Stanislaw Lem

By: Tom Nealon
September 12, 2009


Philip K. Dick believed that the Polish novelist STANISLAW LEM (1921-2006) was operating from behind the iron curtain to control, among others, academic SF critics Frederic Jameson and Peter Fitting — in an attempt to destroy science fiction and trap Dick himself in a KGB prison. He claimed that “Lem” wrote in too many voices and styles to be one person, and was most likely a committee. It’s possible. What seems more likely is that Lem farmed out a great deal of his writing to one of the half-crazed, single-minded machines depicted in Mortal Engines (1964) and The Cyberiad (1967); this would explain not only the changes in voice but the way Lem’s plots whipsaw between acetylene brilliance and grinding ennui. Only one of Lem’s irascible robots could lead us down the many crystalline cul de sacs of annoying masterworks like A Perfect Vacuum (1971), which is a book of reviews of non-existent books; or the winding, winded, Swiftian genius of The Matrix forerunner, The Futurological Congress (1971). It’s just as well that he was booted by the Science Fiction Writers of America. It’s easier to make sense of Lem — who was always more of a fabulist, an augmenter ad absurdum, and chronicler of foibles (even if they were robot foibles) than a straight SF writer — in the company of Calvino, Vonnegut, and Voltaire.

GOLDEN-AGE SCI-FI at HILOBROW: Golden Age Sci-Fi: 75 Best Novels of 1934–1963 | Robert Heinlein | Karel Capek | William Burroughs | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Clifford D. Simak | H.P. Lovecraft | Olaf Stapledon | Philip K. Dick | Jack Williamson | George Orwell | Boris Vian | Bernard Wolfe | J.G. Ballard | Jorge Luis Borges |Poul Anderson | Walter M. Miller, Jr. | Murray Leinster | Kurt Vonnegut | Stanislaw Lem | Alfred Bester | Isaac Asimov | Ray Bradbury | Madeleine L’Engle | Arthur C. Clarke | PLUS: Jack Kirby’s Golden Age and New Wave science fiction comics.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: | Geza Roheim | George Jones |

READ MORE about members of the New Gods Generation (1914-23).