..to my best knowledge, the book was not dedicated to erotic problems of people in outer space... As Solaris' author I shall allow myself to repeat that I only wanted to create a vision of a human encounter with something that certainly exists, in a mighty manner perhaps, but cannot be reduced to human concepts, ideas or images. This is why the book was entitled "Solaris" and not "Love in Outer Space".
Diaspora fundamentally changed my view of life and the universe.
(Links are from:
there are more Tarkovsky film links there).
Word of warning: do not expect Star Wars or Inception type special effects. And this is Tarksovky's reading which, if you know Tarkovsky, he was concerned more about the human condition, than technological aspects of Sci-Fi.
In any case, for me it was more cognitive/philosophical: about trying to reach/understand the reality, after passing (yet another) layer of illusion.
1) The role of probability in life: "Chain of Chance" and "The Investigation" (the former is much the better book)
2) The role of scale in our understanding of the universe: "His Master's Voice", "Fiasco" and "Solaris" all touch on this, and are all excellent (I have a special fondness for HMV as a book that describes how scientists actually think and work in a way that nothing else I've encountered does)
3) The role of systems of control in the future of humanity: "Memoirs..." and most of the Ijon Tichy stories fall into this category, and are in my view his weakest work, although "Return from the Stars" is a brilliant book on this theme.
4) The role of cybernetics in the future of evolution: "The Cyberiad" etc.
The problem of the "silent universe" (explored mostly deeply in "Fiasco") is also one that comes up repeatedly, including a long and interesting essay in "Imaginary Magnitude".
Here's a great free course for anyone interested in learning the language: http://polish.slavic.pitt.edu/firstyear/
So far we're only picking up the swearwords, so this may be a good complement.
Western sci-fi authors such as Asimov and Clarke were great, but they were not best what literature can offer. In many cases they use story as boilerplate to present some technical marvel. Lem was one of the best authors, even outside sci-fi.
I wholeheartedly agree that the need to read between the lines politically, and the belief that science fiction is a serious literary endeavor, put Polish and Soviet scifi on a completely different level of quality than in the West. (The same is likely true for other countries in the Eastern Bloc, but I'm out of my depth there).
That isn't entirely true, Lem praised the work of Philip K. Dick (American) and Olaf Stapledon (English).
He has two essays in which he analyzes Stapledon two great works: Last and First Men, and Star Maker.
I think you might also be suffering from a filter. The best of Polish writers were translated, whereas you have access to the glut of all American writers. It is probably true that there was a greater number of bad American writers.
: Dick returned the favor by reporting Lem to the FBI as a communist conspiracy against the west. Arguing that Lem was in fact a committee and not a person. Read the letter here: http://english.lem.pl/faq#P.K.Dick
I suspect that there is a slight conspiracy: "the first rule of science fiction writers club is that you don't talk about Stapledon". It inspired most of modern science fiction but very few outside of the field have heard about it. Accelerando, The Shape of Things to Come, 1984, That Hideous Strength, 2001, Blindsight, most of HP Lovecraft, etc... all borrow from him.
To C.S. Lewis and AC Clarke's credit, they do acknowledge the importance of Stapledon to their work.
Do you think 'Last and First Men' changed your perspective?
The timescale of the book is staggering. It's like that 'pale blue dot' picture.
For those that haven't read the book or that don't have access to it, the book follows the 'first men' (us) and their successors across billions of years. Not all movement in time is progress and not all change is natural. Very much recommended, I won't write any more here to not spoil the book for future readers.
Cut them some slack. If they say anything different it's likely some lunatic will label them "unamerican". While the country, as it presently stands, will not endure for long in a planetary timescale, we'll be fortunate if some of the core ideals behind its foundation last for a longer time and help guide our descendants into the deep future.
There is this misconception popular even among young Poles that the communism in Poland was a period of hardship and oppression. Sure, many things were bad, but if one talks to one's parents and grandparents, they seem to be mostly happy with that period and in many ways would gladly trade it for what we have today.
Especially censorship in Poland was mostly a façade. The system paid lip service to it, but generally people were free to criticize the government, communist reality and made a great lot of self-criticizing works of art.
Living might have been harder in other Soviet states. It definitely was bad in Russia. But here in Poland, we had as benevolent socialist system as one could be. You could be known as a religious person and not a member of the Party, and still hold a top accounting position in a strategic government enterprise.
Poland had a ton of things that were very very wrong, look no further than the SB and their victims. The fact that 98% of a nation experienced no significant hardships does not detract from that at all.
It is very well possible to have a totalitarian dictatorship in which everybody has a job and there is food on the table and an outward appearance of relative prosperity, but totally rotten underneath.
Poland did not have a 'benevolent socialist system' by any measure.
I'll just leave this link here, you can research the SB and Jaruzelski on your own good time:
Ex: While living in Poland, once I commented to a friend that my grandparents could barely read and one grandmother couldn't read at all. He thought I was joking. Or another example: my grandfather got his first shoes when he went to military service. These situations were unthinkable in Poland during communist times. In Poland at the same time lots of people were having university education and most people from lower classes were having holidays.
