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Stanisław Lem

Image of Stanisław Lem

Stanisław Lem (1921–2006) was a Polish science fiction, philosophical, and satirical writer. His books have been translated into forty-one languages and have sold over twenty-seven million copies. He is perhaps best known as the author of Solaris, which has twice been made into a feature film. His works explore philosophical themes; speculation on technology, the nature of intelligence, the impossibility of mutual communication and understanding, despair about human limitations and humankind's place in the universe. They are sometimes presented as fiction, but others are in the form of essays or philosophical books.

Lem's first novel, The Man from Mars (Czlowiek z Marsa), was published in a weekly pulp fiction magazine, Nowy Swiat Przygod. Lem's poems and short stories appeared in Tygodnik Powszechny, Zolniez Polski, Kuznica, and other magazines. In 1948 Lem started writing his novel Hospital of Transfiguration (Szpital Przemieniena); its publication was blocked by the communist censorship, and it did not appear until eight years later. In 1951 Lem's first science-fiction book, Astronauts (Astronauci) was published. Lem became truly productive after 1956, when the de-Stalinization period led to the "Polish October" and increased freedom of speech in Poland. Between 1956 and 1968, Lem authored seventeen books. His works were widely translated abroad (although mostly in the Eastern Bloc countries). In 1957 he published his first nonfiction book, Dialogi (Dialogues). Dialogi and Summa Technologiae (1964) are his two most famous philosophical texts. Over the next few decades, Lem published many books, both science fiction and philosophical/futurological, although from the 1980s onward he tended to concentrate on philosophical texts and essays. He gained international fame for The Cyberiad, a series of humorous short stories from a mechanical universe ruled by robots, first published in English in 1974. His best-known novels include Solaris (1961), His Master's Voice(Głos pana, 1968), and the late Fiasco (Fiasko, 1987), expressing most strongly his major theme of the futility of mankind's attempts to comprehend the truly alien.

In 1973, in recognition of his achievements, Lem was invited to join the Science Fiction Writers of America. However, he was soon expelled from this organization because of critical remarks about low standards of American science fiction. In 1982, after martial law was declared in Poland, Lem left his homeland to study in Berlin. A year later he moved to Vienna. Lem was a member of the Polish Writers Association, the Polish PEN Club, the committee "Poland 2000" under the auspices of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and the PAU (Polska Akademia Umiejetnosci). The writer received several Polish and international awards for literature (Polish state prizes, Austrian State Prize for the European Culture), decorations (The Medal of the White Eagle) and honorary degrees (Warsaw Polytechnic, Opole University, University of Lvov, Jagiellonian University). Lem died on March 27th, 2006.

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