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Stanislaw Lem Dies in Krakow 296

Posted by Zonk
1Eye wrote to mention that well-known SF author Stanislaw Lem passed away today. The Polish author was 84, and was probably best known for the novel 'Solaris'. From the AP article: "Solaris, published in 1961 and set on an isolated space stations, was made into a film epic 10 years later by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and into a 2002 Hollywood remake shot by Steven Sodebergh and starring George Clooney."
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Stanislaw Lem Dies in Krakow

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  • More than Solaris (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Monday March 27, 2006 @09:10PM (#15007704) Journal
    I'll remember him for his stories of Ijon Tichy [wikipedia.org] and the satire he would write about regarding anything from governments to advertisements.

    One of the first science fiction authors to truly show us that science fiction is more than just a genre of space novels, it's a way to place one's self outside of reality so that it can be safely analyzed and commented on from a distance.

    Rest in peace. I eagerly await the day you raise to the ranks of Asimov & Tolkien when the world will remember you as more than "that guy who wrote a story for a George Clooney movie."

    I know it will happen.
    • One of the first science fiction authors to truly show us that science fiction is more than just a genre of space novels, it's a way to place one's self outside of reality so that it can be safely analyzed and commented on from a distance.

      Yeah, I really enjoyed a lot of the Sci-Fi series that did this, too. Too bad Hollywood hasn't caught onto this.

      Take a wonderful book with an underlying subtext about politics and military mentality and turn it into a teen flick full of guts and gore.

      Who ever wrote that s
      • Who ever wrote that screen play needs to apologize. Not like I'm saying anything new about the Starship Troopers movie.

        This is highly subjective, but a lot of people think that movie is a brilliantly campy satire of the book... which was itself quite possibly meant as something of a satire of a fascist military mentality. I'd agree with this, myself.

        I saw the movie first and thought it was unnecessarily cheesy and wasn't a big fan. A couple of years later I read the book. I was pretty blown away by a) ho
        • Re:More than Solaris (Score:3, Interesting)

          by bcrowell (177657)
          which was itself quite possibly meant as something of a satire of a fascist military mentality.
          Um, not really. There's not a scrap of irony in the whole book. If you want some irony and satire, try The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (which is also his best book), or Job, A Comedy of Justice. Starship Troopers was written as a polemic in response the ending of nuclear testing by the U.S., and it's meant 100% seriously; it also has nothing at all to do with fascism. Check out the Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] if you want to
    • Re:More than Solaris (Score:5, Informative)

      by Locke2005 (849178) on Monday March 27, 2006 @09:25PM (#15007798)
      I can't understand why he is "best known for Solaris" when it is far from his best work. "The Cyberiad", for example, was a collection of much better stories. Lem had an understanding of people, politics, and satire that made almost everything he wrote delightful to read. Plus, I could never beleive The Cyberiad was originally written in Polish then translated, so props go out to his translators also.
      • Re:More than Solaris (Score:3, Informative)

        by Wolfrider (856)
        "Tales of Pirx the Pilot" is also a good read.
      • by arivanov (12034) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @02:06AM (#15008811) Homepage
        The answer is one word - Tarkovski. It is the same as with the Strugacki brothers. They have around 30 books better and better over the years and the only thing they are know for in the West is one Chapter from "Picnic by the Road". The chapter which was used as a storyline for Tarkovski's "Stalker".
      • Re:More than Solaris (Score:3, Informative)

        by pgolik (526039)
        All those who read Solaris in English lost a lot of the original's literary quality. While most English translations of Lem are good, and those by Michael Kandel are brilliant, Solaris is a sad exception. It was translated into English not from the original, but from a French translation, that was poor to begin with. It's more like a Cliff's Notes, than an original. Kandel wanted to do another translation, but was denied because the copyright is somehow legally tied to the distribution rights to the movie.
      • by dschuetz (10924)
        I can't understand why he is "best known for Solaris" when it is far from his best work

        well, there was that movie (and I mean the original, not the remake). I saw it back in college and loved it...got it at home but haven't gotten around to watching it yet. (I also have the clooney film, was a $5 xmas gift, just for completness' sake).

        Anyway, could part of the problem with Solaris be that the translation isn't as good as his others? As far as I know, the only English translation of Solaris was based on a
      • by ccp (127147)
        I can't understand why he is "best known for Solaris" when it is far from his best work. "The Cyberiad", for example, was a collection of much better stories.

        Well, having read both in the splendid Spanish translation, direct from the Polish (Minotauro, Argentina), I respectfully disagree.
        "The Ciberyad" is, as you said, delightful, but "Solaris" is deep.

        It looks like the (in)famous English translation was horrible indeed, because "Solaris" is appreciated very differently by English and non-English speaking

    •   Rest in peace. I eagerly await the day you raise to the ranks of Asimov & Tolkien when the world will remember you as more than "that guy who wrote a story for a George Clooney movie."

