cover image A Stanislaw LEM Reader

A Stanislaw LEM Reader

Stanislaw Lem. Northwestern University Press, $58 (129pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-1494-4

With books translated into 40 languages, sales of more than 25 million copies (some seven million in Eastern Europe) and over 20 titles in print with Harcourt, Brace, Polish-born Lem is one of the best-selling unknown writers of science fiction in the U.S. Swirski, a lecturer at Montreal's McGill University, is a sympathetic and admiring reader of such books as Pirx the Pilot and Summa Technologiae. He begins with an overview of Lem's writing (both fiction and nonfiction), much of which is cerebral and imbued with a Swiftian despair that distinguishes it from the more optimistic strain of Anglo-American SF. Two interviews are separated by Lem's own 1991 essay in which he surveys in detail 30 years of his earlier prognoses, most of which is contained in nonfiction never translated into English. Outside of Jules Verne, no foreign SF writer has gained real recognition in this country and Lem, who stopped writing fiction in 1988, is no different. It probably wasn't helped by the contentious cancellation of his honorary membership in the SF Writers Association in 1976, caused in large part by Lem's harsh dismissal of most of the genre. Swirski is content to elucidate rather than evaluate Lem's ideas, which are often fascinating, even when presented in a somewhat Olympian manner. The book is not disfigured by the clotted prose favored by many academics, but most, save Lem buffs, will find this short reader fairly heavy going. A better introduction to Lem's thought is his 1985 collection of 10 essays, Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy. (Oct.)