Irreconcilable Truths of Our Evolution: On Stanisław Lem’s The Truth and Other Stories

“One cannot overstate how profoundly our relationship with computers has changed since the mid-twentieth century. Once upon a time, the notion of a mechanical brain was as alien as the notion of, well, an alien. Similar to research of extraterrestrial life, there were then a few elite scientists, sequestered in institutions, who were better informed to predict what an encounter with a mechanical brain might entail than the general population, for whom such a concept was nothing more than fantasy. Stanisław Lem was of that class. Son of a doctor, he studied medicine until his transition to literature. As a newcomer to Lem’s copious body of work, what surprised me most about this collection of previously untranslated stories was how, with very little attention to character development, he manages to render this scientific class with as much fidelity as their fields of inquiry. I expected their curiosity and ambition, even obsession, but not their yearning, inquietude, or melancholy. How disappointing that, when confronted with the other, we might not be able to communicate. But how utterly devastating that, when confronted with one of our own, we never are able to truly communicate. In The Truth and Other Stories, it is often this precise pathos that catalyzes action. There’s inherent value in the defamiliarization of technology that comes from reading literature—especially speculative fiction—from a previous era. Lem luxuriates in the weight and texture of his machines. His favorites occupy rooms and require trips to many types of stores to build. Gels, wires, soldering . . . they are so tactile, until the moment—signaling the beginning of the end—they become more than the sum of their parts. … Kim Stanley Robinson quotes Lem in his introduction to the collection; criticizing Anglophone sci-fi, he said: ‘As popular fiction, science fiction must pose artificial problems and offer their easy solution.’ Successful science fiction, he believed, must treat problems and their solutions in a different, more earnest way. Though the conventional science fiction tropes and plotlines appear all over Lem’s body of work, his reverent relationship with the truth, in all its irreconcilable glory, reminds us why we’re not done with them just yet. …”
Asymptote Journal
The Truth, by Stanisław Lem (1962)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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