STANISLAW LEM Biography - Writers


Biography » writers » stanislaw lem


Polish satirical and philosophical science fiction writer, who's novel SOLARIS (1961)     
was filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1971. Lem's books have been translated into             
some 30 languages and have sold over 10 million copies. He is probably the best           
single sci-fi author of the late 20th century not to write in English.                     
"Oh, I read good books, too, but only Earth side. Why that is, I don't really             
know. Never stopped to analyse it. Good books tell the truth, even when they're           
about things that never have been and never will be. They're truthful in a                 
different way. When they talk about outer space, they make you feel the silence,           
so unlike the Earthly kind - and the lifelessness. Whatever the adventures, the           
message is always the same: humans will never feel at home out there."                     
(from 'Pirx's Tale' in More Tales of Pirx The Pilot, 1983)                                 
Lem was born in Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine) the son of a physician. He studied               
medicine at Lwów University and at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, but World           
War II interrupted his studies. During the war and Nazi occupation Lem worked as           
a car mechanic and welder, and was a member of the resistance fighting against             
the Germans. Toward the end of the war Poland was occupied by the Red Army and             
the country was closely controlled by the Soviet Union for the next 50 years. In           
1946 Lem moved to Kraców. After finishing his studies Lem received his MD. He             
worked as a research assistant in a scientific institution and started to write           
stories in his spare time.                                                                 
In the beginning of his career Lem published lyrical verse, essays on scientific           
method and realistic novels. His first work was a story CZLOWIEK Z MARSA (1946),           
which appeared in a magazine. In the 1950s Lem turned to science fiction,                 
publishing ASTRONAUCI (1951), OBLOK MAGELANA (1955), and EDEN (1959), a prophecy           
in which five ship-wrecked space travelling scientist explore a world where               
chemical manipulation is a part of the social lassez-faire.                               
The following novels and stories were more or less optimistic and based on the             
conventions of Socialist Realism. In the 1960s Lem's visions became more                   
independent, experimental and radical. Although the communist Polish government           
did not tolerate criticism, the authorities regarded science fiction as an                 
unimportant genre of literature, which made possible the critical revaluation of           
socials issues under the disguise of a fantasy. In the 1960s Lem was very                 
productive: he wrote among others POWRŇT Z GWIAZD (1961), CIBERIADIA (1965),               
WYSOKI ZAMEK (1966), OPOWIESCI O PILOCIE PIRXIE (1968), and GLOS PANA (1968).             
Lem's adventure stories about Ijon Tichy, an astronaut, laughed at politics and           
showed the hollowess of some commonly accepted ideas. Lem's works include KATAR           
(1977), WISJA LOKALNA (1982), and FIASKO (1986, transl. 1987), a meditation on             
the nature of culture and technology, in which aliens avoid contact with humans.           
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub (transl. 1973) is a story about an aspiring agent who           
seeks his mission and the meaning of his existence. Imaginary Magnitude (transl.           
1984) is homage to Jorge Luis Borges, consisting only of introductions of other           
(imaginary) books. In Return from the Stars (transl. 1980) a space pilot returns           
to Earth after a 10-year journey. He has to adjust himself to a new world -               
meanwhile 120 years had passed in Earth time.                                             
Lem's most famous novel Solaris is among the classic science fiction novels of             
the 1960s, and explores the limitations of human understanding. In a space                 
station hovering above the planet Solaris scientists probe the mysteries the               
planet where the only living thing is an intelligent ocean that covers the whole           
surface. But the vast fluid "brain" turns out to be impenetrable to human                 
probing, physical or metaphysical. However, the ocean creates phantoms that               
haunt the crew.                                                                           
"And do you believe in God?"                                                               
"I do."                                                                                   
"But you didn't think a robot would, right?"                                               
(from 'The Inquest' in More Tales of Pirx the Pilot, 1983)                                 
From 1983 Lem has lived in Austria and Italy. In his memoirs Highcastle: A                 
Remembrance (1997) the author describes his innocent childhood as the son of a             
doctor in Lvov between the two world wars. After writing FIASKO (1986) and POKŇJ           
NA ZIEMI (1987), Lem announced that he would finish his career as a novelist and           
publish only essays and columns. However, in 2000 appeared Lem's new novel,               
OKAMGNIENIE, about how the world ends happily.                                             
Series character: Ion Itchy, a time traveller who appeared in the short story             
collections (The Star Diaries etc.) - Peace on Earth (1987) is a story about               
military technology. One high-tech weapon slices through the left and right               
hemispheres of the legendary polymath. As a consequence, Tichy can type only               
with his right hand, while his left pinches women's behinds and otherwise acts             
with a will of its own. The fate of nations may depend on the secrets of his               
confused mind.                                                                             
For further reading: New Worlds for Old by David Ketterer (1974); Stanislaw Lem           
by Richard E. Ziegfeld (1985) in Science Fiction Studies, vol. 13; Stanislaw Lem           
by J. Madison Davis (1987); A Stanislaw Lem Reader, ed. by Peter Swirski (1997)           
Solaris - film 1972, dir. by Andrei Tarkovsky. Called the 2001 of Russian sci-fi           
cinema. A scientist (Donatis Banionis) is sent to investigate why his colleagues           
on a space station situated above the planet Solaris, have suffered mental                 
breakdowns. He discovers that the mysterious organic, sentient 'ocean' of the             
planet is capable of reproducing images and people from a person's past, and               
their innermost obsessions. Banionis himself is haunted by a reincarnation of             
his wife who has committed suicide. Horrified he kills the phantom wife, but a             
replica reappears. Ultimately the meeting force him to face up the past events             
of his life. Solaris itself remains an enigma - the phantoms may be an attempt             
by the planet to communicate.