Stanisław Lem

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Stanisław Lem
St Lem resize.jpg
Born 12 September 1921
Lwów, Poland (now Ukraine)
Died 27 March 2006 (aged 84)
Kraków, Poland
Occupation Writer
Nationality Polish
Period 1946–2005
Genre Science fiction, philosophy, satire
Spouse Barbara Leśniak (1953–2006; his death; 1 child)[1]
Website
lem.pl

Stanisław Lem (Polish pronunciation: [staˈɲiswaf ˈlɛm] ( ); 12 September 1921 – 27 March 2006) was a Polish writer of science fiction, philosophy and satire. His books have been translated into 41 languages and have sold over 45 million copies.[2][3] From 1950s to 2000s he published many books, both science fiction and philosophical/futurological. He is best known as the author of the 1961 novel Solaris, which has been made into a feature film three times. In 1976 Theodore Sturgeon wrote that Lem was the most widely read science-fiction writer in the world.[4]

His works explore philosophical themes; speculation on technology, the nature of intelligence, the impossibility of mutual communication and understanding, despair about human limitations and humanity's place in the universe. They are sometimes presented as fiction, but others are in the form of essays or philosophical books.

Translations of his works are difficult due to passages with elaborate word formation, alien or robotic poetry, and puns.

Life[edit]

Early life[edit]

House #4 on Bohdana Lepkogo street in Lwów, where, according to his autobiography "Wysoki zamek", Lem spent his childhood.

Lem was born in 1921 in Lwów, Poland (now Ukraine). He was the son of Sabina Woller (1892–1979) and Samuel Lem (1879–1954), a wealthy laryngologist and former physician in the Austro-Hungarian Army.[5][6] Though raised a Roman Catholic, he later became an atheist "for moral reasons ... the world appears to me to be put together in such a painful way that I prefer to believe that it was not created ... intentionally".[7][8] Lem called himself an "agnostic" later in life.[9] After the Soviet invasion and occupation of Eastern Poland, he was not allowed to study at the Polytechnic as he wished because of his "bourgeois origin" and only due to his father's connections was accepted to study medicine at Lwów University in 1940.[10] During the subsequent Nazi occupation (1941–1944), Lem's family, which had Jewish roots, avoided imprisonment in a ghetto, surviving with false papers.[6] During that time Lem earned a living as a car mechanic and welder.[6]

"During that period, I learned in a very personal, practical way that I was no “Aryan”. I knew that my ancestors were Jews, but I knew nothing of the Mosaic faith and, regrettably, nothing at all of Jewish culture. So it was, strictly speaking, only the Nazi legislation that brought home to me the realization that I had Jewish blood in my veins. "[6][11]

In 1945, Polish eastern Kresy was annexed into Soviet Ukraine and the family, like many other Poles, was resettled to Kraków where Lem, at his father's insistence, took up medical studies at the Jagiellonian University.[6] He refused to tailor his answers to the prevailing Lysenkoism and failed his final examinations on purpose so as not to be obliged to become a military doctor.[10] Earlier he had started working as an assistant in a hospital[citation needed] and writing stories in his spare time.[6]

Rise to fame[edit]

Stanisław Lem and toy cosmonaut, 1966

Lem made his literary debut in 1946 with a number of works of different genres, including poetry as well as a science fiction novel The Man from Mars (Człowiek z Mars) serialized in in Nowy Świat Przygód (pl) (New World of Adventures).[6] Between 1948 and 1950 Lem was working as a scientific research assistant at the Jagiellonian University, and published a number of short stories, poems, reviews and similar works, particularly at Tygodnik Powszechny.[12] In 1951 he published his first book, The Astronauts (Astronauci).[6] In 1954 he published a short story anthology, Sesame and other stories (Sezam i inne opowiadania (pl)).[6] That year he also married Barbara Leśniak.[6] Following, year, 1955, saw the publication of another sci-fi novel, The Magellanic Cloud (Obłok Magellana).[6]