      You mean, like how most of the world probably thinks Asimov is that guy who wrote a story for that Will Smith movie?

      • You mean, like how most of the world probably thinks Asimov is that guy who wrote a story for that Will Smith movie?

        Though you may think that's bad, had that movie not been made, it would have been, "the guy who wrote the story for Bincentennial man".

        Robots that want to feel and screw girls. Human emotions = special is the worst kind of science fiction.

    • I've always felt that The Futurological Congress would make an excellent feature film, although its vision of a doped-up society, enthralled by the external appearance of a shiny future while things turn to rot within, is no longer a prophecy, but simply the way things are.
  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday March 27, 2006 @09:11PM (#15007707)
    In memory, the best poem he ever wrote:

    Come, let us hasten to a higher plane,
    Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
    Their indices bedecked from one to n,
    Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

    Come, every frustum longs to be a cone,
    And every vector dreams of matrices.
    Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
    It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

    In Riemann, Hilbert, or in Banach space
    Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
    Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
    We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

    I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
    Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
    And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
    And in our bound partition never part.

    For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
    Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
    Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
    Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

    Cancel me not -- for what then shall remain?
    Abscissas, some mantissas, modules, modes,
    A root or two, a torus and a node:
    The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

    Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
    The product of our scalars is defined!
    Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
    Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

    I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
    I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
    Bernoulli would have been content to die,
    Had he but known such a2 cos 2 phi
    • by SimHacker (180785) * on Monday March 27, 2006 @10:21PM (#15008058) Homepage Journal

      What really blows my mind is that Lem presumably wrote that poem in Polish, and Michael Kandel translated it (and other poems and stories) to English.

      It's astounding how well Kandel translated the poetry, so it still rhymes, scans well, and makes perfect sense (unlike most other poetry). Kandel also translated a lot of Lem's other stuff ABOUT words and language, in Cyberiad and other books.

      • I first read the story in German, and there as well, the poems he wrote were translated perfectly. I don't know what it was about Lem that brought out the best translators to do their greatest work, but I'm glad that it was so.

        Rest in Peace. Trurl and Klapauzius, Ijon and the machine that could build everything starting with n, you'll be his voice for ages for to come. May you continue to enlighten us.
      • by sakusha (441986) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @04:38AM (#15009161)
        I was just reading a Lem interview somewhere on the web today, he talks about Michael Kandel's translation. Lem said Kandel took a lot of liberties, rewriting passages and changing a lot of things beyond what was in the original text, but remained true to the intent of the book. Lem said he learned a lot from Kandel, that there was more to translation than a literal translation of the words. And it's true, Kandel's work was brilliant. There are whole chapters of The Cyberiad that are almost entirely poetry, like the tale of that THING that wouldn't go away. And I'll never forget the wonderful wordplay about dragonslaying with Quantum Draconics.
    • If ever a mathematician had a chance to get laid, this might do the trick.
    • I always like this one too.

      "Have it compose a poem--a poem about a haircut! But lofty, noble, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism and in the face of certain doom! Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter s!!"

      "And why not throw in a full exposition of the general theory of nonlinear automata while you're at it?" growled Trurl. "You can't give it such idiotic--"

      But he didn't finish. A melodious voice filled the hall with the following:

      Se

  • I would highly recommend Solaris [amazon.com] to lovers of science fiction, who surely abound on a "News for Nerds" site like Slashdot. Don't expect hard SF with the focus on technology like Vernor Vinge, but rather a more psychological and mysterious style of storytelling somewhat like Gene Wolfe. The movie by
    • The book is one of the great works of scifi. The movies really miss the point. About a week ago, in a discussion about PlaneScape:Torment I wrote:

      "I mean, what better quest can there be, than a Quest to learn who you are? A chance to discover yourself and, just maybe, make amends for past sins and save your own soul and prevent the suffering of others.
      Beautifully written, IMO it is the high-water mark of videogames.

      P.S. For those who enjoyed PST, I highly recommend Stanislaw Lem's novel, Solaris. The centr

    • With all due respect "Return from the Stars" is better. If you are new to Lem start with it.
  • by Illbay (700081) on Monday March 27, 2006 @09:16PM (#15007746) Journal
    Although he spent most of his productive years behind the Iron Curtain, Lem was quite influential and was known (and read) by many of the Golden Age and Next Wave/Dangerous Visions authors--particularly the latter.

    He had very little respect for the Golden Age writers, calling their works "kitsch." Most of his attitude toward the gigantic American SF oeuvre was no doubt attributable to the fact that, writing in the Soviet bloc, he had to use great care in expressing his ideas lest he be subject to government censorship, and thus thought the "frivolous" nature of American writers was wasteful of time and print.

