[GUEST POST] Sharon Lynn Fisher on The Ghost Planet / Solaris Connection

Sharon Lynn Fisher is the author of Ghost Planet, coming from Tor Books on Oct. 30. The book — a two-time RWA Golden Heart finalist — is a sci-fi/romance blend that offers a “fresh and fascinating take on the human-alien problem” (says author Linnea Sinclair). She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she is hard at work on her next novel and battles writerly angst with baked goods, Irish tea, and champagne. You can visit her online at SharonLynnFisher.com.

The Ghost Planet / Solaris Connection

One question that interviewers always ask is how you came up with the premise for your book. While this seems fairly straightforward, and I have managed to work out a fairly straightforward answer so it doesn’t run on for a thousand words, it’s really a multifaceted question.

Because there is the idea trigger — which for Ghost Planet came when I thought of the title, and then noodled on what the story behind that title might be — and then there is the actual idea, which comes out of this crazy stew that’s been simmering for years in the creative crockpot, where your subconscious has been happily tossing in ingredients with little to no direct involvement from you.

So one thing that goes into writers’ crockpots is other stories that have impacted them in some way. Many people note the similarity between the premise of Ghost Planet and the premise of Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem — basically, the fact that my ghost-aliens are reincarnated beings generated by the colonists’ connection to dead family and friends. I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at how that sci-fi classic influenced Ghost Planet.

I was first exposed to Solaris when I saw the modern version of the film (2002), starring George Clooney. I enjoyed the story so much, I then read the novel. In the film, I loved the slow-building psychological tension, and how we learned about the history of the couple as the mystery of Solaris began to unfold. The novel takes less of a romantic approach, but I was captivated by Lem’s premise that if we ever encounter alien beings they will most likely be so different from us that we won’t be able to relate to or even communicate with them.

When writing Ghost Planet, I incorporated themes from both the film and the novel, putting my own twist on them. For starters, just as a plot point, my aliens are reincarnated only from humans who have died. In Solaris, the aliens could take anyone’s form, whether living or dead, as long as there was an emotional connection to the human. My rationale for this was that dead people would have more impact, would be more like true ghosts, and would seem less like copies, which becomes important as the novel progresses.

Where Lem pretty much left it up to the reader to decide on the true nature of the alien intelligence, I wanted to explore and flesh out this concept. I stuck with the idea that the nature of the ghosts was obscured (in my story, due to the fact they were created by a symbiotic planetary ecosystem without consciousness). But I wanted their true nature to be at least somewhat discoverable and accessible. So over the course of the novel my heroine is able to explore and better understand the symbiotic link between ghosts and colonists, and also between the ghost/colonist pairs and the planet itself.

My heroine was another major departure from the original concept. Both the film and the original novel tell their story through Kris, a scientist who travels to the planet Solaris. His wife, Rheya — who committed suicide on Earth when he left her — returns as an alien manifestation, and her presence allows us to learn about Kris, just as the overall presence of the aliens allows us to examine the psychological and philosophical impact of the scientific study of the planet.

For Ghost Planet I chose to tell the story from the point of view of the alien, Elizabeth, who must come to terms with her new identity as she struggles to understand the true nature of her existence (all the while trying not to fall in love with the human she’s bound to). Rheya’s story was grim, as her new alien manifestation also ends up taking her own life. It is suggested, too, that she is more of a manifestation of Kris’s memories than of the actual woman. I wanted Ghost Planet to be Elizabeth’s story — a study of dependence v. independence, the bonds with others that help define us, and how we find the courage to face our greatest fears.

Finally, the original story was not romantic, and the film only touched on the romance before it went to dark places. I felt there was lots of fresh, interesting ground to be covered there, and that’s what really got the creative juices flowing. At times I toyed with the idea of focusing more on the sci-fi aspects of my story and scaling back the romance. But that book had already been written. And I’m the kind of reader and writer who likes a 50/50 blend.

Have you seen any of the films or read the original novel? If so, were there parts of it that really made you think? If not, what other classic sci-fi stories left their mark on you?

8 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] Sharon Lynn Fisher on The Ghost Planet / Solaris Connection”

  1. Thanks, Sharon.

    I have read Solaris, and watched both movies. I prefer the latter movie. Although the Russian version of the movie is far more faithful, I did like the compactness of the Soderbergh version, even if it did introduce that additional romantic element.

    1. Hi Paul! I really would like to see the Russian version. I liked the historical bits Soderbergh included about the couple. A friend who worked on the film told me that a number of the relationship-building scenes were cut, and I wish they’d been included. But I especially loved the look and feel of that version. Also loved the guy who played the character that killed his twin – that REALLY stuck with me, and a sort of similar switch-up comes into play at the end of GHOST PLANET. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Congratulations Sharon!

    Now you have me intrigued about the movie, but because I love a good romance – I think I will just enjoy your book!

    Can’t wait to dig in!

  3. I so psyched to finally read this! I love the 50/50 mix of SF and romance (there aren’t many books OR movies tackling the two) and the themes you’ve mentioned always capture me, so I know I’m gonna love it :) Congrats on the new book!

    1. Jessa, hellooooooooo! Great to bump into you here. Thanks so much for the good wishes! That is the perfect blend in my view too. :) Unfortunately I think in the past it has made a lot of publishers twitch. However, I think that’s changing. Some high-profile SFR films of late . . . Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

  4. Congratulations on your release, Sharon!

    I definitely enjoyed the subversive nature of GHOST PLANET in that the heroine is both the POV character *and* the extraordinary one (via her alien form). I saw the George Clooney SOLARIS but frankly it left me kind of cold. In retrospect, that may have been because part of me wanted a more female-centric gaze experience–something that GHOST PLANET certainly delivered. (Plus I never forgot that George Clooney’s character was, well, George Clooney!).

    Kudos to how you built the suspense and mystery elements in the first third–I was riveted! And also curious about what it’d be like to have a “ghost” of my own. Fun stuff!

    1. Yeah, hard to focus on much else when George is on the screen. :) I do think that version fell short with the romance — a shame some of that was cut. It was also hard watching Rheya as such a victim, both in her real life and her alien one.

      So glad you enjoyed the switch-up in perspective in GP! Thanks for dropping by, Heather!

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