During the era of Stalinism, which in Poland begun in the late 40s, all published works had to be directly approved by the communist regime. Thus Astronauci was not, in fact, the first novel Lem finished, just the first that made it past the censors.[6] Going by the date of finished manuscript, Lem's first book would be a partly autobiographical novella Hospital of the Transfiguration (Szpital Przemienienia), finished in 1948.[6] It would be published seven years later, in 1955, as a trilogy under a title Czas nieutracony (Time Not Lost).[6] The experience of trying to push Czas.. through the censors were one of the major reasons Lem decided to focus on the less censored genre of science fiction.[12] Nonetheless, most of Lem's works published in the 1950s also contain, forced upon him by the censors and editors, various references to socialist realism as well as "glorious future of communism".[12][13] Lem later criticized several of his early pieces as compromised by the ideological pressure.[6]

Lem became truly productive after 1956, when the de-Stalinization period in the Soviet Union led to the "Polish October", when Poland experienced an increase in freedom of speech.[6][12][13] Between 1956 and 1968, Lem authored 17 books.[13] His writing over the next three decades or so was split between science fiction (primarily, prose) and essays about science and culture.[12]

In 1957 he published his first non-fiction, philosophical book, Dialogues (Dialogi (pl)), as well as a science-fiction anthology The Star Diaries (Dzienniki gwiazdowe),[6] collecting short stories about one of his most popular character, Ijon Tichy.[14] 1959 saw the publication of three books: Eden, Śledztwo and the short story anthology, Inwazja z Aldebarana.[6] 1961 saw two more books, the first seen as among his top works: Pamiętnik znaleziony w wannie, Solaris as well as Powrót z gwiazd.[6] This was followed by a collections of his essays and non-fiction prose, Wejście na orbitę (1962), and a short story anthology Noc księżycowa (1963).[6] In 1964 Lem published a large work on the border of philosophy and sociology of science and futurology, Summa Technologiae, as well as a novel The Invincible (Niezwyciężony).[6][13]

Lem signing in Kraków, 30 October 2005

1965 saw the publication of The Cyberiad (Cyberiada). That year also saw the publication of a short story anthology, The Hunt (Polowanie (pl)).[6] 1966 is the year of "Wysoki Zamek", and 1968, "Głos Pana" and "Opowieści o pilocie Pirxie".[6][13] "Wysoki Zamek" was another of Lem's autobiographical works, and touched upon a theme that usually was not favored by the censors - Lem's youth in the pre-war, then-Polish Lviv.[6] 1967 and 1970 saw two more non-fiction treaties, "Filozofia przypadku" and "Fantastyka i futurologia".[6] Ijon Tichy returns in 1971 The Futurological Congress Kongres futurologiczny, the year of a genre-mixing experient, "Doskonała próżnia" (a collection of reviews of non-existing books).[6] 1973 sees a similar work, "Wielkość urojona".[6] In 1976 Lem publishes two novels: "Maska" and "Katar".[6] In 1980 he published another set of reviews of non-existing works, "Prowokacja".[6] Next year sees the another Tichy's novel, "Wizja lokalna".[6] Later this decade he publishes "Pokój na Ziemi" (1984) and "Fiasko" (1986); Lem's final science-fiction novel.[6]

In the late 70s and early 80s Lem cautiously supported Polish dissidents movement, and started publishing essays in Paris-based Kultura.[6] In 1982, with martial law in Poland declared, Lem moved to West Berlin, where he became a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin).[6] After that, he settled in Vienna. He returned to Poland in 1988.[6]

Final years[edit]

From the late 1980s onwards he tended to concentrate on philosophical texts and essays, published in a number of Polish magazines (Tygodnik Powszechny, Odra, Przegląd and others).[6][12] They were later collected in a number of anthologies.[6]

In the early 1990s Lem met with a literary scholar and critic Peter Swirski for a series of extensive interviews, published together with other critical materials and translations as A Stanislaw Lem Reader (1997). In the book Lem speaks about a range of issues rarely touched on before in any interview. Moreover, the book includes Swirski's translation of Lem's retrospective essay "Thirty Years Later", devoted to Lem's legendary nonfictional treatise Summa Technologiae. During later interviews in 2005, Lem expressed his disappointment with the genre of science fiction and his general pessimism regarding technical progress. He viewed the human body as unsuitable for space travel, held that information technology drowns people in a glut of low-quality information, and considered truly intelligent robots as both undesirable and impossible to construct.[15]

In 1996, he received the prestigious Polish award, the Order of the White Eagle.[16]

Lem died in Kraków on 27 March 2006 at the age of 84[12] due to heart disease.