    He was greatly admired by writers such as Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin and Harlan Ellison, however, and his works are widely available in good English translations today.

    • If by "greatly admired" you mean "reported to the FBI"...

      "Speed: It will turn you into your parents." -Frank Zappa

      And the admiration was mutual: read "Science Fiction: A Hopeless Case - with Exceptions" and "Philip K. Dick: A Visionary Among the Charlatans [depauw.edu]", from Microworlds [art.net].

      From Stanislaw Lem's [www.lem.pl] web site:

      On September 2, 1974 Philip K. Dick sent the following letter to the FBI (Please keep in mind Mr. Dick was most probably suffering from schizophrenia):

      Philip K. Dick to the FBI, September 2,

  • A sad day -- I would have to say Solaris has always stuck with me from when I first read it over 30 years ago in my teens -- it was the first time I really thought about questions like what it means to be alive and human, what is thought, and what is free will. Neither film really did it justice, though at least the Soviet version didn't "Hollywoodize" it. I just didn't get the reason for the minutes and minutes of nothing but travel on Japanese tunnel roadway systems as the protagonist travels to the lau
    • by JonTurner (178845) on Monday March 27, 2006 @09:38PM (#15007860) Journal
      >>I just didn't get the reason for the minutes and minutes of nothing but travel on Japanese tunnel roadway systems as the protagonist travels to the launch site in the Soviet version. A Russian friend told me it just looked very High Tech to Russians at the time.

      There's a story behind this. Tarkovsky was allowed to leave Russian to attend the World's Fair in Japan (a *remarkable* achievement for that period of Iron Curtain history!). He had hoped to film futuristic scenes from the fair, but due to delays with passports and importing their film equipment, they arrived too late, missing the event! Rather than go home from this hugely expensive (both in terms of money and political capitol spent) trip empty-handed, they filmed highway scenes with a hand-held and added sound effects. Your friend is correct. To the average Russian, the "modern" Japanese highway system (not to mention it's automobiles) would have seemed very futuristic. In the same way that the Modified Ford Taurus police cruisers from 1984's Terminator now seem dated, so does this scene.
      • Seems like a slight underestimation of Tarkovsky. I interpreted that scene as part of his [Tarkovsky's] metaphor for Kelvin's journey from earth, from where his mind was grounded in a familiar reality. The highway scene follows the scenes of Kelvin at his property, walking slowly, watching the rain and landscape. The long stretches of freeway depict his initial departure from that nature, ultimately to the space station where reality becomes tenuous, grounded in nothing but what the mind can and can't ra
  • He will be missed! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Ansible42 (961707) on Monday March 27, 2006 @09:18PM (#15007762)
    He was one of my favorite authors, up there with Gene Wolfe and Borges. Solaris, although popular, was not his best work in my opinion. Check out Tales of Pirx the Pilot for lighter weight stuff, and Fiasco for some great hard science fiction. He will be missed!
  • Great author (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bytal (594494) on Monday March 27, 2006 @09:24PM (#15007791) Homepage
    Lem was the bastion of old-school eastern european sci-fi. His sci-fi wasn't about huge robots carrying large breasted women, or random-monster-of-the-week attacking the hapless but plucky space pioneers or even George Clooney's naked ass. Sci-fi for Lem was a way to take a clear look at everything that people took for granted in technology and progress. In both Solaris and His Master's Voice he he tackled space exploration not as an soap opera but as an examination of what it means to be human and what humans see in technological progress. He took our limitations seriously and showed how incredibly alien it will be for humans to seriously venture out into space and even make first contact. And even in talking about all the limitations on scientific and technological progress he never stopped believing in the possibility of human progress through these tools. He was not only a great author but also a great man. RIP Stan.
    • Re:Great author (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Illbay (700081)
      ...His sci-fi wasn't about huge robots carrying large breasted women,...

      Well, actually neither is most American SF. True, this was a staple of a great deal of American film SciFi (read "sciffy") of the 50s and early 60s, but then most B-movies were corny and cliche' no matter WHAT the genre.

      For all the Euro-elitism, American SF has always been of uniform high quality, if only because there was so much of it.

      FWIW, can you name ANOTHER well-regarded Polish SF writer?

      • Sapkowski is a great Polish fantasy (okay not a sci-fi) author to name one. In my opinion equals to Zelazny.