I think he would call himself 'futurologist'. Scifi on west was defined by laser-guns and girls in bikini on comic covers. East scifi just adored soviet ideal of future. Hard scifi was recognized much later.
Lem had complicated approach to technology. From his wiki page:
> His criticism of most science fiction surfaced in literary and philosophical essays (Fantastyka i futurologia) and interviews. In the 1990s Lem forswore science fiction and returned to futurological prognostications, most notably those expressed in Okamgnienie (Blink of an Eye). He became increasingly critical of modern technology in his later life, criticizing inventions such as the Internet.
Funnily enough, his robots were actually androids - biological, rather than mechanical, beings.
He also wrote, in 1922, a pantheistic gem called The Absolute at Large: mankind finds out how to get energy from matter annihilation. But that frees up "the absolute", which inspires religious devotion ...
(Pierre Boule, in "Les jeux de l'esprit", probably wrote up the opposite premise, general triumph of rationalism, with pretty much the same result, general conflict.)
I love Lem's work but that's the extent of my familiarity with Eastern Bloc sci-fi.
Another good one is "We" by Evgenii Zamyatin. It's a dystopian novel Orwell cribbed from for 1984.
Karel Čapek (pre soviet)
František_Běhounek (part of Italia north pole expedition)
J. M. Troska
Ondřej Neff (post soviet) and his stories around Clarkes monoliths.
He mostly writes hard sci-fi with political and philosophical elements, often about transhumanism, but he also did weird philosophical alternative history book - "Lód" (Ice).
Some English reviews of his books:
Is there any more recent Russian sci-fi that you recommend too?
I've heard some good things about Metro 2033 by Gluhovskiy, a post-apocalyptic novel about survivors living in Moscow underground train system after the nuclear war in 2013, but haven't read it myself.
I have read a lot of non scifi literature, and I would argue that quite a few of those books are more about impressing with linguistic marvels than about telling a great story. For example, I had such a hard time getting to the story behind the writing in books like Ulysses and The Satanic Verses that I didn't even finish reading them.
Lem was probably one of the most pure sci-fi authors out there. He was not that interested in using sci-fi as a metaphor for everyday issues, but he genuinely wanted to explore issues that were outside of our everyday lives. Such as what would an artificial intelligence or an artificial consciousness look like, what would an alien intelligence or consciousness look like, how could we possibly communicate with a being that is truly alien, i.e., it is completely different than everything we know about life and biological development on earth. His two most famous novels -- Solaris and Fiasco were both about communicating with an alien intelligence, and did not have any anti-communist or anti-soviet satire in them.
I agree he is a great writer. But I do not like it when people say "he was not really a sci-fi writer" as a precursor to saying "he is a great writer", as if one could not be a great writer while being a sci-fi writer. Lem is a great writer and a sci-fi writer. He possessed the most important thing in a sci-fi writer he could think up of interesting and/or important ideas, and he could describe them in an engaging manner and explore the consequences.
By the way, now that sci-fi is a billions of dollars a year business, sci-fi writers still have not bothered to deal with the ideas suggested by Lem. Aliens in modern sci-fi are almost always based on humans in one way or another. Today's sci-fi authors are committing the same mistake the scientists of Fiasco did by thinking too much about themselves when trying to imagine a being that is truly alien to humanity.
As an aside, I find Lem's prose to be rather dry, most of the time (though The Cyberiad is a notable exception). I don't know if this is something one can blame on the translators. In his scientist-focused novels, especially Solaris and The Futurological Congress, this works well; also, those are short works where the stodgy prose doesn't overwhelm. In other, longer works such as Fiasco and His Master's Voice, I find the prose almost unbearable. (Those latter two could really use some editing, too. Fiasco opens up with a seemingly endless chapter wherein a guy wanders around on an ice planet in an exosuit, and the prose catalogues nearly every single step the guy takes; it's infuritating and sleep-inducing at the same time.)
There's an awful lot of sneering at science fiction writing as subpar literature and it's completely unfair. Some of Asimovs work actually is good literature, despite the fact that some is just filler that he wrote because he was more or less forced to by his publishers. I've never particularly rated Clarke, so perhaps your criticisms there are fair. What about Ray Bradbury, or Philip K Dick or Frank Herbert or Zelazny? There are more I could mention too, including some writing today.
Having said that Lem is pretty special. I loved some of The Star Diaries and there's a scene in the Futurological Congress that still brings a smile to my face (sewer rats on hallucinogens hallucinating they're human and playing bridge).
>According to director Ari Folman, some elements of the film were inspired by the science fiction novel The Futurological Congress by Stanisław Lem in that similarly to Lem's Ijon Tichy, the actress is split between delusional and real mental states. Later, at the official website of the film, in an interview, Folman says that the idea to put Lem's work to film came to him during his film school. He describes how he reconsidered Lem's allegory of communist dictatorship into a more current setting, namely, the dictatorship in the entertainment business, and expresses his belief that he preserved the spirit of the book despite going far away from it.
