Third paper, rough draft due (bring two copies)
Stanisław Lem (1921–2006), Poland.
Lem was born in Lwów, Poland (which after WWII became Lviv, Ukraine), but after the Second World War his family settled in Kraków. He
studied medicine and developed a strong interest in mathematics and other sciences. Although his early novels were rather traditional
sciencefiction, his individual style and philosophy came to bloom by the 1960’s. His work often stresses the disharmony between
technological possibility and human intentions and shows a tremendous stylistic and thematic variety. He attracted some bad press
because of (carelessly? justifiably?) critical remarks about the quality of North American science fiction, which one might discuss
in the context of the different roles of the genre in East and West over the past many years. Lem was both well-respected and a popular,
widely-read writer - one might note the large nummber of his books in translation, and their relatively reasonable prices! (And in the early
days of the World Wide Web there were TONS more sites devoted to Lem, that darling of geeky technies, than to Kundera, say.)
Note that the “ł” in Stanisław (though not the “L” in Lem) has a cross-bar that makes it a different letter, pronounced something like
the English “w,” and that Polish names are always stressed on the penultimate syllable: Stan-EE-swav.
Solaris (1961) is probably Lem's best-known work, having been made into television adaptations, as well as into movies by
Andrei Tarkovsky (1972) and Steven Soderbergh (2002). However, Cyberiada (1965), brilliantly translated as The Cyberiad
(1974) by the very talented Michael Kandel, is great fun - with a strong philosophical underpinning and dark undertones that often show up
in humorous writing. I'm told that this book makes a wonderful gift for your favorite scientist.
Questions for reading:
- Just to start with, what is the effect of having such odd and difficult-to-pronounce names for our heroes? (They're odd in Polish too.)
- If you have read a lot of science fiction, what do these stories remind you of?
- If you have not read a lot of science fiction, what do these stories suggest about the genre? On the other hand, how can they be
read in the context of the works we have already read this fall? What do they suggest about human society, science, history, language, etc.?
- How may a science fiction plot, the things that are possible or verisimilar in a slightly or largely different world, differ and
diverge from the plots of "realistic" literature?
- How does Lem engage our sympathy for his characters? To what extend does he not bother to do so, and what are the results (if any) as
the reader progresses through the book?
- And how about the many talking names (King Atrocitus), portmanteau names (Bartholocaust) and other wordplay?
- What kind of stories does the subtitle ("Fables") suggest? What is fable-like, or fabuluos, in Cyberiad? Would you expect
to find kings and dragons in a science fiction story alongside the robots and rockets?
- Given what you've learned about life and literature under socialism, what ideas might you have about the place of science fiction
there - either before 1989, or today (when, we hope, Lem's heirs can enjoy his richly-deserved royalties)?
- What is the role (waht are the roles) of love and sex, and what sort of gender relations do the stories provide?
- How does the mood of the stories, and the character of our constructors, change and develop over time?
- If you were a Stalinis censor or a Vulgar Marxist critic, what might you object to in this book?
- Given what you know about life and literature under socialism, what ideas might you have about the place of science fiction there —
either before 1989, or today?
- SPOILER ALERT! - At what point does it become clear that Trurl and Klapaucius (Klapaucjusz in Polish, as one of the illlustrations
informs us) are not human beings?
Books by Lem, many of them in Tripod:
- Szpital Przemienienia, 1948. Hospital of the Transfiguration, translated
by William Brand, 1988
- Dzienniki gwiazdowe (1957, expanded until 1971). The Star Diaries,
translated by Michael Kandel, 1976
- Eden, 1959, translated by Marc E. Heine, 1989
- Śledztwo, 1959. The Investigation, translated by Adele Milch, 1974
- Pamiętnik znaleziony w wannie, 1961. Memoirs Found in a Bathtub,
translated by Michael Kandel and Christine Rose, 1973
- Powrót z gwiazd, 1961. Return from the Stars, translated by Barbara
Marszal and Frank Simpson, 1980
- Niezwyciężony, 1964. The Invincible, translated by Wendayne Ackerman
(from German), 1973
- Cyberiada, 1967. The Cyberiad, translated by Michael Kandel,
- Opowieści o pilocie Pirxie, 1968. Tales of Pirx the Pilot,
translated by Louis Iribarne, 1979
- Fantastyka i futurologia, 1970. Microworlds: Writings on Science
Fiction and Fantasy, translated and ed. Franz Rottensteiner, 1984
- Doskonała próżnia, 1971. A Perfect Vacuum, translated by
Michael Kandel, 1981
- Katar, 1975. The Chain of Chance, translated by Louis Iribarne, 1978
- Fiasko, 1986. Fiasco, translated by Michael Kandel, 1987
- One Human Minute, translated from other editions by Catherine S. Leach,
- Pokój na Ziemi, 1987. Peace on Earth, translated by Elinor
Ford with Michael Kandel, 1994
You might want to compare Lem’s work to science fiction by Isaac Asimov (who emigrated to the US from Russia in 1923, at the age of 3);
other interesting comparisons would be with EE authors such as the Strugatsky brothers (Arkadii and Boris Strugatsky). Or compare
Cyberiad with Solaris, a profoundly different book, or one of Lem's many other works in translation.