Thursday, December 1, 2011

SAFL #7: Solaris

It's been a while since I've done a SAFL (Science and Fantasy Literature) title but I recently finished reading Solaris by Stanislaw Lem and my mind is sufficiently blown that it's quite obvious that Solaris is SAFL. And excellent SAFL at that.

I specifically chose to read Solaris in Hebrew right around the time I first heard of the book. More specifically, upon learning that this was a classic case of double-translation gone wrong. Solaris, originally written in Polish, was translated into French not long after publication. The translation into English, for some unknown, godforsaken reason, went through French and is by most accounts atrocious.

Luckily, I faced no such problem with the Hebrew translation (which is surprising, given the increasing propensity to employ double-translations into Hebrew... but that's a rant for a separate post). I bought the book back in June and it has been quietly awaiting my attention since. I don't understand what took me so long to get to it. It's the kind of book that you can't quite let go of.

Solaris can as easily be classified philosophical or psychological fiction as it can be classified sci-fi. In the finest example of sci-fi being used as a mirror - or even as a tool - for dealing with bigger, more fundamental issues than simply aliens or star-travel, Solaris digs deep regarding the definition of man and questions of identity. And communication. And even insanity. Yes, this is all within the framework of one of the most pulp sci-fi settings ever (hyper advanced black sludge alien, anyone?), but it transcends it incredibly. It's no surprise that even in Israel - where sci-fi and fantasy are genres typically marginalized and separated from the mainstream (to the extreme) - Solaris is marketed as straight-up literature and refuses to be boxed into an (unjustly) ignored definition. Hopefully this will lead to many more readers enjoying Lem's fascinating novel.

As for the English speaking world... I can only be thankful that there is, at least, the audio book. Solaris is a classic of sci-fi for a reason... I hate to think that this masterpiece is marred only by a notoriously poor translation. Here's to hoping for a quality Polish-to-English translation to be published sometime in the near future.


  1. Double translation - such a tricky issue. On the one hand, I'm always happy when any kind of translation happens, but it's true the perils of moving from a translation to another translation are just huge. Very glad the Hebrew version was a good one.

  2. I've been meaning to read Lem for ages. My husband has read and liked him and so we have Solaris and one or two other of his books on our shelves. Thanks for the wonderful reminder to read him!


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