I was shocked to discover that Stanislaw Lem’s classic science fiction novel, Solaris has never before been translated directly from Polish to English:
The first ever direct translation into English of the Polish science fictionauthor Stanislaw Lem’s most famous novel, Solaris, has just been published, removing a raft of unnecessary changes and restoring the text much closer to its original state.
Telling of humanity’s encounter with an alien intelligence on the planet Solaris, the 1961 novel is a cult classic, exploring the ultimate futility of attempting to communicate with extra-terrestrial life. The only English edition to date is Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox’s 1970 version, which was translated from a French version which Lem himself described as poor.
Now Bill Johnston, a professor at Indiana University, has produced the first Polish-English translation of the novel. It has just been published as an audiobook download by Audible, narrated by Battlestar Galactica’s Alessandro Juliani, with an ebook to follow in six months’ time. Lem’s heirs are hoping to overcome legal issues to release it as a print edition as well.
The reason why I, and I imagine most, know of Solaris is through its 1972 movie adaptation of the same name. That film is regarded as a cinema classic, and it is astonishing to me that a book, both highly esteemed as a classic of mature science fiction and as the inspiration for another classic piece of art, managed to escape for so long (50 years!) without a proper English translation. The rest of the Guardian article makes clear that the mistakes in the translation are far from esoteric; in the game-of-telephone translation dialogue was reduced to narration, scientific points were reduced to gibberish, and a couple of passages came to mean the opposite of the corresponding passage in the Polish original.
Because I have a near-comic inability to keep myself from tying everything to classical music, I want to draw attention to a Bach organ prelude that appears several times in the 1972 Solaris. The prelude is Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (I call to you, lord Jesus Christ); it appears in the opening credits, at the end of the film, and I believe once more in the course of the film. The video I’m embedding is actually a piano transcription by Ferruccio Busoni. Vladimir Horowitz is the pianist.