Lem's Books

I always loved science-fiction. My favourite writer was a famous Polish author Stanisław Lem. He is not as well known in English-speaking countries, but many of his books were translated into multiple languages. One of his major novels, “Solaris,” was made into a movie on two occasions, first in the USSR by Tarkovsky (1972), and later in the USA by Sodebergh (2002). Unfortunately, their production values were much more solid than screenwriters' understanding of Lem’s writing. He disliked both productions, saying that they missed the point of the story. It really was not a romance, but a treatise about the impossibility of relating to a life form that is vastly different from anything we know.

Lem abandoned standard science-fiction genre quite early, as American SF of the day was according to him, pulp-quality fiction. He aimed to write more interesting stories that are set in far away worlds, but only incidentally. His initilal works were “serious science fiction,” but the successful series “The Cyberiad” was based on the idea of a civilization of robots, with distinct traits of a medieval culture. English translations, by the excellent Michael Kandel, are written in a style based on the language of Chaucer, to convey an impression of “ancient times,” but with ubiquitous, all-pervasive technology. It evokes vague associations with steampunk, but that’s a superficial similarity. They are fun, and you really should read them.

Most of his works are grounded in Lem’s philosophical thinking, as well as contemporary issues at the time of writing. Lem later said “People thought I was writing comedy, but really, I did it because steam was coming out of my ears!” One of the best examples is a story about an orchestra, where all instruments were fake. Once the musicians complained, the instruments were replaced with real ones, but the jubilation did not last. A monster came out of a cage and started eating the musicians. I wonder what someone from a democratic country would think about this setup? Readers living under the Communist regime of the day would immediately understand the allusion to the repressive politics, and our “econo-joke” that produced substandard goods.

Eventually, I became familiar with most of Lem’s books. I read and re-read him even to the detriment of my school work. My favourite way of procrastinating was to hide a book on my lap, and pretend to do homework while in reality I was immersed in another world. As a result, I went to sleep way too late, because well, the homework had to be done eventually. I made up for it on Sunday mornings, sleeping until 1pm.