        From the search on Amazon it seems like english speaking world don't have a chance to read anything of his yet. ('The Hexer' based on his stories may have english subs but it is one really bad movie)
      • Who said there was no good quality American SF? Asimov, Dick, Gibson...the list can go on and on. The point is not Europe vs. America but good sci-fi vs. the crap that goes by the name of sci-fi. There are great sci-fi writers all over the world but it's important to recognize the subject and style differences. You also have to realize that most great sci-fi from Europe is prolly from the 50s-70s when it as much about communism criticism as it was about technology. Nowadays, it's the same type of stuff as a
        • We just don't read much of that stuff any more. Even "Star Wars" was purposefully evocative of the old "Space Opera" era of the 1930s. Just fun, not to be taken seriously (ignore all those Star Wars character costumes at the myriad SW conventions...)
      • Well, actually neither is most American SF.

        I disagree. The science fiction and fantasy section even of large bookstores such as Borders overwhelmingly consists of cheap pulp-rate material, with literary science fiction in the clear minority. Writers such as Gene Wolfe, Samuel R. Delaney, and Philip K. Dick--whose books are actually worth something and are often published in fine hardbound and trade paperback--must be sought out among a plethora of crappy titles (which the publishers put in paperback beca

        • "The science fiction and fantasy section even of large bookstores such as Borders overwhelmingly consists of cheap pulp-rate material, with literary science fiction in the clear minority."

          "Sure, ninety percent of science fiction is crud. That's because ninety percent of everything is crud." -- Theodore Sturgeon
      • For all the Euro-elitism, American SF has always been of uniform high quality, if only because there was so much of it.

        You're contradicting yourself. "Of uniform[ly] high quality" means "there hasn't been any bad American SF". But you just said that there has been (and there obviously has been).

        What you probably meant is that there is a lot of good American SciFi, which is true. Nevertheless, I can't think of a US author that I would rate more highly than Lem: Lem combined technical insight with humor an
      • Re:Great author (Score:4, Insightful)

        by QNeX (193554) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @05:07AM (#15009234)
        Well-regarded Polish author? Well, being a Pole I can share some thoughts
        about interesting authors past and present. Most of them haven't been translated
        to English, yet some of them surely will be.

        If we talk about Iron Courtain authors, Janusz Zajdel (died in 1985) is a must.
        He's novels like Limes Inferior or Paradyzja show great deal about falsehoods of
        governments, absurdities of total crontrol, etc. Much like Aldus Huxley's Brave
        New World, yet written from within iron courtain. A must. Translated.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janusz_A._Zajdel>

        From current authors I would recommend Jacek Dukaj. His all books are original and
        different from eachother, he combines Gaiman's atmosphere with Dick's imagination
        and Zelazny's plot making... Yhh, well, highly original author, each and every
        book is a delight. A definite must read. Don't know if he's been translated (and
        the translation would be hard, as he, for example, uses special grammar for post-human
        beings (think: Brinn's uplift saga, only it's not vocabulary but grammar).
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukaj>

        And finally, Edmund Wnuk-Lipiski with his Apostezjon trilogy. One of the best things
        I have read. It moved me deeply, as it brought deep insight on religion (among other
        things), given from the sci-fi perspective...
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Wnuk-Lipi%C5%8 4ski>

        Oh, and it's also worth to mention that Andrzej Sapkowski is one of the most known
        world-wide Polish authors, though it is not a sci-fi, but a fantasy and as such it
        has a bit different ideas and features to work on. It is good, but in my opinion
        if you are looking for something which does The Thing like Stanisaw Lem's work did,
        you should rather look for the former three authors.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapkowski>
    • His sci-fi wasn't about huge robots carrying large breasted women

      You say that like it's a bad thing...

  • Return from the Strars was the first book of his I discovered (very interesting), later the Cyberiad (fun). I finally saw Solaris - the 2000ish remake, I hope the book is better than the movie adaptation.

    He certainly could tell a good tale, I'm sure he'll be missed.

  • For me it would be:

    John Brunner (the internet, in the mid 70s, with privacy concerns for all. OMG)

    Philip K Dick (mad as a bag of hammers)

    Ray Bradbury (mostly for his non-SF short stories, funnily enough, but for Farenheit 451)

    Robert Heinlein (just for the idea that when you don't know what to do, keep the readers on their toes by saying "the door dilates". Got to love that)

    Fredric Brown (short stories about time travel that work)

    Neal Stephenson (real geeks, real simple (lousy endings though... ))

    there are many more, these are the few I can think of off the top of my head.
    • Iain M. Banks.

      I can't watch any news about the western world's increasingly paranoid and delusional wars any more without being reminded that, in warfare, the biggest danger is of becoming indistinguishable from your enemy.

      Oh, and Eric Blair. Not a science fiction author, but wrote a certain book which is still a brilliant work of science fiction in my eyes. Of the Ballard-style observation of a civilisation readjusted in some horrifically plausible manner... ;-)
      • The problem with Banks is that somehow the energy is gone. My nethack-flavored review of Look To Windward was: "A cheap plastic imitation of a Culture novel." Well, it worked, since I bought it in hardcover.

