As in many ghost stories, the spectres which haunt Stanislaw Lem’s science fiction novel Solaris are birthed from trauma and loss. However, unlike traditionally non-corporeal spectres, the visitors that haunt Solaris possess a frightening physicality; a physicality closely tied to the workings of trauma theory. As such, this paper argues that these figuresare physical embodiments of the distortive effect of trauma on memory.

Dr Kelvin is the newest arrival on the planet Solaris, a world almost entirely covered by a metamorphic ocean-like organism. His mission is to aid ongoing efforts to communicate with the ocean, and so he travels to the space station which hovers just above the planet’s surface. Upon arrival, Kris find that his friend Dr Gibarian is dead. The other inhabitants, Dr Snow and Dr Sartorius, are rambling and dishevelled. All of them encounter ‘visitors’ created by the ocean who resemble people from their past.

Kelvin is visited by his late wife Rheya, and it quickly becomes clear she is a manifestation of mourning. Rheya believes fervently that she is Kelvin’s deceased wife; she possesses an innate need to be with him at all times, and if she is adjected she will return as though nothing has happened. However, we are assured by Kelvin that the visitor is not the real Rheya.

As the novel progresses, Rheya is proven to be more than a mere echo of her former self; she is a new being created from Kelvin’s imperfect memories. My paper will examine how Kelvin’s relationship with Rhyea mirrors the relationship between people and their traumatic memories and ask the ultimate question: can we ever really escape our past?

About the speaker

Joe Howsin is a masters student studying contemporary trauma theory, 20th Century Gothic and Contemporary Gothic at Manchester Metropolitan University. He previously graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with a BA in English Literature. His research interests include 20th century Gothic, Horror, Modernism and Science Fiction.

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