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How Bill Johnston's Translation of Solaris Reveals Lem's Genius and Vision



Solaris by Stanislaw Lem: A New Translation by Bill Johnston




Introduction




Solaris is a classic science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem, a Polish author who wrote novels, short stories, and essays on his philosophy of science. It was first published in Polish in 1961 and has been translated into many languages since then. It is widely regarded as one of the most influential and important science fiction novels of all time.




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However, not all translations are equal. Solaris has been translated into English twice, once from French in 1970 by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox, and once directly from Polish in 2011 by Bill Johnston. The new translation by Johnston is more faithful to the original text and captures more of the nuances of Lem's style and vision. It also includes some features that were not present in the previous translation, such as different fonts for different types of texts, footnotes for clarification, and a more poetic and lyrical language.


The novel tells the story of Kris Kelvin, a psychologist who travels to a space station orbiting a mysterious planet called Solaris. There he encounters strange phenomena that challenge his understanding of reality, such as a replica of his dead wife who appears in his room. He soon learns that Solaris is a living ocean that can create physical manifestations of human thoughts and memories, but with no apparent purpose or communication. The novel explores philosophical and psychological questions about human nature, communication, memory, and identity.


The History of Solaris Translations




The first translation of Solaris into English was done by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox in 1970. However, they did not translate it directly from Polish, but from a French translation by Jean-Michel Jasiensko that was published in 1964. This means that the English translation was twice removed from the original text, and inevitably lost some of the subtlety and complexity of Lem's language and ideas.


Some of the limitations and criticisms of this translation are that it simplifies some of the scientific and cultural references, changes some of the names and terms, omits some of the passages and footnotes, and alters some of the tone and style of the novel. For example, it uses a more formal and academic language than Lem's original, which was more conversational and humorous. It also misses some of the irony and ambiguity that Lem intended.


Lem himself was unhappy with this translation and wanted a direct translation from Polish. He was fluent in English and French, and he felt that the French translation was not accurate or faithful to his vision. He also felt that the English translation was too influenced by the French translation and did not reflect his original voice. He tried to find a publisher who would commission a new translation, but he was unsuccessful.


The second translation of Solaris into English was done by Bill Johnston in 2011. Johnston is a professor of Comparative Literature at Indiana University and an award-winning translator of works in Polish. He translated Solaris directly from Polish with the authorization of Lem's estate. He also consulted with Lem's son Tomasz Lem, who is a physicist and an expert on his father's work.


Some of the advantages and challenges of this translation are that it preserves more of the original meaning and tone of the novel, but also faces some difficulties with cultural and scientific references that may not be familiar to modern readers. Johnston tried to balance fidelity and clarity, and to convey the richness and diversity of Lem's language. He also added some features that were not present in the previous translation, such as different fonts for different types of texts, footnotes for clarification, and a more poetic and lyrical language.


The Differences Between the Two Translations




To illustrate how the two translations differ in terms of word choice, sentence structure, style, and tone, here are some examples of how they render the same passages from the novel:



Polish original


Kilmartin / Cox translation


Johnston translation


W dziewiętnastej godzinie czasu statku zszedłem po metalowej drabinie w dół do burtowych komór i wszedłem do kapsuły. Wewnątrz było tyle miejsca, że mogłem podnieść łokcie. Po podłączeniu końcówki kabli do gniazda wystającego z boku kapsuły skafander napełnił się powietrzem i od tej chwili nie mogłem już wykonać najmniejszego ruchu. Stałem albo raczej wisiałem w powietrznym łożu jednolitym z metalową skorupą. Podnosząc oczy widziałem przez wypukłe okienko ściany komory i wyżej pochylone twarze Moddarda i Sartoriusa. Szybko zniknęły i wszystko zrobiło się ciemne; z góry nałożono ciężki ochronny stożek. Usłyszałem ośmiokrotne buczenie silników elektrycznych dokręcających śruby. Potem szum napływającego powietrza do amortyzatorów. Oczy przyzwyczajały się do ciemności; widziałem już bladozielony kształt jedynego wskaźnika.


At nineteen hundred hours ships time I made my way down the steel ladder to the launching bay between the two hulls; I got into my capsule. There was just enough room inside to raise my elbows; after I had plugged in my suits cable to a socket jutting out from one side I could no longer move at all; I stood thereor rather hung therein an air-filled bed which formed part of my metal shell. Looking up through my convex window I could see the walls of the bay above me; higher still were Moddard and Sartoriuss faces. They quickly disappeared and everything went dark; a heavy protective cone had been lowered over me from above. I heard the eightfold whirr of electric motors as they tightened the screws. Then came the hiss of air as it filled the shock absorbers. My eyes grew accustomed to the darkness; I could make out the pale green shape of the only dial.


At nineteen hundred hours ships time I climbed down the metal ladder past the bays on either side into the capsule. Inside, there was just enough room to raise my elbows. After I attached the end of the cables into the port jutting from the side of the capsule, my space suit filled with air and from that point on I couldnt make the slightest movement. I stood, or rather hung suspended, in a bed of air, all of one piece with my metal shell. Raising my eyes, through the convex porthole I could see the walls of the bay and higher up, leaning in, Moddards face. It quickly disappeared and everything went dark as the heavy protective cone was put in place from above. I heard the eight-times-repeated whirr of the electric motors tightening the screws. Then the hiss of air entering the shock absorbers. My eyes were getting using to the dark. I could already make out the pale green shape of the only gauge.


