Stanislaw Lem Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Stanisaw Lem (lehm), highly praised in some circles and condemned in others, is one of the most important European science-fiction writers of the postwar era. He was born in Poland in 1921, the son of a physician. A brilliant student, Lem followed in his father’s footsteps and enrolled in medical school. Soon thereafter, German and Soviet troops invaded Poland, and Lem did not complete his medical studies until several years after the war had ended. Meanwhile, he had begun working at a scientific institute that received technical literature from abroad and disseminated it to Polish universities. This experience, which put him in touch with current developments in a number of scientific fields (including the fledgling field then known as cybernetics), profoundly influenced Lem’s career. While still a student, Lem had begun publishing poems and stories. His first novel, never published in book form, was a science-fiction tale serialized in a magazine for teenagers in 1946. His first book, the science-fiction novel Astronauci (the astronauts), appeared in[Lem, Stanislaw]}aw[Lem, Stanislaw]}aw[Lem, Stanislaw]}

In his own country Lem is classified as a member of the “Columbus” generation. This term, coined by the writer Roman Bratney, identifies those Polish writers who experienced the war as children or youths, supported Communism briefly, and later turned in disillusionment against Stalinism and Marxism-Leninism if not against socialism. Astronauci and another early novel, Obok Magellana (the Magellanic cloud), published during the heyday of Socialist Realism, depict a utopian future entirely in line with the Marxist doctrine of historical inevitability. Lem would come to dislike these works, especially the latter, regarding them as naively optimistic.

Beginning in 1956, when the nations of Eastern Europe briefly challenged Soviet domination, Lem’s production of fiction increased greatly. While his early works were great popular successes and were widely translated, only gradually did he gain recognition as a serious writer. In this respect, the year 1961 was especially important for Lem. In that year he published two novels, Return from the Stars and Solaris, that were to gain for him a much broader readership and increased critical esteem. The first of these is the story of an astronaut returning home to find that more than a century has elapsed on Earth during a voyage that for him took only ten years. His difficulty in adjusting to a radically different society is the main concern of the book. The second, Solaris, was even more important for Lem’s...

(The entire section is 1084 words.)

Stanislaw Lem Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Stanisaw Lem (lehm) was born in Lvov, Poland (now Lvov, Ukraine), on September 12, 1921. His father, Samuel, was a physician who served for a time with the Austro-Hungarian military. In 1915, during World War I, Samuel had been taken prisoner by the Russian army. He was nearly executed for being a class enemy but was saved when an old acquaintance interceded at the last minute.

After the war, Samuel Lem became a successful otolaryngologist in Lvov. By the time Stanisaw was born, Samuel and his wife, Sabina Wollner, were very prosperous. Unlike many who lived in Poland between the world wars, the Lems had a fine home, where young Stanisaw was cared for by a French governess and never lacked for toys. As a young boy, Lem’s reading consisted largely of his father’s medical books, at which his father forbid him to look. One of his prized possessions from this time was a science book that his father had given him and that cost seventy zlotys, the price of a suit of clothes.

According to Lem’s own account of his life, he was a quiet and imaginative young boy. He preferred solitude to a life among friends, and to amuse himself he created fantasy kingdoms where he had great power and high prestige. Each element in his imaginary life was legitimized by a complete file of papers, including passports, diplomas, and certificates of various kinds. Although he admits that this love of fantasized power and reputation might indicate childhood insecurities, he remembers having had no such feelings.

In 1932, Lem began college at the Karol S. Szajnocha II State Grammar School, graduating in 1939. He went on to study medicine at Lvov University from 1940 through 1941, but his schooling was interrupted by the advent of World War II. During the war, Lem became aware of his Jewish ancestry as a result of the anti-Semitic measures introduced by the invading Nazis.

