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An Introduction to Stanislaw Lem, the Nice Polish Sci-Fi Author, by Jonathan Lethem

Who was Stanislaw Lem? The Polish science fiction author, novelist, essayist, and polymath might greatest be recognized for his 1961 novel Solaris (tailored for the display by Andrei Tarkosvky in 1972 and once more by Steven Soderbergh in 2014). Lem’s science fiction appealed broadly outdoors of SF fandom, attracting the likes of John Updike, who referred to as his tales “marvelous” and Lem a poet of “scientific terminology” for readers “whose hearts beat quicker when the Scientific American arrives every month.”

Updike’s characterization is however one model of Lem. There are a number of extra, writes Jonathan Lethem in an essay for the London Assessment of Books, penned for Lem’s one centesimal anniversary – no less than 5 completely different Lems with 5 completely different literary personalities. Solely the primary is a “exhausting science fiction author,” the style originating not with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, however “in H.G. Wells’ technological prognostications.”

Represented greatest within the pages of Astounding Tales and different sci-fi pulps, exhausting sci-fi “advertises client items like private robots and flying vehicles. It valorizes house journey that culminates in profitable, if tough, contact with the alien life assumed to be strewn all through the galaxies.” The style additionally grew to become tied to “American exceptionalist ideology, technocratic triumphalism, manifest future” and “libertarian survivalist bullshit,” says Lethem.

Lem had no use for these attitudes. In his guise as a critic and reviewer he wrote, “the scientific ignorance of most American science-fiction writers was as inexplicable because the abominable literary high quality of their output.” He admired the English H.G. Wells, evaluating him to the inventor of chess, and American Philip Okay. Dick, whom he referred to as a “visionary amongst charlatans.” However Lem hated most exhausting sci-fi, although he himself, says Lethem, was a tough sci-fi author “with visionary presents and inexhaustible diligence when it got here to the duty of extrapolation.”

A lot of Lem’s work was of one other form, as Lethem explains within the quick movie above, a condensed model of his essay. The second Lem “wrote fairy tales and people tales of the long run.” The third, “wrote simply two novels, but he might simply be, on the fitting day, one’s favourite.” Lem quantity 4 “is the pure post-modernist, who unified his essayistic and fictional selves with a Borgesian or Nabokovian gesture.” This Lem, for instance, wrote the very Borgesian A Excellent Vacuum: Excellent Critiques of Nonexistent Books.

Lem quantity 5, says Lethem, is “one other main determine,” this one a prolific literary essayist, critic, reviewer, and non-fiction author whose breadth is staggering. Fairly than confining him with the label “futurist,” Lethem calls him an “anythingist,” a degree Lem proved together with his 1964 Summa Technologiae, a “masterwork of non-fiction,” Simon Ings writes at New Scientist, with the ambition and scope of the Thirteenth-century Aquinas work for which it’s named.

This fifth and closing Lem “will probably be a wonderful shock to those that know solely his science fiction,” writes Ings. Solely translated into English in 2014, his Summa presages engines like google, digital actuality, and technological singularity. It makes an attempt an “all encompassing… discourse on evolution,” commented biophysicist Peter Butko, “not solely… of science and know-how… but additionally evolution of life, humanity, consciousness, tradition, and civilization.”

The final Lem makes for heady studying, however he imbues this work with the identical wit and wickedly satirical voice we discover within the first 4. He operated, in spite of everything, as Lethem writes in his essay celebrating the Polish writer at 100, “within the spirit of different Iron Curtain figures who slipped under the censor’s radar through the use of types thought to be unserious.” But few have taken the type of science fiction extra critically.

by way of Aeon

Associated Content material:

“Auteur in House”: A Video Essay on How Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris Transcends Science Fiction

Revisit Classic Problems with Astounding Tales, the Thirties Journal that Gave Rise to Science Fiction as We Know It

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: 17,500 Entries on All Issues Sci-Fi Are Now Free On-line

Josh Jones is a author and musician primarily based in Durham, NC. Comply with him at @jdmagness


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