Stanislaw Lem Year 2021

Posted: June 25, 2021 in Chat
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Einstein of science-fiction, according to some.

2021 marks the centenary of his birth, 1921.
The Polish Parliament declared 2021 Stanisław Lem Year. (Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanisław_Lem)

He was born in Lwow, then Poland, a much disputed region, now part of the Ukraine, as Lviv, and of a Jewish family. 
Religion, however did not play much of a part in their lives. He said himself, later, 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…
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanisław_Lem

And who could argue with that.

It’s not what religion meant to them, but what others made it mean for them.
He survived the War on forged papers. Wiki tells us : During that time, Lem earned a living as a car mechanic and welder,[11] and occasionally stole munitions from storehouses (to which he had access as an employee of a German company) to pass them on to the Polish resistance.[19] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanisław_Lem)

Under Soviet rule he managed a full medical education, only to find the sight of blood…. 
He was a polyglot, a language devourer, and educationally hungry, devouring fields of knowledge outside of medicine – which, he knew, would land him a life-time service in Army medical corps.

He became an expert in early AI studies, and what Wiki terms ‘the sociology of science’
His own web page writes of 
Such staggering polymathic curiosity over such a vast range of material, all of it explored with lucidity and charm
https://english.lem.pl

1

Stanislaw Lem?
Think of the film, Solaris (the 1972 one, not the later travesty) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
His books have a sophistication that a great many sci-fi novels do not. Even the Strugatsky brothers fail, there. 

His opinion of American writers was mostly scathing. He excepted Philip K Dick – although, stylistically Philip K Dicks’ books were/are ‘not good’. I used to sigh with exasperation when opening one yet-to-read: the turgidity of language, as he felt his way through to admittedly, unknowns, the un-thought of.
Now, writers like Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, of the period he was most active in his writing of science fiction, had intelligence, style. I’m sure readers could come up with many writers that I am myself unfamiliar – it is such a huge field of writing.

It is amazing how much Lem got right, or even predicted. This ranges across artificial intelligence, the theory of search engines (he called it “ariadnology”), bionics, virtual reality (“phantomatics”), technological singularity and nanotechnology.

Simon Ings “New Scientist”
https://english.lem.pl

Ok, so let’s distinguish here, between ‘hard’ sci-fi, and ‘soft’.
Stanislaw Lem could well be called the Einstein of ‘hard’ science-fi – his imagination works mostly on material aspects, structures, developments.

So, I have only just launched myself into one of his first published books, Return From the Stars, (1966).
So as not to Spoil too much, let me just give a brief synopsis so far: our narrator has just returned from a ten year space mission, to find that one hundred and twenty seven years have elapsed on Earth.
And things have changed. Drastically.

After a debriefing and up-dating session at the Luna Space Centre we encounter him as he returns to Earth for the first time.
We encounter the term Betrization. It is a process all undergo at birth, and prevents the worst kinds of behaviour. No one can kill another. The same for animals.
How and who does the aggressive work, then? Robots, naturally.
But what are the other implications of this process? A world without aggression of any kind?

It is quite a thick book, and I am only just beginning.
Don’t hold your breath, but read it and the others yourselves.

For the period, mid 1960s, in Eastern Europe, the imagining, detailing – everything has been thought through – are astounding.
Wiki tells us: Translating his works is difficult due to Lem’s elaborate neologisms and idiomatic wordplay. 

As ‘soft’ sci-fi, the sci-fi of people, you could say, he falls behind. In this book are racial and gender stereotypes to make our contemporary toes curl a little.
He tries; he delves into the sociology of cities, mass societies. He constantly tries with psychological changes, developments, but he does not shift perspectives sufficiently to truly tangle with the issues.

2

How did Stanislaw Lem cope under the Cold War regimes?
He worked in the sciences, and wrote such astoundingly well-researched science-research books. As well as his science fiction – they got under the censor radar by not openly challenging the system (he wrote very early works in line with Socialist Realism that he later castigated), and were considered unimportant by the system.
By the time of the 1980s Solidarity Protests and consequent Martial Law, he and his family were able to move to West Berlin, then Vienna. They returned to Poland in 1988.
He had also toured the West, lecturing in America, England, Europe, enough to get a feel of the rancid redundancy of the much vaunted Capitalist systems.

Philip K Dick stated that Stanislaw Lem was dubious, the name a pseudonym for a collection of people. I suspect he was picking up here on the man’s wide range of interests and activities, his achievements in various fields.

In his later years he concentrated mainly on science-based projects, books, and what was termed ‘futurology’. The New Scientist quotation, above, gives good grounding for that.

His science Fiction books – in no particular order:

Eden
Fiasco
His Master’s Voice
Mortal Engines
Return From the Stars
Solaris
Tales of Pirx the Pilot
The Cyberiad
The Invincible
The Star Diaries

He also wrote a collection of Reviews and Introductions for Non-Existent Books, and crime novels, one without a murderer, as well as copious science books.

He died in his eighties, in 2006, his wife ten years later.
Like many writers who started pre-information era proper he did not use a computer; he bought his son an early Apple, but that’s as far as he went.
He was also dubious about the internet; it swallowed you up in low-grade information, he stated.
Yep.

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