Stanisław Lem

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:

Books by Lem, many of them in Tripod:

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.