Lem, Stanislaw 1921–
A Polish science fiction and fantasy novelist, short story writer, and illustrator, Lem has been called a genius, a titan of Eastern European literature. In his fiction Lem welds a wildly comic imagination to a darkly surrealistic vision of life. He is one of the few writers of science fiction to have transcended the limitations of the genre, gaining international recognition. In 1973 his work was acknowledged by the Polish Ministry of Culture and in this country he became the recipient of a special honorary Nebula Award for science fiction. (See also CLC, Vol. 8.)
In his well-constructed novels and stories Lem transcends the hackneyed conventions of [science fiction]. He felicitously combines erudition with suspense, verbal inventiveness with narrative skill, social conscience with a satiric wit and a marvelous gift for grotesque parody. His best fiction, much of which has now been translated into English, has earned Lem the reputation of a serious creative writer. In this essay I propose to examine those elements of his work that make him an original artist as well as a timely social critic.
When reading Lem one quickly notices two opposite though not mutually exclusive tendencies in his thought. On the one hand, his weltanschauung is scientific; he believes...
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[I find Stanislaw Lem] a master of utterly terminal pessimism, appalled by all that an insane humanity may yet survive to do.
We are pollution.
He wants us to feel no pity for Homo sapiens, and so excludes appealing women and children from his tales. The adult males he shows us are variously bald, arthritic, sharp-kneed, squinting, jowly, rotten toothed, and so on, and surely ludicrous—save for his space crewmen, who are as expendable as pawns in a chess game. We do not get to know anybody well enough to like him. If he dies, he dies.
Nowhere in the works of Jonathan Swift, even, can I find a more loathsome description of a human being than this one, taken from...
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[In Post-Modernist literature there is an obsession] with the primacy of style and structure over "subject matter": The artist is willfully and ingeniously refined out of existence, as Joyce never was, so that the perfect art would be art in a vacuum—a perfect vacuum—not only self-referential but lacking a self to which to refer. Stanislaw Lem, a Polish writer of science fiction, states in the parody-review of a parody-introduction to his own book, "A Perfect Vacuum": "Literature to date has told us of fictitious characters. We shall go further: we shall depict fictitious books. Here is a chance to regain creative liberty, and at the same time to wed two opposing spirits—that of the belletrist and...
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["The Chain of Chance"] is narrated, in traditional pitiless side-of-the-mouth style, by the protagonist/detective, an American ex-astronaut named, we belatedly learn, John—no last name given…. "The Chain of Chance" was written … as an Eastern European's speculation upon some possible short-term extensions of such Western topical developments as terrorism, space exploration, and chemical pollution…. Making his hardboiled investigator a cast-off astronaut is witty, for the book breathes the poisoned atmosphere of technological backfire, and the latest by-product of our Puritan resolution is rarely the astronaut, consecrated, like the cowboy and the private eye, to bleakly masculine missions. Also, the...
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Lem has been delighting European readers of science fiction for two decades, and has recently garnered laurels in the U.S. … Though A Perfect Vacuum is not primarily science fiction, the blurb-writer who maintains that Lem "here breaks away from the science-fiction mold" is not strictly correct either.
Of the reviews of nonexistent books that make up this volume, most play with Lem's favorite speculative fiction themes: cosmology, cybernetics, probability, and the confusion of subjective and objective realities. Some of the most successful pieces come from this group, such as Non Serviam, a "book" detailing experiments conducted on personoids, rational entities created by...
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In the highly unlikely event that a science-fiction writer is deemed worthy of a Nobel Prize in the near future, the most likely candidate would be … Stanislaw Lem…. [Mr. Lem] writes in the European tradition, which treats science fiction not as a subliterary commercial genre but as a valid narrative strategy….
By any standard, Mr. Lem is a major writer; he is also a writer with many voices. A restless intellect who puts different pieces of himself into different books, he has created no single work that can be said to encapsulate his vision. "Tales of Pirx the Pilot" (first collected in Polish in 1968) shows Mr. Lem at his most accessible. With a minimum of philosophical speculation, social...
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