        I bought The Algebraist in Paris during US embargo, and it did ruin some of my trip by keeping me up all night reading it. But it seemed too long per plot twist delivered. Don't get me wrong, I live for books that surprise me. But a lot of that was unreliable narrator, and the cosmology seemed direc
    • Iain Banks for a remarkably positive view of the future with the culture novels, and a remarkably bleak view of the future with his non-culture novels.

      Jedidiah.
    • Robert Heinlein (just for the idea that when you don't know what to do, keep the readers on their toes by saying "the door dilates". Got to love that)

      You left out the guy who pointed that out and analyzed that.

      Samuel R. Delany; bear with the introduction.

      From Triton (now apparently called Trouble on Triton), Bantam, 1976 (1976!) page 333:

      Text and textus? Text, of course, comes from the Latin textus, which means "web". In modern printing, the "web" is that great ribbon of paper which, in many presses, take

    • Spinrad's books show a very cynical view of international diplomacy that is unfortunately supported by the state of the world we live in now.
    • Also Isaac Asimov, Cyril M Kornbluth, Fred Pohl, Frank Herbert and Algis Budrys.
  • by SimHacker (180785) * on Monday March 27, 2006 @09:38PM (#15007862) Homepage Journal

    Lem was my favorite writer [art.net], and I'm sad to hear he's gone.

    SimCity was inspired by one of the stories in Cyberiad (about the despot for whom the constructors made a si mulated kingdom for him to rule over, that broke out of the box and took over). Nobody can figure out how he writes in Polish, yet the English translations of his books are full of brilliant poetic puns and neological phonetic jokes. He's got a great translator, Michael Kandel, to say the least. In memory of Stanislaw Lem, here are some of my favorite poems composed by the Electronic Bard from Cyberiad:

    Klapaucius [art.net] witnessed the first trial run of Trurl's [art.net] poetry machine, the Elecronic Bard. Here are the some of the wonderful poems it instantly composed to Klapaucius's specifications:

    This wonderfully apropos epigram was delivered with perfect poise:

    The Petty and the Small
    Are overcome with gall

    When Genius, having faltered, fails to fall.

    Klapaucius too, I ween,
    Will turn the deepest green

    To hear such flawless verse from Trurl's machine.

    This is a poem about a haircut! But lofty, nobel, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism in the face of certain doom! Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter "s"!

    Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
    She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
    Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
    Silently scheming,
    Sightlessly seeking
    Some savage, spectacular suicide.

    A poem all in g! A sonnet, trochaic hexameter, about an old cyclotron who kept sixteen artificial mistresses, blue and radioactive, had four wings, three purple pavilions, two lacquered chests, each containing exactly one thousand medallions bearing the likeness of Czar Murdicog the Headless ... (the description and the poem are unfinished, thanks to the quick intervention of Trurl.)

    Grinding gleeful gears, Gerontogyron grabbed / Giggling
    gynecobalt-60 golems, ...

    A love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit.

    Come, let us hasten to a higher plane,
    Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
    Their indices bedecked from one to n,
    Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

    Come, every frustum longs to be a cone,
    And every vector dreams of matrices.
    Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
    It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

    In Riemann, Hilbert or in Banach space
    Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
    Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
    We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

    I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
    Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
    And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
    And in our bound partition never part.

    For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
    Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
    Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
    Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

    Cancel me not -- for what then shall remain?
    Abscissas, some mantissas, modules, modes,
    A root or two, a torus and a node:
    The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

    Ellipse of bliss, converse, O lips divine!
    The product of our scalars is defined!
    Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
    cuts capers like a happy haversine.

    I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
    I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
    Bernoulli would have been content to die,
    Had he but known such a squared cosine 2 phi!

    Femfatalatron 1.0 Product

    • This is the first time I see English translation, having read this in
      Russian. The Russian version of poem in 'g' made more sense:
      Gruzniy Gen'ka generator
      grozno gryz goroh gortsyami

      In general, the feel is different. My guess is that the beauty of Lem was the fact
      that his writing was universal yet allowed for fine tuning to any culture
      via translations. I think he was the greatest SF writer ever, but all
      the same my hat is off to his translators.
    • I first read Lem as a boy growing up in Communist Poland in the 70's, and was blown away by the mastery of language and ideas. Later, when I came to the US, I re-read all of his books in English. While the translations are excellent, esp. Kandel, they still can't touch the cleverness of the original writing, especially in the little verses he wrote, or the stories such as the one about the Machine that could make everything that starts with the letter N in the Cyberiad.

      Still, the underlying ideas and visi
    • by cecom (698048) on Monday March 27, 2006 @11:36PM (#15008365) Homepage Journal

      While the English translations are trully brilliant, Lem should be read in a Slavic language [wikipedia.org] to be fully appreciated. He constantly plays with words and makes up new ones, which IMHO are not translatable to English.

