Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006)

Most Americans have never heard of the Polish science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem; if they know of him at all, it's through Steve Soderbergh's remake of Solaris (starring George Clooney and based on Lem's most popular novel).

I was first introduced to Lem's works by Michael Kandel, a colleague of mine at a previous job, who translated several of Lem's works into English and who is a fine sci-fi writer in his own right. Lem is a clever, witty, challenging writer--Jorge Luis Borges catapulted through a timewarp--and his oeuvre is worth exploring. Maverick that I am (and given our current political situation), I would recommend to interested first-time readers a work that doesn't usually come to mind when his name is mentioned: The Futurological Congress: From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy, a parable of a totalitarian state that uses psychotropic drugs not only to subdue its citizens but also to make them believe things are just peachy. Unlike many works of dystopian fiction, Lem's novel (as I wrote in my review for Amazon) is funny and brainy rather than depressing and catastrophic, but it is still scarily prophetic.

Combined with the unexpected loss of the brilliant Octavia Butler only two weeks ago, the science-fiction world is a dimmer place.