Stanisław Lem and toy cosmonaut in 1966
|Born||12 September 1921
Lwów, Poland (now Ukraine)
|Died||27 March 2006 (aged 84)
|Genres||Science fiction, philosophy, satire|
|Spouse(s)||Barbara Leśniak (1953–2006; his death; 1 child)|
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 27 million copies. He is known as the author of the 1961 novel Solaris, which has been made into a feature film three times. In 1976 Theodore Sturgeon said that Lem was the most widely read science fiction writer in the world. In 1996, Lem was the recipient of the prestigious Polish national award, the Order of the White Eagle.
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.
Youth and education
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. 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". Lem called himself an "agnostic" later in life. After the Soviet 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. During World War II and the Nazi occupation (1941–1944), Lem survived with false papers, earning a living as a car mechanic and welder, and becoming active in the resistance.
"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. We succeeded in evading imprisonment in the ghetto, however. With false papers, my parents and I survived that ordeal." (Stanisław Lem, "Chance and Order", The New Yorker 59 / 30 January 1984, page 88–98)
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. 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. Earlier he had started working as a research assistant in a scientific institution and writing stories in his spare time.
Lem made his literary debut in 1946 as a poet, and at that time he also published several dime novels. Beginning that year, Lem's first science fiction novel The Man from Mars was serialized in the magazine Nowy Świat Przygód (New World of Adventures). Between 1947 and 1950 Lem, while continuing his work as a scientific research assistant, published poems, short stories, and scientific essays. However, during the era of Stalinism, all published works had to be directly approved by the communist regime. Lem finished a partly autobiographical novella Hospital of the Transfiguration (Szpital Przemienienia) in 1948, but it was suppressed by the authorities until 1955 when he added a sequel more acceptable to the doctrine of socialist realism. In 1951 he published his first book, Astronauci (The Astronauts); it was commissioned as juvenile SF and Lem was forced to include many references to the 'glorious future of communism' in it. He later criticized this novel (as well as several of his other early pieces, bowing to the ideological pressure) as simplistic; nonetheless its publication persuaded him to become a full-time writer.
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. Between 1956 and 1968, Lem authored 17 books. His works were widely translated abroad (although mostly in the Eastern Bloc countries). In 1957 he published his first non-fiction, philosophical book, Dialogi (Dialogues). 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. 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. Over the next few decades, he published many books, both science fiction and philosophical/futurological, although from the 1980s onwards he tended to concentrate on philosophical texts and essays.
He gained international fame for The Cyberiad, a series of humorous short stories from a mechanical universe inhabited by robots (who had occasional contacts with biological "slimies" and human "palefaces"), first published in English in 1974. His best-known novels include Solaris (1961), His Master's Voice (Głos pana, 1968), and the late Fiasco (Fiasko, 1987), expressing most strongly his major theme of the futility of humanity's attempts to comprehend the truly alien. 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.
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). After that, he settled in Vienna. He returned to Poland in 1988.
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 before touched on 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.
Lem died in Kraków on 27 March 2006 at the age of 84 due to heart disease.
Honours and accolades
- 1957 – City of Kraków's Prize in Literature (Nagroda Literacka miasta Krakowa)
- 1965 – Prize of the Minister of Culture and Art, 2nd Level (Nagroda Ministra Kultury i Sztuki II stopnia)
- 1972 – member of commission "Poland 2000" of the Polish Academy of Sciences
- Prize of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for popularization of Polish culture abroad (nagroda Ministra Spraw Zagranicznych za popularyzację polskiej kultury za granicą)
- Literary Prize of the Minister of Culture and Art (nagroda literacka Ministra Kultury i Sztuki) and honorary member of Science Fiction Writers of America
- 1976 – State Prize 1st Level in the area of literature (Nagroda Państwowa I stopnia w dziedzinie literatury)
- 1981 – Doctor honoris causa honorary degree from the Wrocław University of Technology
- 1986 – Austrian State Prize for European Literature
- 1991 – Austrian literary Franz Kafka Prize
- 1994 – member of the Polish Academy of Learning
- 1996 – recipient of the Order of the White Eagle
- 1997 – honorary citizen of Kraków
- 1998 – Doctor honoris causa: University of Opole, Lviv University, Jagiellonian University
- 2003 – Doctor honoris causa of the University of Bielefeld
- 2007 – A street in Kraków is to be named in his honour.
