Stanisław Lem, Kraków 1999, photo: Elżbieta Lempp
The leading representative of Polish science fiction, a philosopher, futurologist and essayist, Lem's work also includes realistic novels and satirical texts. Born in Lvov in 1921, Lem lived in Kraków from 1946. He died there March 27, 2006.
A master of science fiction, Lem was nevertheless atypical of the writers in that genre, choosing the form in the late ‘40s when the political oppression of Stalinism made it impossible for him to express himself openly in contemporary novels. Educated as a physician and scientific theorist, Lem possessed expert knowledge of the theory of evolution, mathematics, robotics, astronomy and physics, as well as of literature and many other fields. He became a universal "seeker of wisdom," a philosopher, and a proponent of the developments of science and technology.
His first novel, The Hospital of the Transfiguration, has a contemporary setting. Even here, we can see his central themes: the nature of human thought and human identity, and the ethical problems facing science. Lem then went on to write scores of science fiction novels, stories and plays. In his space exploration stories, Lem poses questions about the role of necessity and accident in physics, biology and human culture; about the future development of technology and its human consequences; about the existence and nature of God and transcendence; about the possibility of communicating with other forms of intelligent life. Taking up the fundamental problems of biology, ethics, and politics, Lem analyzes the paradoxes associated with social progress when technological capacities are radically increased. The plots of his novels and stories are sometimes positive and sometimes grotesquely funny, playing games with literary styles and conventions. While rich in philosophical subtexts, Lem's fictions are always engrossing and full of suspense. After all, they are the stories of individuals (either humans or fantastic robots) steeped in emotions from their contact with the Other and their awareness of the limits of one's own nature.
Outside Poland and Germany, Lem's collections of essays are less well-known: Dialogues, Summa Technologiae, The Philosophy of Accidents, Fantasy and Futurology, The Sex Wars and The Mystery of the Chinese Room. Yet these works most fully reflect Lem's philosophical system and ideas, his fascination with broad horizons and his talent for accurate predictions about the directions that science and technology might take. Although he stopped writing fantastic tales in his later years, Lem remained a prolific writer of essays and short stories that continued to reach an enthusiastic audience.
We have failed, my dear, to appreciate the role of error as a fundamental Category of Existence. Don't think in Manichaean terms! According to that school, God creates order and Satan keeps trying to trip Him up. Not so! If I can get my hands on some tobacco, I shall write about the final chapters found in books of philosophy, namely an anthology of Apostasy, or a theory of existence based on error, since error is stamped on error, error uses error, creates error, until probability changes into the Fate of the World.
Professor A. Donda. From The Memoirs of Ijon Tichy
Source: www.polska2000.pl, copyright: Stowarzyszenie Willa Decjusza
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