Golden Age Sci-Fi 75 (67)
November 25, 2016
One in a series of 75 posts about the best science fiction novels published during the genre’s so-called Golden Age (from 1934–63, according to HILOBROW’s Josh Glenn’s periodization schema). For the complete Golden Age Sci-Fi 75 list, click here.
Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (1961).
This is a philosophical novel — at times dramatic and gripping, and at times academic and dry — asking the question, What would happen if we encountered an alien intelligence so exotic that we could in no way at all comprehend it? Psychologist Kris Kelvin arrives aboard a scientific research station hovering near the surface of the ocean-planet Solaris; this “ocean” is a chthonic organism. For decades, a team of scientists has studied Solaris’s complex wave motions and formations, but they haven’t been able to determine what these activities signify. Shortly before Kelvin’s arrival, the scientists have begun bombarding the ocean with high-energy x-rays. Apparently as a result of this experiment, the space station crew’s most painful and repressed thoughts and memories are actualized. Each member of the crew is visited by a lifelike simulacrum; Kelvin, for example, who feels guilty about the suicide of his lover, suddenly meets her again! The horrified scientists can’t bring themselves to discuss what any of this might mean; their instinctive — unscientific — reaction is to destroy the simulacra.
Fun fact: Adapted in 1972, by Andrei Tarkovsky, as a gorgeous but slow-moving film — which won the Grand Prix at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival.
GOLDEN AGE SCIENCE FICTION at HILOBROW: Golden Age Sci-Fi: 75 Best Novels of 1934–1963 | Robert Heinlein | Karel Capek | William Burroughs | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Clifford D. Simak | H.P. Lovecraft | Olaf Stapledon | Philip K. Dick | Jack Williamson | George Orwell | Boris Vian | Bernard Wolfe | J.G. Ballard | Jorge Luis Borges |Poul Anderson | Walter M. Miller, Jr. | Murray Leinster | Kurt Vonnegut | Stanislaw Lem | Alfred Bester | Isaac Asimov | Ray Bradbury | Madeleine L’Engle | Arthur C. Clarke | PLUS: Jack Kirby’s Golden Age and New Wave science fiction comics.
JOSH GLENN’S *BEST ADVENTURES* LISTS: BEST 250 ADVENTURES OF THE 20TH CENTURY | 100 BEST OUGHTS ADVENTURES | 100 BEST RADIUM AGE (PROTO-)SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST TEENS ADVENTURES | 100 BEST TWENTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST THIRTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST GOLDEN AGE SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST FORTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST FIFTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST SIXTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST NEW WAVE SCI FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST SEVENTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST EIGHTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST DIAMOND AGE SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST NINETIES ADVENTURES (in progress) | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | NOTES ON 21st-CENTURY ADVENTURES.