Controversies[edit]

SFWA[edit]

Lem was awarded an honorary membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) in 1973. SFWA Honorary membership is given to people who do not meet the publishing criteria for joining the regular membership but who would be welcomed as members had their work appeared in the qualifying English language publications. Lem, however, never had a high opinion of American science fiction, describing it as ill thought-out, poorly written, and interested more in making money than in ideas or new literary forms.[17] After his eventual American publication, when he became eligible for regular membership, his honorary membership was rescinded, an action that some of the SFWA members apparently intended as a rebuke,[18] and it seems that Lem interpreted it as such. Lem was invited to stay on with the organization with a regular membership, but declined.[19] After many members (including Ursula K. Le Guin) protested Lem's treatment by the SFWA, a member offered to pay his dues. Lem never accepted the offer.[17][19]

Philip K. Dick[edit]

Lem singled out only one[citation needed] American SF writer for praise, Philip K. Dick—see the 1986 English-language anthology of his critical essays, Microworlds. Dick thought that Stanisław Lem was probably a false name used by a composite committee operating on orders of the Communist party to gain control over public opinion, and wrote a letter to the FBI to that effect. Stanislaw Lem was also responsible for Polish translation of Dick's work, and when Dick felt monetarily short-changed by the publisher, he held Lem personally responsible (see Microworlds). [20]

Significance[edit]

Lem is the most internationally famous Polish writer.[12] He has become one of the most highly acclaimed science-fiction writers, hailed by critics as equal to the like classics such as H. G. Wells or Olaf Stapledon.[21] In 1976 Theodore Sturgeon wrote that Lem was the most widely read science-fiction writer in the world.[4]

In Poland, in the 60s and 70s, Lem remained under the radar of mainstream critics, who dismissed him as a "mass market", low-brow, youth-oriented writer, through the same dismissal might have given him a form of invisibility from the censorship.[6]

The total volume of his published works is over 28 million volumes.[12] His works were widely translated abroad, appearing in over 40 languages, through the bulk of them were in the Eastern Bloc countries (Poland, Germany and Russia).[6] Franz Rottensteiner, Lem's former agent abroad, had this to say about Lem's reception on international markets:

With [number of translations and copies sold], Lem is the most successful author in modern Polish fiction; nevertheless his commercial success in the world is limited, and the bulk of his large editions was due to the special publishing conditions in the Communist countries: Poland, the Soviet Union, and the German Democratic Republic). Only in West Germany was Lem really a critical and a commercial success [... and everywhere... ] in recent years interest in him has waned.

But he is the only writer of European [science fiction, most of whose] books have been translated into English, and [...] kept in print in the USA. Lem's critical success in English is due mostly to the excellent translations of Michael Kandel.[22]

His best-known novels include Solaris (1961), His Master's Voice (Głos pana, 1968), and the late Fiasco (Fiasko, 1987). Solaris was made into a film in 1972 by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and won a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972; in 2002, Steven Soderbergh directed a Hollywood remake starring George Clooney.

Solaris is not the only work of Lem's to be made into a movie. Over ten movie, film and television adaptations of his work exist, such as adaptations o The Astronauts (First Spaceship on Venus, 1960) and The Magellan Nebula (Ikarie XB-I (1963)).[23] Lem himself was however critical of most of the screen adaptations, with the sole exception of 1968 Przekładaniec by Andrzej Wajda.[6] More recently in 2013 the Israeli Polish co-production The Congress was released, inspired by Lem's novel The Futurological Congress.[24]

Lem's works have been used in education, for example as teaching texts for philosophy students.[25]

Lem's works have influenced not only the realm of literature, but that of science as well. For example, Return from the Stars includes the "opton", which is often cited as the first published appearance of the idea of electronic paper.