      It is difficult to explain - a language expert would do it much better than me. In English Lem is still interesting and funny, but something subtle is missing. It bugs me that there is no way for English readers to ever fully enjoy it.

      In all honesty I don't speak Polish, although I can understand some, but I have read Lem in Bulgarian, Russian and English.

    • Thanks for posting those excerpts. Lem was an amazing talent.

      One correction for the story about the king and his mechanical kingdom. Trurl encountered a deposed tyrant and built for him this model kingdom to rule over. Only he made it too real. The characters were done so faithfully and realistically that their suffering under the tyrant's rule was no longer simulated but became real. This is why the story is subtitled, "how Trurl's own perfection led to no good". It was one of the first explorations of thi
  • Automatthew's Friend (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jamie (78724) * <jamie@slashdot.org> on Monday March 27, 2006 @09:44PM (#15007884) Journal

    This is the beginning of Lem's short story "Automatthew's Friend," 1977, translated from the Polish by Michael Kandel.

    A certain robot, planning to go on a long and dangerous voyage, heard of a most useful device which its inventor called an electric friend. He would feel better, he thought, if he had a companion, even a companion that was only a machine, so he went to the inventor and asked to be shown an artificial friend.

    "Sure," replied the inventor. (As you know, in fairy tales no one says "sir" or "ma'am" to anyone else, not even to dragons, it's only with the kinds that you have to stand on ceremony.) With this he pulled from his pocket a handful of metal granules, that looked like fine shot.

    "What is what?" said the robot in surprise.

    "Tell me your name, for I forgot to ask it in the proper place of this fairy tale," said the inventor.

    "My name is Automatthew."

    "That's too long for me, I'll call you Autom."

    "Autom's from Automaton, but have it your way," replied the other.

    "Well then, Autommy my lad, you have here before you a batch of electrofriends. You ought to know that by vocation and specialization I am a miniaturizer. Which means I make large and heavy mechanisms small and portable. Each one of these granules is a concenntrate of electrical thought, highly versatile and intelligent. I won't say a genius, for that would be an exaggeration if not false advertising. True, my intention is precisely to create electrical geniuses and I shall not rest until I have made them so very tiny that it will be possible to carry thousands of them around in your vest pocket; the day I can pour them into sacks and sell them by weight, like said, I will have achieved my most cherished goal. But enough now of my plans for the future..."

  • Two other Lem books that I'm fond of: The Futurological Congress [transparencynow.com] and A Perfect Vacuum. [cs.sfu.ca]

    Memoirs is essentially a satire about a society with too many self-deceptions, and how reality has a way of unraveling even though society refuses to notice or acknowledge any problem. Vacuum is a collection of book reviews -- reviews of books that never existed; in fact some could not possibly exist. These brief descriptions don't do Lem's books credit. Read them yourself; they're devilishly clever.

  • The Futurological Congress is not only terribly entertaining, but also quite twisted, and I recommend it very much. One has to think that The Matrix and even P.K. Dick owe a lot to Lem, his way of thinking, and some of the dark scenarios it leads to.
  • His Master's Voice (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PaulBunion (872807)
    I'm surprised no one has mentioned a very unusual book by Lem (unusual by anyone for that matter) - His Master's Voice. It is on Amazon for the curious. My son, an English major pointed this out to me because of how interesting it is, even though it is not science fiction in the traditional sense. Some have described it as a scathing commentary on science and others have applauded the connection between the title, subject matter, and a dog listening to a gramaphone. Good read. RIP, Stan...
  • Solaris in English (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tal Cohen (4834) <.gro.2murof. .ta. .lat.> on Monday March 27, 2006 @10:20PM (#15008053) Homepage
    FYI, Solaris was never properly translated into English. The English version is a translation from the French, and misses a lot compared to the Polish original. (Not sure if the "data loss" occurred in the move from Polish to French or from French to English.)
    • FYI, Solaris was never properly translated into English. The English version is a translation from the French, and misses a lot compared to the Polish original. (Not sure if the "data loss" occurred in the move from Polish to French or from French to English.)

      I'm guessig both: Polish Solaris > French Solaris > English Solaris;

      Fan sub, anyone?
  • by SimHacker (180785) * on Monday March 27, 2006 @10:25PM (#15008078) Homepage Journal

    Lem defined Isothemes:

    Chronocurrent exformatics is based on the existence of ISOTHEMES (q.v.). An ISOTHEME is a line in SEMANTIC SPACE (q.v.) passing through all thematically identical publications...

