Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Stanislaw Lem 1921-2006

Polish SF writer Stanislaw Lem died today in Krakow at the age of 84. He was author of twice-filmed Solaris (1961, English translation 1970), and his many other works, ranging over themes from aliens to cybernetics to utopian technology, at times blackly humorous and sometimes cast as futuristic parables, included (dates those of English translations) The Cyberiad (1974), The Futurological Congress (1974), The Star Diaries (1976), Tales of Pirx the Pilot (1979), One Human Minute (1986), Fiasco, and Hospital of the Transfiguration (1988), as well as nonfiction Microworlds (1985) and memoir Highcastle (1995). Lem was notorious for having a low regard for most American SF writers (except for Philip K. Dick), and had a controversial on-again, off-again membership in SFWA in the 1970s. [via Locus].

A close friend of the young Karol Wojtyla (future John Paul II), Lem probably stood a greater chance of winning the Nobel Prize for literature than any other science-fiction writer of the 20th century (the shorter-lived Phil Dick being the runner-up in those stakes). He was shortlisted for the first International Man Booker Prize in 2005, which is based on an author's body of work. In Lem's case, that body translated into 27 million books sold in over 40 languages. Sadly, a good part of his work has never appeared in English, or (as in the case of his most famous work, Solaris) only by double translation, via abridgements of French or German editions.

Only last week I read of attempts to pass the hat to finance a complete & direct Polish to English translation of Solaris, perhaps by his most respected translator, Michael Kandel. But... Faber and Faber owns the English rights and have stated that they are not interested in having another translation available. One might also hope for a DVD release of the longer cut of Soderbergh's recent film version.

On a personal note, I own Kandel's typed original translation manuscript of Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, discovered by chance at a bookfair in Seattle (but not in a bathtub). I had been introduced to Lem's writing when I was about 12 through either The Cyberiad (with its wonderful Daniel Mroz illustrations) or The Star Diaries. Lem's writing in this cerebrally farcical mode anticipate Douglas Adams HHGttG.

» Reuters; CNN (AP)
» Official Lem website
» Vitrifax: The writing of Stanislaw Lem
» Independent obituary by John Clute
» London Times obituary

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