In 1981 the philosophers Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett included three extracts from Lem's fiction in their important annotated anthology The Mind's I. ... Hofstadter commented that Lem's "literary and intuitive approach... does a better job of convincing readers of his views than any hard-nosed scientific article... might do".[21]

Other influences exerted by Lem's works include Will Wright's popular city planning game SimCity which was partly inspired by Lem's short story The Seventh Sally.[26]

Writings[edit]

Science fiction[edit]

Stanisław Lem works were influenced by such masters of Polish literature as Cyprian Norwid and Stanisław Witkiewicz.[citation needed] His prose show a mastery of numerous genres and themes.[6]

One of Lem's major recurring themes, beginning from his very first novel, The Man from Mars, was the impossibility of communication between profoundly alien beings and humans, which may have no common ground with human intelligence. The best known example is the living planetary ocean in Lem's novel Solaris. Other examples include swarms of mechanical insects (in The Invincible) or strangely ordered societies of more human-like beings in Fiasco and Eden, describing the failure of the first contact. In His Master's Voice Lem describes the failure of humanity's intelligence in deciphering and truly comprehending an apparent message from space.[27][28]

Two overlapping arcs of short stories, Fables for Robots (Bajki Robotów), translated in the collection Mortal Engines), The Cyberiad (Cyberiada) provide a commentary on humanity in the form of a series of grotesque, humorous, fairy tale-like short stories from a mechanical universe inhabited by robots (who had occasional contacts with biological "slimies" and human "palefaces").[6][29]

"Śledztwo" and "Katar" are crime novels (the latter, without a murderer); "Pamiętnik..." in turn is a psychological drama inspired by Kafka.[6] "Doskonała próżnia" and "Wielkość urojona" are, in turn, collections of reviews of non-existent books, and introductions to them.[6] Similar "Prowokacja" purports to review a Holocaust-themed work.[6]

Essays[edit]

His criticism of most science fiction surfaced in literary and philosophical essays Fantasy and futurology (Fantastyka i futurologia (pl)) and interviews.[30] In the 1990s Lem forswore science fiction and returned to futurological prognostications, most notably those expressed in Blink of an Eye (Okamgnienie (pl)). He became increasingly critical of modern technology in his later life, criticizing inventions such as the Internet.[31]

Dialogi and Summa Technologiae (1964) are his two most famous philosophical texts. The Summa is notable for being a unique analysis of prospective social, cybernetic, and biological advances.[6] In this work, Lem discusses philosophical implications of technologies that were completely in the realm of science fiction then, but are gaining importance today—for instance, virtual reality and nanotechnology.

