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Stanislaw Lem for 2021

As a part of the series “2021. Will it be a good year?!?” Prof. Stanisław Bereś from the Institute of Journalism and Social Communication writes about Stanisław Lem, on the occasion of the Polish Government declaring 2021 to be the Year of Stanisław Lem.

When a great writer passes away, the process of reevaluating his work usually begins. When Stanisław Lem left us 14 years ago, it was widely expressed that the most read and best-known Polish author of the second half of the 20th c. in the world had passed away. Only the Nobel Prize winner Henryk Sienkiewicz was ahead of him, but his works, such as the Trilogy, had been in circulation for over 130 years. So what is a position of Lem and his works today?

In this matter, the situation is clear: after the wirter’s death, about 1.5 million of his books were sold, which means that over 100,000 copies are sold in Poland every year, which is a print run of newly published bestsellers. It is a phenomenon in our history of literature. What is equally unique, is what we call the legacy of Stanisław Lem. It includes about 61 items (plus 33 volumes of Collected Writings) and has over 2,000 editions in 48 languages (according to the translator Wiktor Jaźniewicz in 90 languages). Lem gained the status of an international expert on contemporary civilization mainly due to the surprising accuracy of his long-term predictions (e.g. direction of the development of astronautics, “artificial intelligence”, cyberspace and virtual reality concepts, genetic engineering and bioinformatics).

And with all this, he had a unique ability of combining fascinating plots with serious reflection on the world and its inhabitants. This type of phenomenon – connecting intellectuals and ordinary story devourers – will not reappear soon. He is an example of a writer who was able to impress various masses of his audience. Some adored him for the incomparable gift of telling exciting stories about space explorers (Tales of Pirx the Pilot, Return from the Stars, The Invincible), some for showing us the unknown worlds and extraterrestrial intelligence (e.g. Eden, Solaris, Fiasco), some for grotesque (Fables for Robots, The Cyberiad, The Star Diaries), some for amazing crime stories in which circumstence is the criminal (The Investigation, The Chain of Chance), some for showing the dangers of social engineering (Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, Observation on the Spot), others for the Apocrypha (The Futurological Congress, A Perfect Vacuum, Golem XIV), essays (Summa Technologiae, The Philosophy of Chance) or columns (Sex Wars, Mystery of the Chinese Room, The Megabit Bomb). And there are also those who appreciate him simply for his realistic novels (Hospital of the Transfiguration, Highcastle: A Remembrance). As you can see, there is something for everyone.

However, the most important in all this is the scientific element and the passion for solving the mysteries of the universe. There is no other writer in the world so respected by the world of science, especially physicists, astronomers and astrophysicists. Lem’s readers and admirers are scholars with Nobel Prizes: e.g. the creator of the Soviet space program, Prof. Sergei Korolev and two Nobel Prize laureates in physics: Prof. Piotr Leonidowicz Kapica and Prof. Ilya Mikhailovich Frank, as well as the real cosmonauts from Voskhod 1: Vladimir Komarov, Konstantin Feokistov and Boris Yegorov. Lem had a long friendship with everyone mentioned above. The scholars’ sincere appreciation for the writer was evidenced by the invitation in 1971 to participate in the first US-Soviet conference Byurakan (the famous Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence superprogramme), as well as the dedication of his work to the Instrat Project at the Freie Universität in West Berlin in 1983. Astronomers named the asteroid from the so-called Asteroid belt (between Mars and Jupiter) 3836 Lem, which had a symbolic dimension of this relationship between Lem and science.

As I was lucky to know Stanisław Lem personally, I can truly say that he was a man of exceptional direct influence power. His lively mind, sense of humour, brilliance and scale of intellectual abilities surpassed anything I have ever seen in my life. The generations living after Lem’s death will no longer have a chance to associate with such a profound and versatile mind.

Published by: Tomasz Sikora

14 Jan 2021

last modification: 14 Jan 2021