Reading Stanisław Lem part 1

As you’ve probably know,  I’ve read my first books written by Stanisław (Stanislav) Lem in December 2013. I’ve read it for the Polacy nie gęsi II – a reading challenge to read Polish books. Some time later I decided to join The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience challenge.

Stanisław Lem (1921-2006) is world famous Polish writer, best known for his science-fiction stories. His books were translated into over 40 languages, like English, Korean, Japanese, Arabian, Hebrew, Greek, Serbo-Croatian, Turkish, Azerbijani just to name a few. He sold over 30 million of books.

People from several European countries could see Stanisław Lem’s doodle in 2011. Those who couldn’t see that, still can play (yes, it’s interactive) Lem’s doodle.

Stanisław Lem is considered classic, some of his stories are read at school, but for a long time I didn’t read him. Until last month. Until I’ve read Solaris, The Futurological Congress and The Mask.

Continue to read my review of these 3 stories.

Solaris

One of the covers for Stanislaw Lem's SolarisSolaris, a 1961 sf novel, is well known thanks to few films based on it. It tell the story of scientists on a far away planet called Solaris, trying to study a huge (almost covering an entire planet) living ocean. There is a whole field of study related to the Solaris planet. Kris Kelvin, a new scientist on Solaris is faced with his tragic history. The ocean creates a copy of his dead wife. What the ocean created for the two remaining scientists (Snaut and Sartorius) is a mystery.

The story is focusing on tries of understanding and communicating with the ocean. How is a communication with alien so alien possible? But it’s not only an alien-focused story, it’s a story about human psychic too.

What I think of this story? It’s great. Well written, the world and the solarian studies are fully developed, making everything feel real. There is a lot of psychic introspection and questions raised, with no answers given, which is a big “yes” for me. And the biggest plus of this book – the alien is really alien, doesn’t speak English or any other language and the communication is… kinda impossible. In the Polish version I’ve read, the language is feeling a bit old, young people nowadays don’t speak like that, but I really enjoyed a mix of a bit outdated language and the future, space setting. I had difficulties with following the detailed descriptions of the ocean and its activities, but that might be just me.

My opinion: 9/10.

The Futurological Congress

One of the editions of The Futurological Congress by Stanisław LemEverything starts with the Futurological Congress in one of the skyscraper (over 100 floors) hotel. The people gathered there are supposed to discuss ways to solve the future’s Earth problems. Supposed, as everything goes down with the hotel. That is just a start for Ijon Tichy, who will be travelling to even further away future…

The funniest and the scariest of the three stories I’ve read. And for the same reason – the visions of future portrayed in the story. These visions of future, are still believable, after over 40 years from publication (1971). Sometimes it’s hard to read that, because of all the neologisms used in this story. I recommend anybody who likes to read about the future of Earth.

My opinion: 9.5/10

The Mask

Polish cover of The Mask (Maska) by Stanisław LemA fated meeting during a ball held by a king. A lady and a man. A predator and a prey. A hide and seek story.

The shortest of the three stories, but still very interesting. It’s not too fast paced (despite the hunting motive) but full of thinking and questions. A very absorbing lecture, getting a hold from the first lines. The lady grabs you along with her on her journey to discover herself. Ah, those emotions. Those sublime emotions. The love is portrayed so well here, it’s not a cheap romance. I usually hate stories with strong romantic parts, but here it’s more like an old-fashioned and subtle romance. It’s not too short, just perfect. And makes you think, while reading, and after.

My opinion: 10/10.

it might not be well known, that The Mask (originally published in 1974) was made in 2010 into animated film by Quay brothers. You can see trailer for it below:

These Stanisław Lem’s stories aren’t easy, so if you want something light, search for something else. If you want well written stories, holding the interests of people for decades, if you want to read something that will make you think – then these stories are for you.

Did you read (any of) these stories? What do you think of them?

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2 thoughts on “Reading Stanisław Lem part 1”

  1. I think the genius to Lem is to recognize that there are ways of thinking so alien that they are totally incompeherensible for humans. The three novels to best develop these themes are Solaris, His Master’s Voice, and Golem XIV. Also in Eden there is a fun passage about adjusting a translation machine to cope with a too alien language. I also like Lem’s humorous works that play with philosphical ideas, mostly The Cyberiad and Star Diaries. They show that you can have fun with philosophy without mocking it.

    1. I’ve liked that “so alien we can’t communicate”. It was more real than the current trend “aliens speak human languages”. Even if aliens are speaking human languages (as people from various countries speaking English as second language shows) they still think (and view the world) differently. Maybe I missed some (recent) books/series/films that speak about not being able to communicate with aliens.
      So far I’ve read only those 3 stories of Lem, I plan to read more in the future, so thanks for the input. A topic of “translation of alien language” is indeed very interesting (especially for me since I’ve been researching crosscultural communications during my studies). Maybe I’ll write a theme oriented topic in the future (thanks for inspiration!). Lem vs Babelfish. 😉

      Fun with philosophy without mocking it sounds a lot like “Sophie’s World” which I read in my teens years. I know, not sf, but it was great.

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