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 1951.aw[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...
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