It took longer than its length of two hours to watch, because I had to stop and rewind to replay and and freeze frames frequently. (Check out what's going on in the fish tank while she's saying "I wish you could see me animated, it's pretty sick. It's like a genius designer on a bad acid trip. Oh my god, I don't know, I look like a combination between Cinderella on heroin and an Egyptian queen on a bad hair day".)
I'm going to have to watch it many more times, because there were a lot of details to absorb -- time will tell if it's up there with Blade Runner as one of my favorite movies very loosely based on a great book.
I find that to be more true for Clarke than for Asimov. Clarke likes to present technical marvels, and the stories themselves are quite bare, but Asimov focuses more on the characters, leaving the technical marvels in the background.
Lem is great, as are a variety of other eastern authors, but they're not head and shoulders above their western counterparts nor is the genre lacking in literary skill in the west.
See for examples - Phillip K Dick, Iain M Banks, Daniel Keyes, Frank Herbert and many others.
Lem is excellent, though.
As I said, it's part of literature. Sci Fi filled that role as it came into existence, in part a result of science emerging as a thing in the 19th century, distinct from natural philosophy.
Anybody with a math or software bent that hasn't read his "Cyberiad" should rush out and buy/download a copy right now.
- The Invincible
- all of the Pilot Pirx short stories
- all of the Ijon Tichy short stories
- Peace on Earth (the conclusion to Tichy's story)
- Fiasco (the conclusion to Pirx' story)
Also of note is that Lem essentially "invented" Virtual Reality in the mid 60's (he called it Phantomology).
> 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!
The whole thing is here: http://www.aleph.se/Trans/Cultural/Art/tensor.html
Needless to say, Michael Kandel's translation is also hugely impressive.
Even though the narrator is nominally a mathematician, his approach to problems is fundamentally that of an empirical scientist, and has nothing at all to do with the cartoon hypothetico-deductive nonsense that philosophers have foisted upon the world as "scientific method".
What, politics? ;)
I read it as truly brilliant and scathing social commentary about what's wrong with the "scientific process" as practiced (and corrupted) by academic and government institutions.
The initial premise of the book, how the message was discovered, is deeply hilarious: somebody was fraudulently selling some old computer tapes of raw space telescope data as truly random numbers, and then one of their customers got pissed off that the numbers were't random enough because they repeated, and demanded their money back.
This accurately describes one of the main failings of the Internet. It was supposed to give us an age of transparency, but instead it's delivered a choking fog of contradictory nonsense and rumors. It's almost impossible to see what's actually happening through all the propaganda, spin-doctoring, rumor-milling, fear-porn, and wild speculation.
The Fukushima meltdown really drove this home to me. While it was unfolding -- and after -- the Internet was simultaneously telling me everything from "it's not a big deal" to "this is an issue of human survival!" I suspected the truth might be somewhere in between, but this is a fallacy as well as an admission of profound ignorance. Somewhere in between nothing and doomsday is not saying much.
I don't think it was ever supposed to do that.
funny note: it seems no one reads posted articles on hacker news... people just talk about other stuff related to the topic of the article..
If you like Lem's description of fictitious scholarly research, I strongly recommend Jorge Luis Borges' short stories ("The Library of Babel", "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" and "Funes the Memorious" come to mind). The collection Labyrinths has some of the best ones.
His most known book:
I'll pipe up for another, the dazzlingly imaginative Bruno Schulz. His work is half an evocation of his family's life in a small early 20th-century Polish city, and half cosmic and out-there. He's like a Polish Kafka, but more whimsical, less austere. He haunts his own writing like a ghost because of his shocking death and the fact that his major work was lost. This adds poignancy to reading him that wouldn't otherwise be there, like a painting that was damaged in a way that became part of the art and made it a different whole.
Two other Polish modernists that I've been meaning for years to read are Gombrowicz (Ferdydurke) and Witkiewicz (Insatiability). Both are said to be fabulous.
There's a recent translation of Ferdydurke that's supposed to be good. Be careful not to get the earlier translation, which was translated indirectly from a French intermediate and really doesn't have much to do with the original as a result.
Re-reading Heart of Darkness as an adult was a totally different experience from the forced read of it as a child.
I also really enjoyed Conrad's Nostromo, a true masterpiece.
I like his Patrick Allen narrated post-atomic disaster intros. http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Citr--MiseryHour/~3/gWL4KB91Z...
How does one qualify such an extensive and penetrating understanding of human consciousness as to make books an edible substance as "not ... scientific progress"?
This simply can't be true. Lem did have a great imagination, coupled with huge talents as a writer. You could say that he was a writer with the greatest imagination.
In a world consisting of 7 billion people, it is very likely there are people out there that have much better and much more accurate imaginations, perhaps people who are correctly predicting detailed outcomes for the next 50 or 100 years.
The problem is that they are not great communicators.
And if you really want to be pedantic then please also note that the sentence does not say "more accurate", it says "better". This can mean many things: more entertaining, more inspiring, and yes, also more accurate. But because "better" is rather vague, I don't think it's very fair to criticize it as irrational.
Never give up!