Stanisław Lem: A Holocaust Survivor’s Hardboiled Science Fiction


“In ‘His Master’s Voice,’ a 1968 sci-fi novel by the Polish writer Stanisław Lem, a team of scientists and scholars convened by the American government try to decipher a neutrino signal from outer space. They manage to translate a fragment of the signal’s information, and a couple of the scientists use it to construct a powerful weapon, which the project’s senior mathematician fears could wipe out humanity. … Lem, who died in 2006, would have celebrated his hundredth birthday this past fall, and M.I.T. Press has just republished six of his books and put out two in English for the first time. Lem is probably best known in the United States for his novel ‘Solaris‘ (1961)—the basis for sombre, eerie movies by Andrei Tarkovsky and Steven Soderbergh—about a distant planet where a sentient ocean confronts human visitors with a manifestation of a person whose memory they can’t get over. In former Warsaw Pact nations, his robot fables and astronaut tales sold in the millions. When he toured the Soviet Union in the nineteen-sixties, he was greeted by cosmonauts and astrophysicists, and addressed standing-room-only crowds. A self-described futurologist, he foresaw maps that could plot a route at a touch, immersive artificial realities, and instant, universal access to knowledge via ‘an enormous invisible web that encircles the world.’ In a cycle of melancholy sci-fi novels written in the late nineteen-fifties and sixties—’Eden,’ ‘Solaris,’ ‘Return from the Stars,‘ ‘Memoirs Found in a Bathtub,‘ ‘The Invincible,’ and ‘His Master’s Voice’—Lem suggested that life in the future, however remote the setting and however different the technology, will be no less tragic. Astronauts disembark from a spaceship into the aftermath of an atrocity; scientists face an alien intelligence so unlike our own that their confidence in the special purpose of human life falters. Lem was born in 1921, to a Jewish family in Lwów. Like many Jews of his generation who remained in Poland after the Second World War, he rarely discussed his Jewish identity in private and almost never in public. He omitted it from ‘Highcastle‘ (1965), a memoir of his childhood. …”
New Yorker (Audio)

About 1960s: Days of Rage

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