    Lem predicted Wikipedia (an encyclopedia so up-to-date, it can predict the future):

    In an extreme instance, in which there is a Propervirt of less than 0.9%, the TEXT OF THE PRESENT PROSPECTUS may likewise undergo an ABRUPT change. If, while you are reading these sentences, the words begin to jump about, and the letters quiver and blur, please interrupt your reading for ten or twenty seconds to wipe your glasses, adjust your clothing, or the like, and then start reading AGAIN from the beginning, and NOT JUST from the place where your reading was interrupted, since such a TRANSFORMATION indicates that a correction of DEFICIENCIES is now taking place.
  • by Jurrasic (940901) on Monday March 27, 2006 @10:40PM (#15008145)
    but for 'The Cyberiad' "tales of the cybernetic age" which at age 11 was the first exposure to not only humorous SF, but truely 'intelligent' SF. Rest in peace Stan.
  • I read over and over again The Cyberiad which IIRC was a tale of a fierce competition between human inventors in the far future building absolutely monstrous robots to outdo each other. Also Tales of Pix the Pilot was great. The Infocom text adventure (Zork-like z engine) version of Solaris was cool though unsolvable I think. There was another one resembling Kafkaesque movie Berlin I think entitled memoirs in a bathtub. I'd like to find these again in ascii, The Cyberiad filled my head with dreams and h
    • Except the constructor weren't human. At least not physically :)
      The whole space was dominated by various robotic species and the two Great Constructors were no exception. Only some forgotten corners still contained mostly forgotten and despised (and very rarely mentioned) protein-based 'wet and splashy' lifeforms.
  • by qning (515935) on Monday March 27, 2006 @10:54PM (#15008202)
    Lem is one of the few SF authors I've read who truly have a sense of the utter alienness of the alien. Other cultures aren't just furry/scaly/tall/short humans with funny names, but things entirely incomprehensible to the humans who interact with them.

    I always loved that about his stories. I'm sad he's gone.
  • Stanislaw Lem was easily of my favourite writers, regardless of genre or language. His short stories are nothing short of brilliant (no pun intended) - it's the caliber of writing that subtly changes the way you think of the world.

    A couple of links to bibliographies and excerpts:

    http://www.lem.pl/cyberiadinfo/english/dziela/dzie la.htm [www.lem.pl] (his official site)
    http://www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/lem/lem.html [rpi.edu]

    Some of my favourite works are The Cyberiad [www.lem.pl], The Futurological Congress [www.lem.pl], and of course The Star Diaries [www.lem.pl]. I have a
  • by sukotto (122876) on Monday March 27, 2006 @11:52PM (#15008423)
    A lot of people are mentioning Lem's translator Michael Kandel as an amazing guy. Someone who translated the essence of Lem's work, not just the words.

    Hey Editors, let's interview him!

    (To be honest, the translations are so good that I always kind of thought Lem just wrote in English... even though the Kandel's name is right there in the book)
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @12:05AM (#15008467) Journal
    I wish to draw the slashdot crowd's attention to what is one of S. Lem's most incredible short stories from the collection "Imaginary Magnitude". Picking up on a particularly insightful comment made by another post that S. Lem had a real sense of the "alienness" of aliens (ex. FIASCO); in the story "Golem XIV" he takes this further by depicting a superintelligent machine far beyond our reasoning ability that gives lectures to mankind. S. Lem manages to convincingly PUT HIMSELF IN THE POSITION OF A SUPERINTELLIGENT BEING talkiing down to us mere humans and examines ideas such as the subjugation of the sense of self to pure intellect as well as the next steps in Man's cognitive evolution. He then discusses the possibility that this may be but a few small steps in the climb to cosmic intelligences...

    An extremely thought provoking story it reminds me of the comment in Time magazine that S. Lem "is the best writer, in any language, of science fiction in the 20th century".

    The level of his discourse is so far above that of other writers that I hardly consider them in the same breath. He never considered science fiction as being just adventure stories set in the future but rather as an avenue to explore new worlds of thought.

    May he rest in peace.
  • I'm not sure if Lem's work was the first SF I've read, but it's definitely the first I remember reading (still on the other side of the Iron Curtain at the time), which probably says something in itself.

    He was definitely one of the few authors with whom you had to constantly explain to people: "I know it's SF, but it's also 'real' literature!"

  • SOLARIS, it is not just a book, not just an operating system, it is also my license plate (some strange ideas come into people's minds sometimes. Once a lady called me Mr. Solaris, another guy thought that I owned Sun Microsystems :)

    Lem was one of my most favorite authors, it is too bad that he never saw a movie made from SOLARIS that he liked. Tarkovskii was too family oriented, Hollywood was completely off base. The point of the book was quite simple, really, we cannot expect to be able to really commu
    • I think you may have confused Lem's book "Solaris" with an operating system named "Slowlaris". They are totally different.

      -Don

  • I really don't understand why the 2002 Solaris movie was made (or, at least, why it was made with such a big budget). It is an arthouse movie with a Hollywood budget. While I appreciate it, I can't see how they ever thought they'd make their money back on this one.

