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Stanisław Lem

Lem and a toy cosmonaut, 1966, photo:
Lem and a toy cosmonaut, 1966, photo:

One of the most respected thinkers and Science Fiction writers of the past century. Born in Lviv in 1921, died in 2006 in Kraków.

Stanisław Lem has been a key representative of Polish literature for decades. The works of this futurologist and essayist have been translated into 41 languages and have sold over 27 million copies. In 1976, Lem was claimed to be the most widely read science-fiction writer in the world.

Educated as a physician and scientific theorist, Lem possessed expert knowledge of the theory of evolution, mathematics, robotics, astronomy and physics, as well as a deep acquaintance with literature and many other fields. He became a universal "wisdom seeker", a philosopher, and - at first - a proponent of the developments of science and technology. A master of science fiction, Lem was nevertheless atypical of the writers in that genre. He chose the form in the late 1940s, when the political oppression of Stalinism made open expression in contemporary novels impossible for him. Perhaps due to this conditioning, the world presented in Lem's works differs from the reality known in typical science fiction.Many elements of his reality are constructed in such a way as to create the impression of future normality and daily routine.

The first novel, which faced constant publishing problems due to censorship, was entitled The Hospital of the Transfiguration. Within a contemporary setting of this early work we can already see themes fundamental to Lem's oeuvre: the nature of human thought and identity, and the ethical problems facing science. He continued developing these issues within the genre of science-fiction in subsequent writings, comprising novels, stories and plays. In his space exploration stories, Lem poses questions about the role of necessity and accident in physics, as well as the relation between biology and human culture.

He envisions the future development of technology and its consequences for human kind. And finally, he reflects upon the existence and nature of God and transcendence as well as the possibility of communicating with the alien - understood both as unknown forms of intelligent life and as the Other. In his reflections on the basic problems of biology, ethics, and politics, Lem analysed paradoxes which arise within social progress, simultaneously with the mastering of technological barriers. The plots of his novels and stories are at times positive or grotesquely funny, playing with various literary styles and conventions. While rich in philosophical subtexts, Lem's fictions are always engrossing and suspenseful. Stories of individuals (whether humans or fantastic robots) engage the reader with emotions stemming from true contact with the Other, and the confrontation with the limits of one's own nature.

Lem's collections of essays are not as well known as his novels outside of Poland. These works include The DialoguesSumma Technologiae, The Philosophy of Chance, Fantasy and Futurology, The Sex Wars and The Mystery of the Chinese Room. Yet they do seem to be works that reflect Lem's philosophical system and ideas in the most explicit way.

It is especially in these essays that the reader can enjoy the broad-minded nature of Lem's fascinations and their universal perspective, as well the genius of his predictions about technological and scientific development. In his late years, Lem gave up writing fantastic tales and remained a prolific writer of essays and short stories, continuing to reach an established and enthusiastic audience.

Source: Stowarzyszenie Willa Decjusza/

See also:

The leading representative of Polish science fiction, a philosopher, futurologist and essayist, Lem... Read more about: Stanisław Lem - A Portrait of the Writer's picture

Stanisław Lem


Robin Wright in The Congress by Ari Folman, photo courtesy of Gutek Film

In his film adaptation of Stanisław Lem's Kongres futurologiczny (The Futurological Congress), the creator of Waltz with Bashir focuses on a grim vision of future rather than on the narrative. Despite its impressive scale of The Congress and great performances by actors, the film remains an unfulfilled promise. Read more about: The Congress – Ari Folman

Stanisław Lem's book poses questions that are both universal and specific, disquieting and surprising, current and almost eternal... Read more about: Dilemmas - Stanisław Lem

In his book, Stanisław Lem compares his own futurologist hypotheses (as in "Summa Technologiae" and "Dialogs", years ago) with current developments in the natural sciences... Read more about: The Wink of an Eye - Stanisław Lem

Once again, Stanislaw Lem succeeds in surprising and captivating the reader in this uncompromising dialogue. He is penetrating, ruthless in his treatment of ignorance, decisively against evil, and distanced in the face of his own and humankind's weaknesses... Read more about: The World at the Edge of the Abyss - Stanisław Lem, Tomasz Fiałkowski

Stanisław Lem


The Berlin Lacht! Festival hosted an ambitious, sci-fi performance created by Polish theatre troupe Teatr Biuro Podróży Read more about: Planet Lem on Stage at Berlin Lacht! - Video

The Planet Lem performance is inspired by Stanisław Lem's fiction, his unique, witty and poignant diagnosis of the contemporary world and reflections on the relation between technological progress and the limitations of the human race Read more about: "Planet Lem" Video

Stanisław Lem


Stanisław Lem


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