- 2009 – A street in Wieliczka was named in his honour
- 2011 – An interactive Google logo inspired by The Cyberiad was created and published in his honor for the 60th anniversary of his first published book: The Astronauts.
Lem was awarded an honorary membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) in 1973 despite being technically ineligible. SFWA Honorary membership is given to people who do not meet the criteria for joining the regular membership but who would be welcomed as members. 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. After his American publication, when he became eligible for regular membership, his honorary membership was rescinded, since technically he was no longer eligible for the honorary one. Some of the SFWA members apparently intended this as a rebuke, and it seems that Lem interpreted it thus. After his American publication, Lem was invited to stay on with the organization with a regular membership, but declined. 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.
Lem singled out only one American SF writer for praise, Philip K. Dick—see the 1986 English-language anthology of his critical essays, Microworlds. Dick, however, perhaps due to his mental illness, believed that Stanisław Lem was 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.
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.
Two overlapping arcs of short stories, (pl:Bajki Robotów, Fables for Robots, translated in the collection Mortal Engines), The Cyberiad (Cyberiada) provide a commentary on humanity in the form of a series of comic short stories in the world of robots. The first one is a mixture of the retelling of traditional fairy tale folklore with traditional science fiction topics. The second arc concerns the adventures of two constructor robots who handle engineering issues around the galaxy.
His criticism of most science fiction surfaced in literary and philosophical essays (Fantastyka i futurologia) and interviews. In the 1990s Lem forswore science fiction and returned to futurological prognostications, most notably those expressed in Okamgnienie (Blink of an Eye). He became increasingly critical of modern technology in his later life, criticizing inventions such as the Internet.
Franz Rottensteiner, Lem's former agent, was instrumental in introducing him to the Western audience, but they later separated on bitter terms. Rottensteiner summarized his importance:
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 SF of whom most 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...
Stanisław Lem, whose works were influenced by such masters of Polish literature as Cyprian Norwid and Stanisław Witkiewicz, and he has become one of the most highly acclaimed science-fiction writers, hailed by critics as equal to the likes of H. G. Wells or Olaf Stapledon.
Lem's works 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".
- Will Wright's popular city planning game, SimCity, was partly inspired by Lem's short story, "The Seventh Sally."
- Lem's works have been used as teaching texts for philosophy students.
- The Israeli Polish coproduction The Congress is based on Lem's novel
- List of works by Stanisław Lem and their adaptations
- Solaris (novel)
- Solaris (1968 film)
- Solaris (1972 film)
- Solaris (2002 film)
- "Stanislaw Lem – Obituaries – News". The Independent. 2006-03-31. Retrieved 2013-09-13.
- Stanislaw Lem 1921 – 2006. Obituary at Lem's official site
- Theodore Sturgeon: Introduction to Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc, New York 1976
- Orzeł Biały dla Lema (White Eagle for Lem), article in "Gazeta Wyborcza" nr 217, 17 September 1996, page 2
- http://www.adherents.com/people/pl/Stanislaw_Lem.html ; see also Stanisław Lew at culture.pl
- An Interview with Stanislaw Lem by Peter Engel. Missouri Review Volume 7, Number 2, 1984.
- 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.
- Stanislaw Lem about himself
- Lem, Stanisław. (2006) In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 30 June 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service
- Auch Hosenträger sind intelligent, Zeit Wissen, 1/2005; Im Ramschladen der Phantasie, Zeit Wissen, 3/2005. (German)
- Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 325. ISBN 3-540-00238-3.
- UCHWAŁA NR VIII/122/07 Rady Miasta Krakowa z dnia 14 marca 2007 r. w sprawie nazw ulic. Par.1, pkt.1 (Polish)
- Uchwała nr XXXII/479/2009 Rady Miejskiej w Wieliczce z dnia 30 września 2009 r. w sprawie nadania nazwy ulicy (Polish)
- "Stanisław Lem doodle". Google.com. Retrieved 2013-09-13.