Despite the many hardships they endured, the Lems escaped confinement in the Jewish ghetto because Samuel had obtained false papers to hide the family’s true identity. During the occupation, Lem worked as a mechanic helper and welder for a German company recycling raw materials. He visited the ghetto on occasion and performed acts in support of the resistance movement, but through a combination of careful planning and sheer luck he managed to survive the occupation, unlike many of his friends. His luck in living through the war made the element of chance an important theme in many of his later novels. He resumed his medical studies in 1944, when the Soviet army liberated Lvov.

In 1946, the Lems moved to a one-room apartment in Krakow. The family was now poor, having...

(The entire section is 1091 words.)

Stanislaw Lem Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Stanisaw Lem was born in Lvov, Poland, on September 12, 1921, the son of a successful laryngologist. As a young boy he was fascinated by the science books in his father’s library. Based on his reading he began to invent fantastic machines and imaginary worlds. Called by his friends “the most intelligent child in southern Poland,” he was an outstandingly good student, but his medical studies were interrupted by the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. Because of their Jewish heritage, the Lems assumed Gentile identities to survive the occupation. While working as a garage mechanic and welder, Stanislaw also helped resistance fighters and Jews living in the ghetto.

At war’s end the family moved to Krakow, where Lem received his M.D. degree and where he began writing poems and novels. His first science-fiction stories, published in the 1950’s, were naïvely utopian, though they also dealt with such themes as the threat of global annihilation. The success of his writings in Poland and the Soviet Union allowed him to pursue a literary career. He married his wife Barbara, a roentgenologist, in 1953 (their son Tomek was born in 1968).

After 1956 and extending through the 1960’s, Lem’s writing entered what many critics have called his “golden” period, during which he wrote his most popular and critically acclaimed works. Through many novels and short stories he was able to extend the range and plumb the depths of the science-fiction and...

(The entire section is 459 words.)

Stanislaw Lem Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Stanisaw Lem was born in L’vov, in eastern Poland, shortly after the country regained its independence. His father, Samuel Lem, was a physician. (Stanisaw, too, was to attend medical school; later he married a young student of medicine.) Lem’s family shared a six-room apartment. Often lonely and resentful as a child, Lem later described his younger self as a destructive terror. His father’s medical library had a strong influence on Lem’s youthful imagination, and he loved to read and browse at home—everything from his father’s anatomy books to his hidden collection of erotic French novels. Lem was a good student, even something of a prodigy. His childhood was peaceful and relatively Arcadian: He enjoyed creating elaborate imaginary worlds and fantastic kingdoms, inventing new toys and instruments, mentally creating prehistoric animals unheard of in paleontology, dreaming about adventures aboard model ships, and drawing up identity papers, certificates, and passports for citizens of an imaginary community.

Lem finished middle school (similar to American high school) in L’vov and had begun his medical studies when World War II broke out in 1939. Eastern Poland was attacked by the Soviet Union on September 17, and for twenty months, L’vov was in the hands of the Soviets, until June, 1941, when Adolf Hitler made a surprise attack against Germany’s Soviet allies. Lem survived the war by working as an automobile mechanic.

It was only after the arrival of the Germans that Lem realized he was not an “Aryan.” He knew that his ancestors were Jews, but his family was assimilated and knew nothing of either the Mosaic faith or Jewish culture. They managed to obtain false papers and avoided imprisonment in the ghetto. He later wrote that during this period he resembled more a hunted animal than a thinking human being, and he learned that the difference between life and death depends on the smallest of decisions—whether one found a door open or closed, whether one visited a friend at two o’clock or twenty minutes later. Lem had access to a depot of the German Luftwaffe and was able to give arms to members of the Polish Resistance.

After the war, L’vov was incorporated into the Soviet Union, and the Lem family moved to Kraków, where Lem resumed his medical studies. While he was a student, his first poems and stories were published in the Catholic weekly Tygodnik powszechny and in Kunia; these poems were collected and published in 1966 under the title Wiersze modziecze (poems...

(The entire section is 1041 words.)