Critical Context

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In pre-1956 Polish material such as Astronauci (1951; the astronauts), Sezam i inne opowiadania (1954; “Sesame” and other stories), and Obok Magellana (1955; the Magellan nebula), Lem demonstrated an untempered faith in science, human reason, and the inevitable triumph of a just and classless society marked by ubiquitous love, humane sentiments, and beneficent technology. After 1956, Lem became concerned with the alienated individual in the cosmos and how that individual comes to know not only the world of familiar experience but also the larger universe. This led inevitably to an examination of a standard science-fiction theme: human and nonhuman encounter.

Lem has explored this theme brilliantly in Solaris, The Invincible, and Fiasko (1986; Fiasco, 1987). All three of these novels are parables about humankind’s thirst for meaning in an apparently meaningless and random universe and the concomitant difficulties of communication with nonhuman life-forms; all three reveal the consequences of technological hubris. Finally, for all of their dizzying range of speculation, all three suggest that human consciousness is the chief riddle of the universe.

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