Honors[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Stanislaw Lem – Obituaries – News". The Independent. 2006-03-31. Retrieved 2013-09-13. 
  2. ^ Rob Jan. "Stanislaw Lem 1921 – 2006. Obituary by Rob Jan". ZERO-G AUSTRALIAN RADIO and lem.pl. 
  3. ^ "Technik: Visionär ohne Illusionen". ZEIT ONLINE. 28 July 2005. . Part essay, part interview with Lem by Die Zeit newspaper
  4. ^ a b Theodore Sturgeon: Introduction at the Wayback Machine (archived October 17, 2007) to Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc, New York 1976
  5. ^ Jerzy Jarzȩbski (1986). Zufall und Ordnung: zum Werk Stanlisław Lems (in German). Suhrkamp. p. 1. ISBN 978-3-518-37790-1. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as Tomasz FIAŁKOWSKI. "Stanisław Lem czyli życie spełnione" (in Polish). solaris.lem.pl. 
  7. ^ "The religion of Stanislaw Lem, science fiction writer". adherents.com. 
  8. ^ An Interview with Stanislaw Lem at the Wayback Machine (archived September 27, 2007) by Peter Engel. Missouri Review Volume 7, Number 2, 1984.
  9. ^ Noack, Hans-Joachim (15 January 1996). "Jeder Irrwitz ist denkbar Science-fiction-Autor Lem über Nutzen und Risiken der Antimaterie (engl: Each madness is conceivable Science-fiction author Lem about the benefits and risks of anti-matter)". Der Spiegel. Retrieved 6 March 2014. 
  10. ^ a b "Lem about Himself". Stanislaw Lem homepage. 
  11. ^ Stanisław Lem (January 1984). "Chance and Order". The New Yorker 59 / 30. pp. 88–98. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Jerzy Jarzębski. Lem, Stanisław (in Polish). 'PWN. Retrieved 30 October 2014. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Lem, Stanislaw. SFE. October 25, 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  14. ^ Stanisław Lem (2000). Memoirs of a Space Traveler: Further Reminiscences of Ijon Tichy. Northwestern University Press. p. Back cover blurb. ISBN 978-0-8101-1732-7. [Tichy] endures as one of Lem's most popular characters 
  15. ^ Auch Hosenträger sind intelligent, Zeit Wissen, 1/2005; Im Ramschladen der Phantasie, Zeit Wissen, 3/2005. (German)
  16. ^ Orzeł Biały dla Lema (White Eagle for Lem), article in "Gazeta Wyborcza" nr 217, 17 September 1996, page 2, [1]
  17. ^ a b "Stanislaw Lem – Frequently Asked Questions. SWFA, quoted on Lem's homepage". Stanislaw Lem. 
  18. ^ "The Lem Affair (Continued)". Science Fiction Studies, # 14 = Volume 5, Part 1 = March 1978. 1978. 
  19. ^ a b "Lem and SFWA". Archived from the original on 11 January 2008.  in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America FAQ, "paraphrasing Jerry Pournelle" who was SFWA President 1973-4
  20. ^ "Stanislaw Lem – Frequently Asked Questions. P.K.Dick, Letter to FBI, quoted on Lem's homepage". Stanislaw Lem. 
  21. ^ a b "Stanislaw Lem". The Times. 28 March 2006. 
  22. ^ Franz Rottensteiner (1999). "Note on the Authors: Stanisław Lem". View from Another Shore: European Science Fiction. Liverpool University Press. p. 252. ISBN 978-0-85323-942-0. 
  23. ^ Peter Swirski (1 January 2008). The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. pp. 153–170. ISBN 978-0-7735-7507-3. 
  24. ^ "Israeli Polish coproduction "The Congress" to Open Director’s Fortnight in Cannes". 
  25. ^ For instance, in the subject Natural and Artificial Thinking, Faculty of Math. & Phys., Charles University in Prague, or Philosophy in sci-fi at Masaryk University in Brno
  26. ^ Lew, Julie (15 June 1989). "Making City Planning a Game". nytimes.com. Retrieved 28 May 2010. 
  27. ^ David Langford (July 2005). The Sex Column and Other Misprints, a collection of essays from SFX magazine. Wildside Press LLC. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-930997-78-3. 
  28. ^ The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works ... – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-09-13. 
  29. ^ "Cyberiada". Lem's official website. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  30. ^ ""Folha de S.Paulo" - interview with Lem". Stanislaw Lem's homepage. 
  31. ^ ""Shargh" daily newspaper interview". Stanislaw Lem. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  32. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 325. ISBN 3-540-00238-3. 
  33. ^ "UCHWAŁA NR VIII/122/07 Rady Miasta Krakowa z dnia 14 marca 2007 r. w sprawie nazw ulic. Par.1, pkt.1" (in Polish). 
  34. ^ "Uchwała nr XXXII/479/2009 Rady Miejskiej w Wieliczce z dnia 30 września 2009 r. w sprawie nadania nazwy ulicy" (in Polish). Urząd Marszałkowski Województwa Małopolskiego. 
  35. ^ "Stanisław Lem doodle". Google.com. Retrieved 2013-09-13. 
  36. ^ "Google creates doodle in Stanislaw Lem's book". The Guardian. 23 November 2011. Retrieved 23 November 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Obituaries