Unknown Lem Short Story Resurfaces after More than 50 Years
#language & literature
default, Unknown Stanisław Lem
Short Story Resurfaces after
More than 50 Years, Stanisław Lem at his home in Kraków, 1960, photo: Piotr Barącz /PAP, center, stanislaw-lem-mechanik-pap.jpg
Stanisław Lem fans around the world, unite! A formerly unknown piece by the author of ‘Solaris’ has been published – with an English translation now available online. But, even more intriguingly, does this new story confirm recent theories about Lem?
A run-away fighting for his life, a breakneck escape and a ruthless chase, along with the clash between humans and robots in the near future… These might be familiar motifs known from Stanisław Lem’s magisterial output, but this time they also come along with some very disturbing questions shedding new light on the writer’s work. Why had the story remained unknown for so long? And what does it tell us about Lem the writer?
The typescript found in a folder
The short story, The Hunt (‘Polowanie’ in the original Polish) was found in the writer’s archive by his long-time secretary Wojciech Zemek. As Zemek explains, he had first come across the typewritten manuscript a few decades ago, but because of the misleading title – identical with another, well-known story from the Pirx the Pilot series – he put it back into the folder bearing the title of that story (a not entirely exceptional occurrence in the world of archiving, as we are told). Some 10 years later, he accidentally opened the folder and started reading. ‘To my amazement I realised that this didn’t have much to do with Pirx,’ he said.
In defense of the archivist, the newly discovered story does share some similarities with the better known story of the same title, which also happens to be a story about a chase after a robot. But, as the Lem scholar Stanisław Bereś suggests in a commentary accompanying the publication of the story in Przekrój magazine, this is a very different ‘Hunt’ and one written before the Pirx tales – most likely dating back to the late 1950s.
Science Fiction Films Adapted from Lem
Why did Lem never publish his original Hunt, then? More importantly, why didn’t he destroy it, as was his custom with every manuscript he wasn’t satisfied with?
Part of the answer, as Bereś argues, is that when reading this forgotten Hunt, it is hard to ignore associations with the Holocaust. This was a topic that Lem had kept at bay both throughout his writing career as well as in his private life. In fact, the Holocaust as one of the themes of Lem’s work has only recently come to light, most importantly, in the research of Agnieszka Gajewska (2016) and Wojciech Orliński (2017).
As it turns out, Lem’s experience as a Holocaust survivor may well have influenced his sci-fi work, even though he may have seemed to be avoiding it. Under disguise and in the form of cryptic allusions, it remained impenetrable to readers and researchers. But here in ‘The Hunt’, it comes quite straightforward and unmasked. As Bereś concludes:
Stanisław Lem: Did the Holocaust Shape His Sci-Fi World?
It is highly plausible that, uncertain of its worth and sensing that he might have overly exposed himself in its pages, Lem first set it aside, and then ultimately forgot about it – especially since some time later he wrote a newer, more interesting version of it, which ‘eclipsed’ the earlier one.
Stanisław Bereś in "Przekrój"
This newly-uncovered Hunt story seems to corroborate the issues raised by recent Lem research and offers new material testifying to the fact that there’s still much to be learned about Lem’s oeuvre.
The story was originally published in December 2018 in the Przekrój quarterly. The English version, translated by the award-winning translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones, is available here on the new English version of their site at www.przekroj.pl/en
Written by Mikołaj Gliński, May 2019