Wszystko było takie proste i oczywiste: zawsze jesteśmy gotowi do miłości, tylko musimy wiedzieć jak ją znaleźć i rozpoznać; nie ma na świecie nic innego prócz miłości; wszystko inne jest tylko pozorem i zniekształceniem; miłość jest jedynym prawdziwym i niezawodnym źródłem szczęścia; nie ma nic piękniejszego niż kochać i być kochanym.


Everything was so simple and obvious: we are always ready for love, we only have to know how to find it and recognize it; there is nothing else in this world but love; everything else is only an appearance and a distortion; love is the only true and reliable source of happiness; there is nothing more beautiful than to love and be loved.


Everything was so simple and clear: were always ready for love, we just need to know how to look for it and recognize it; theres nothing else in this world apart from love; everything else is just illusion and distortion; love is the only true and dependable source of happiness; nothing is more beautiful than loving and being loved.


Wszystko było takie proste i oczywiste: zawsze jesteśmy gotowi do miłości, tylko musimy wiedzieć jak ją znaleźć i rozpoznać; nie ma na świecie nic innego prócz miłości; wszystko inne jest tylko pozorem i zniekształceniem; miłość jest jedynym prawdziwym i niezawodnym źródłem szczęścia; nie ma nic piękniejszego niż kochać i być kochanym.


Everything was so simple and obvious: we are always ready for love, we only have to know how to find it and recognize it; there is nothing else in this world but love; everything else is only an appearance and a distortion; love is the only true and reliable source of happiness; there is nothing more beautiful than to love and be loved.


Everything was so simple and clear: were always ready for love, we just need to know how to look for it and recognize it; theres nothing else in this world apart from love; everything else is just illusion and distortion; love is the only true and dependable source of happiness; nothing is more beautiful than loving and being loved.


Nie wiem czy wiesz co się dzieje na stacji? Nie wiem czy wiesz że Solaris nas obserwuje? Nie wiem czy wiesz że Solaris wie o nas wszystko? Nie wiem czy wiesz że Solaris nas kocha?


Do you know what is happening on the station? Do you know that Solaris is watching us? Do you know that Solaris knows everything about us? Do you know that Solaris loves us?


Do you have any idea whats going on at the Station? Do you have any idea that Solaris is observing us? Do you have any idea that Solaris knows everything about us? Do you have any idea that Solaris loves us?


As we can see, the two translations differ in various ways, such as:


  • The use of synonyms, such as "obvious" vs. "clear", "appearance" vs. "illusion", and "know" vs. "have any idea".



  • The use of punctuation, such as commas and question marks.



  • The use of capitalization, such as "Solaris" vs. "solaris" and "Station" vs. "station".



  • The use of repetition, such as "Do you know" vs. "Do you have any idea".



These differences may seem minor, but they can have a significant impact on how the reader understands and appreciates the novel. For example, the use of synonyms can affect the connotation and nuance of the words, such as "obvious" implying something more self-evident and objective than "clear", or "appearance" implying something more superficial and deceptive than "illusion". The use of punctuation can affect the rhythm and emphasis of the sentences, such as commas creating pauses and question marks creating suspense. The use of capitalization can affect the sense of proper names and importance, such as "Solaris" suggesting a more personal and singular entity than "solaris", or "Station" suggesting a more official and formal place than "station". The use of repetition can affect the tone and mood of the sentences, such as "Do you know" sounding more direct and confident than "Do you have any idea".


Johnston's translation tries to capture more of the original meaning and tone of Lem's novel, while also making it more accessible and engaging for modern readers. He uses different fonts for different types of texts, such as italic for Kelvin's thoughts, bold for Solaris' messages, and normal for the main narrative. He also adds footnotes for clarification, such as explaining some of the scientific and cultural references that may not be familiar to readers. He also creates a more poetic and lyrical language, using more imagery, metaphors, and alliterations, such as:



Polish original


Kilmartin / Cox translation


Johnston translation


Ziemia jest tylko jednym z wielu światów; nie jest nawet najpiękniejszym ani najważniejszym; jest tylko jednym z wielu domów ludzkości; nie jest nawet najdroższym ani najmilszym; jest tylko jednym z wielu snów ludzkości; nie jest nawet najprawdziwszym ani najszczęśliwszym.


Earth is only one among many worlds; it is not even the most beautiful or the most important; it is only one among many homes of mankind; it is not even the most precious or the most agreeable; it is only one among many dreams of mankind; it is not even the most real or the most happy.


Earth is just one of many worlds; its not even the loveliest or most important; its just one of many dwellings of humankind; its not even the dearest or most delightful; its just one of many dreams of humankind; its not even the truest or most joyful.


Solaris jest żywym oceanem, który tworzy fizyczne manifestacje ludzkich myśli i wspomnień, ale bez żadnego celu lub komunikacji. Solaris jest tajemnicą, która nie daje się zgłębić ani zrozumieć. Solaris jest lustrzem, które odbija ludzką naturę i pokazuje jej granice i słabości.


Solaris is a living ocean that creates physical manifestations of human thoughts and memories, but with no purpose or communication. Solaris is a mystery that cannot be fathomed or understood. Solaris is a mirror that reflects human nature and shows its limits and weaknesses.


Solaris is a living ocean that shapes physical manifestations of human thoughts and memories, but with no aim or communication. Solaris is a mystery that defies probing or comprehension. Solaris is a mirror that mirrors human nature and reveals its boundaries and flaws. 71b2f0854b


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