Lem and a toy cosmonaut, 1966, photo: lem.pl

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 Dialogues", "Summa 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/Culture.pl

See also: Stanisław Lem - A Portrait of the Writer