station also has video calling, you can basically Skype/Facetime other people in other locations in the Station. pretty neat!


Scientists have been studying Solaris for decades.  We’ve convinced ourselves that the planet-covering ocean is sentient, and maybe intelligent, and that when the ocean solidifies itself and sometimes imitates us, that it is trying to communicate with us.  The strange happenings on the station, is that also the Ocean trying to communicate with us?

The whole concept of the novel is that there are things humanity will never understand,  that we need to be at peace with the fact that we will never be able to communicate with Solaris, that we may never be able to communicate with an alien intelligence, ever. We can’t seem to figure out the best way to make contact with Solaris, and Solaris sure as hell has no freakin’ idea how to communicate with us in a way that makes any sense.  We can observe each other, we can attempt to communicate, but we will never succeed.  Failure is in itself, the knowledge that the thing you are trying isn’t working, and to try something else.

Kris’s experiences on board on the Station force him to look inward, to understand his own past actions and how those choices shaped the rest of his life.  The other two scientists, Snow and Sartorious, maybe go through this as well,  but neither of them trust Kris enough to talk to him about it.   How can we have the hubris to think that we could communicate with an alien intelligence, when we don’t even know ourselves?


my view is that Solaris has only ever known itself. It is has never been in a bad relationship, it has never said something stupid and regretted it later, it has never had a friend. It has, since it’s awakening, been the only sentient creature on the planet.  LOL, so Solaris is probably like “what do you mean you don’t know yourself,  what kind of an idiot are you?”   I’d love to read this story from the point of view of the planet,  with the hope that Solaris has an entertaining point of view.  See? I’m doing it too.   I’m taking something that may or may not be sentient or intelligent, and turning my hopes of a good story into hypothesis that has no scientific thought behind it.  For love of a good story, I too, am hoping for successful communication.

Recently, I was lucky enough to hear a short talk about Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul. In connection, the speaker mentioned Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, his letter from prison.  I hastily scrawled down some notes, because the phrases caught my attention.  and when I found the quotes, they sounded just as beautiful as i’d hoped:


“They can’t know. In one sense of the word it is of course necessary, as the Greek oracle said, to know oneself: that is the first achievement of knowledge. But to recognise that the soul of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate achievement of wisdom. The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?”


Hearing, and then reading those words, it reminded me of Solaris.


Our souls, who we truly are, it remains unknowable. Knowing there is a limit to our knowledge gives us the knowledge that there is a limit.  All that’s left for us to do is to get to the point where are are OK with that.


I feel better now, about the end of Solaris. Kris knows there are things he will never know, and he has come to terms with that.


And now I guess I better go find a biography of Oscar Wilde. If you know of a good one, let me know.


8 Responses to "The Orbit of One’s Soul"

Stanislaw Lem was an astonishing thinker and author – his works are a fearless exploration of themes that are universal and with us today. One of my favourites has always been ‘The Invincible’, which looks at machine evolution and human relationships with technology.

Liked by 1 person

agreed! I’ve not yet read The Invincible. I Just checked on Amazon, looks like The Invincible is part of the new reprint from MIT Press.


I have the original Penguin edition, which had a peculiar written style because it was translated by Wendayne Ackerman from the German edition. I see the MIT edition has a new translator. I might have to get it once it’s out, as a comparison.

Liked by 1 person

Richard Ellmann’s biography “Oscar Wilde” is the classic one. Jonathan Dollimore’s “Sexual Dissidence” does a very interesting job theorizing Wilde along the social construction vs. essentialism debate, and De Profundis is part of that analysis.

Liked by 1 person

thank you! I’ll keep my eyes out for both of these titles. I need to start with one that’s for beginners like myself, so I’ll probably start with the Ellmann.


Awesome post!! I have seen both adaptations of this book to film, but haven’t read it. I LOVE everything you’ve said here and am off to find a copy of the book. Thank you! 🙂


Oh wow this sounds awesome. I’ve always liked water planets for some reason, and the idea of the ocean being sentient in some way is super intriguing. Plus the library… I might want to go there haha! Seriously though, great point too about communication. We can barely communicate effectively with ourselves as a species, seems like, it makes sense that the communication gap between us and other forms of life might be… insurmountable, or at least very challenging!

I love SF like this that makes one think.


oh Greg, if you like the idea of sentient oceans, you are going to LOVE THIS BOOK. there’s all this stuff, about how the ocean makes these solid structures, and some of the structures imitate our objects, and it’s like “is the ocean trying to communicate with us?” and all the scientists can do is speculate, because they have no freakin’ idea.

you will seriously love this!


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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