There are famous science fiction novels and then there are FAMOUS science fiction novels, with Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris probably falling into the latter category. Despite the existence of two film adaptations of this classic book, the English-translation of the actual text, by all accounts, is fairly inaccurate. The current version available in English-speaking bookstores is a 1970 translation by Steve Cox and Joanna Kilmartin who actually translated the book from a 1966 French version by Jean-Michel Jasiensko. So, the only English version has been a double translation. Until now.
The original Polish version of Solaris was published in 1961, but due to Lem’s estate not being able to obtain the rights to the English translation for several years, the 1970 Cox/Kilmartin translation has been the only version available. This all changed recently when Lem’s widow Barbara Lem authorized Bill Johnson of Indiana University to produce a direct Polish to English version of the novel. One major change to the text includes the restoration of a main female character’s name from “Rheya” to “Harey.” In Polish, women’s names almost always end in an “a” making “Harey” a strange and exotic name for readers of the original Polish. Naturally, this small detail is probably just one of many more accurate and enlightened aspects of the new version.
This new, more accurate translation is not actually available in physical book form as of yet, and it’s also not available as an ebook. Instead, the only way one can absorb this “pure” English version of Solaris is via audiobook format through Audible.com, as read by Battlestar Galactica actor Alessandro Juliani.
While it is good news that a more accurate version of this classic SF text is now available in English, a reading of something aloud is still a translation of a kind. Here’s hoping a straightforward print version surfaces soon.
Ryan Britt is a staff writer for Tor.com.