    Here's some box office data [imdb.com] from IMDB. While it isn't too easy to interpret, it looks to me like it grossed well under its production cost (perhaps about 1/2 to 2/3.) The return to the movie makers will be a fraction of that.
    • Primarily, it was a horrible movie made from a decent novel. The novel was a good, mysterious space horror, keeping the suspense, giving unexpected answers, coming to surprising conclusion. The movie was a hollywood romance saga, with the horror elements duct-taped on top in completely awkward manner. While not so terrible as a romance saga it didn't catch the least bit of mood of original Solaris. It didn't cater to people who like romances because they expected it's a space horror, it didn't cater to sci-
  • Rest in peace, Mr. Lem.
    I started with Futurological Congress, loved the Cyberiad and Fiasco,
    but Memoirs Found in a Bathtub stuck with me most. Creepy and twisted,
    but when life gets to be creepy and twisted you will recall this one...

    Also - don't forget One Human Minute. Probably a good first Lem book...
  • Krakow! Krakow! Two direct Hits!!

    /goodnight, funny-man
  • by january (906774) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @02:39AM (#15008891)
    Did you know that Philip K. Dick thought that Lem was a communist conspiracy directed against PKD, and that Lems prose was in fact written by a commitee? Well, you can almost understand that, I'll tell you why.

    Being Polish, I grew up with Lem's prose. A lot has been said on that already here, so I'll make it short. Lem's prose was unbelievably diverse, ranging from "classic" SF stories in the archetypic SF setup (rockets, pilots, robots etc. in the Pirx series) through grotesque and postmodern, humorous and twisted stories about the Ijon Tichy, to the utterly fantastic Cyberiade, the XX century version of the Grimm tales; don't forget the critiques on non-existing books, which remind me so much of Jorge Luis Borges.

    However, not only the forms were diverse; Lem pondered upon a whole lot of subjects. Just to name a few examples: he envisioned VR technology in the early sixties, and analysed its impact both, seriously and in a very hillarious manner. He belonged to the first who recognized how our society relies on information storage, and the motive of a civilisation collapse due to the destruction of the information storages (paper, in his early works, and computers / networks later on). His thoughts on the possibilities on communications with aliens (or, lack of such possibilities) are unique and very intelligent.

    His last book, printed in 1989, is called "Fiasco". The story follows the lines of one of the first books by Lem, called "The Magellans Cloud" -- an optimistic, communist utopy, which ends in the first contact between humans and aliens. However, "Fiasco" (the title says it all) is utterly pesimistic, and its bottom line is that we cannot really communicate not only with the aliens, but even with each other. The book contains several plays on earlier prose of Lem, including fragments of his early stories; moreover, the bold Pilot Pirx is killed in the first chapter.

    Lem never went back to writing prose. Personally, I think that with "Fiasco" he conveys the message that everything he had to tell he told us; but the communication with us, the readers, the aliens, was a Fiasco after all.

    Cheers,
    January
    • This communication gap is a theme in many of Lem's books, not just Fiasco. I'd argue that its the central theme in Solaris as well. Its also present in The Invincible (implacably hostile nanobots), Return from the Stars (astronaut doesn't fit in the society of the future), His Master's Voice (humans fail to decipher the alien message), and others. Its a theme that Lem returned to again and again, the inevitable failure of communication and comprehension, the ultimate unfriendliness and inhumanness of the
  • POPE JOHN PAUL II (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sssmashy (612587) on Tuesday March 28, 2006 @11:53AM (#15010966)

    Odd how different paths inetersect...

    From: "Stanislaw Lem" page on "Celebrity Atheists" website, last modified 19 Jun 2005 (http://www.celebatheists.com/wiki/index.php?title =Stanislaw_Lem [celebatheists.com]; viewed 24 August 2005):



    Trained to be a physician, and "brought up with the scientific outlook" by his father who was also a physician, he subsequently "spent many hours over coffee arguing about God" with his friend Karol Wojtyla who taught theology in Cracow and who is now better known as Pope John-Paul II. In an interview, Lem indicated his thinking on religion: "for moral reasons I am an atheist -- for moral reasons. I am of the opinion that you would recognize a creator by his creation, and the world appears to me to be put together in such a painful way that I prefer to believe that it was not created by anyone than to think that somebody created this intentionally" (L. W. Michaelson, "A Conversation with Stanislaw Lem": Amazing (Jan. 1981): 116-19. Peter Engel, "An Interview With Stanislaw Lem": The Missouri Review, 7, 2 (1984): 218-37. Also see Raymond Federman, "An Interview with Stanislaw Lem," Science-Fiction Studies, 10 (1983): 2-14).

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