- Google creates doodle in Stanislaw Lem's book, The Guardian Retrieved on 23 November 2011
- Stanislaw Lem – Frequently Asked Questions
- The Lem Affair (Continued)
- "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
- P.K.Dick, Letter to FBI quoted on Lem's homepage
- David Langford, "The SEX Column And Other Misprints", a collection of essays from SFX, 2005, ISBN 1930997787, p. 65
- The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works ... – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-09-13.
- "Cyberiada", at Lem's official website
- Stanislaw Lem – Interview February 2003
- "Shargh" daily newspaper interview
- "Stanislaw Lem". The Times. 28 March 2006.
- Lew, Julie (15 June 1989). "Making City Planning a Game". nytimes.com. Retrieved 28 May 2010.
- 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
- "Israeli Polish coproduction "The Congress" to Open Director’s Fortnight in Cannes".
- Wojciech Orliński, Co to są sepulki? Wszystko o Lemie (What are Sepulki? Everything about Lem), 2007, ISBN 8324007989.
- Peter Swirski, Stanislaw Lem Reader, Northwestern University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-8101-1495-X description
- Peter Swirski, "Stanislaw Lem." In Science Fiction Writers; Revised Edition. Ed. Richard Bleiler. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999. 453-466.
- Peter Swirski, Between Literature and Science: Poe, Lem, and Explorations in Aesthetics, Cognitive Science, and Literary Knowledge, McGill-Queen's UP, 2000, ISBN 0-7735-2078-3
- Peter Swirski, From Lowbrow to Nobrow, CHAPTER 6, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2005, ISBN 0-7735-3019-3
- Peter Swirski (ed), The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2008, ISBN 0-7735-3047-9
- "Acta Lemiana Monashiensis" ed. Lech Keller, „Acta Polonica Monashiensis", special edition dedicated to Lem, 2002, vol. 2, nr 2 Monash University 2003, 207 p., ISSN 1326-8562 review in Polish
- Lech Keller, Visions of the Future in the Writings of Stanislaw Lem (Volume 1, "Visions of the Future") Saarbrücken, Germany: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010, 392 p., ISBN 978-3-8383-5900-7
- Lech Keller, Visions of the Future in the Writings of Stanislaw Lem (Volume 2, "Annotated and Cross-Referenced Primary and Secondary Bibliography of Stanislaw Lem") Saarbrücken, Germany: LAP Lambert Academic Publishing, 2010, 696 p., ISBN 978-3-8383-6942-6
- Jameson, Fredric. "The Unknowability Thesis." In Archaeologies of the Future: This Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. London and New York: Verso, 2005.
- Suvin, Darko. "Three World Paradigms for SF: Asimov, Yefremov, Lem." Pacific Quarterly (Moana): An International Review of Arts and Ideas 4.(1979): 271–283.
|Wikinews has related news: Stanisław Lem dies at 84|
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|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Stanisław Lem|
- Official website – maintained by Lem's son and secretary
- Stanisław Lem at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Stanisław Lem at the Internet Movie Database
- "A Visionary Among the Charlatans": Lem's essay on Philip K. Dick at the Science-Fiction Studies website
- "Todorov's Fantastic Theory of Literature: Lem's caustic criticism of Tzvetan Todorov's essay on the fantastic
- Solaris, Rediscovered by Gary K. Wolf, Wired December 2002 including some comments from Lem
- Lem at "The Modern Word"
- Biography at sci.fi
- Biography at poland.gov
- Biography at culture.pl
- Science Fiction as a Model for Probabilistic Worlds: Stanislaw Lem's Fantastic Empiricism by Dagmar Barnouw, Science Fiction Studies, # 18 = Volume 6, Part 2 = July 1979
- Stanislaw Lem, Jeet Heer, Boston Globe Ideas, 15 December 2004
- The writing of Stanislaw Lem – Reviews by Matt McIrvin
- Stanislaw Lem Bibliography
- "Less Predictable Realities," translated by Joanna Zylinska, in the journal Scapegoat, issue 05 (2013)
- Life after Lem, Warsaw Voice 5 April 2006 (cover story)
- To Solaris and beyond, Philosopher's Zone Australian Broadcasting Corporation discussion about Lem's works; MP3
- Times Online obituary