Born 30 July 1974 in Tarnów. Considered Poland's best living science fiction writer.
Dukaj earned a Master's Degree in Philosophy from Jagiellonian University. He has been nominated a number of times for the esteemed Janusz Zajdel Award, winning it four times: for Czarne oceany / Black Oceans in 2002, Inne pieśni in 2003, Perfekcyjna niedoskonałość in 2004 and Lód / Ice in 2007. His nominations for the Nike Literary Award (2008), for Polityka Passports in 2004 and 2008 and for the Kościelski Award which he received in 2008 show that the merit of his work transcends a narrowly defined genre.
Dukaj debuted with Złota galera / The Golden Galley, a story which he apparently wrote at the age of fourteen and which appeared in print in the magazine Fantastyka (2/1990). Early on he wrote mostly short stories and had them published in the 'trade' magazines Nowa Fantastyka and Feniks; they were later collected in the volume W kraju niewiernych. His stories also appeared in anthologies (Wizje alternatywne 2, Trzynaście kotów), a testimony to their popularity among the fantasy readers. He was made known to the wider public through Tomasz Bagiński's 2002 Academy Award-nominated Katedra / The Cathedral, a short animated film based on Dukaj's short story.
Short stories were followed by novellas, like Irrehaare, and in 1997 Dukaj wrote his first novel, Xavras Wyżryn, an alternative look at history in which he had Poland lose the war of 1920. The way in which he tackled the book's theme - a discussion of patriotism - lacked sophistication and brought to mind mediocre fantasy novels of a patriotic slant, but when Dukaj revisited the topic ten years later in the novel Lód / Ice an outstanding piece of prose resulted.
In terms of genre, Dukaj uses the elements of cyberpunk (take the grim visions of a computerized future in which human bodies and brains are subjected to technological modifications which often help with illegal activities), alternative history and horror. What sets his writing apart - and has done so ever since Złota Galera - are the frequent references to religion. Dukaj likes experimenting with genres: his short story Ruch generała / The Iron General shows a fantasy world whose technological progress has equalled that of ours.
Dukaj considers the ability to build consistent visions of other worlds central to science fiction writing, yet usually complements them with presentations of sciences that describe such worlds, including comprehensive terminology and a register of things which these invented sciences cannot explain. This particular realism in delineating the borders of human cognition may have something in common with the realism practiced by Stanisław Lem, who introduced the theme of the wear and tear of future inventions. Unlike his great predecessor, however, Dukaj is more accustomed to a society in which information has become the key commodity. Like Lem, though, he is endowed with an amazing linguistic creativity and a sensitivity to the element of parody. And there is the aspect of the obscure and secret relationship between science and authority which provides a link between Czarne Oceany / Black Oceans and Lem's Głos Pana / His Master's Voice.
Inne pieśni provides a somewhat different show of styling, each chapter offering a successful pastiche of a detective story, an adventure book or of the genre known as space opera, its heroic convention used to present military combat in the universe.
A certain peculiarity of Dukaj's prose - and one which runs counter to what has been said so far - is the rather repetitive repertoire of sets and plot which he uses to express a variety of intellectual concepts. There is the recurring motif of a chosen hero and of an almost ritual mutilation of his hand, the hypothesis of a future fashion that would copy the historic designs and the vision of artificial intelligence encoded in a crystal (the 'live crystal' from Katedra or the 'mirror virus' from Irrehaare). Quite frequent is also the theme of 'post-human beings' as products of genetic manipulation or of the evolution of the homo sapiens species. The way in which Dukaj develops this motif shows, however, that the idea behind this repetitiveness is not to recycle a successful plot idea, but to analyze an issue which occupies the writer's mind. Indeed, each of Dukaj's books brings a different vision of the relationships between humans and post-humans, from an almost complete strangeness in Extensa to the shaping of civilization so as to maintain its continuity for as long as possible in Perfekcyjna niedoskonałość / An Ideal Imperfection [aka Perfect Imperfection].
Is Poland's place on the speculative fiction scene fact or fantasy? The legacy of Stanisław Lem is...
Dukaj's following book, Wroniec / The Crowe is a magical tale about the seven-year old Adaś, who witnesses the dramatic events of the Polish martial state.
It's an extraordinary book. Dukaj combines various styles, the language of a little boy with a grotesque newspeak. The protagonists seem like characters from comic books and the serious subject is taken into a frame of a nightmare. The spirit of Lewis Carroll and the brothers Grimm floats upon the whole book, although Dukaj also references Cormac McCarthy, Edgar Allan Poe, Stefan Żeromski and Tadeusz Konwicki - wrote Krzysztof Cieślik in Polityka weekly.
The book was illustrated by Jakub Jabłoński. A board game about the martial state was inspired by it, and Kazik Staszewski wrote two songs that illustrated it. Wroniec was shortlisted for the Literary Central Europe Award Angelus in 2010, and was nominatd for the Zeidel Prize.
Starość aksolotla / The Old Axolotl, only published in the form of an ebook, is the first Polish 'augmented book' - a type of book which engages the reader in an unprecedented way, enriched by multimedia elements, such as layers of hypertext and illustrations of robots made for 3D printing.
Author: Paweł Kozioł, December 2008; updated by NMR, 2016.
For information about Dukaj and his works visit www.dukaj.pl.
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