Friday, March 31, 2006

RIP Stanislaw Lem...

I was saddened by the passing this week of the brilliant author, Stanislaw Lem, born in Lwow, Poland (later to become Lvov, in the Soviet Union, now Lviv, Ukraine) in 1921. He was 84.

Unlike so many sci-fi writers, Lem was never confined by the genre. He chose the form because he saw fantastic worlds and unreal circumstances as the ideal setting to explore philosophical truth and complex characters. But more than that, science fiction became part of a cloaking device he used to throw off censor-crazed Soviet occupiers and Germans in search of Jews (forged papers also helped in the latter instance). During WWII Lem became a car mechanic. "I learnt to damage German vehicles in such a way that it wouldn't immediately be discovered," he later said. Soon he would start doing something very similar, with his writings, to the hard-line communism which held his country in its grip after the war. After his first novel was censored, Lem discovered ways to connect with his readers right over the heads of his people's oppressors who saw nothing more than crazy space stories. (On a side note, an Iranian acquaintance tells me something close to this is going on now in Iran where colorfully written blogs and emails are used to transmit important stories that are banned from the news).

"Solaris" is one of my all time favorite works of fiction (though admittedly and embarrassingly, I've never read it in book form). I am however a huge fan of both film versions and a longstanding ogler of Lem websites, if that counts... Apparently Lem disliked the "Solaris" films saying Tarkovsky got it backwards by depicting the cosmos as a very nasty place ("Space is fine - Earth is the problem," he said), and that Soderbergh's mushy version should have been retitled "Love in Outer Space." I can't fault him for that, but read my thoughts on the films in my earlier rant on "versionalism" here.

There aren't enough years in a lifetime to do all the reading I'd like to do. The books keep getting ordered on Amazon and piling up next to my bed, at least partially in the hopes that their essences will infiltrate my sleep. So far no dice. I tried books on tape for a while, but the streets of LA are no place to be any more lost in fiction than one already is.

Good Lem links here and here.



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