Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Why you should read Stanislaw Lem

When Stanislaw Lem died, many of the obituaries dwelt on the fact that he had written Solaris, which had been turned into a George Clooney movie.

Now that’s just pitiful, but it’s understandable … because it’s hard to sum up what make’s Lem (arguably) the greatest Science Fiction Writer of All Time. In fact, I find that it’s nearly impossible.

Here’s a man whose brain stretched forward to imagine the beings who had reached the Highest Possible Level of Development - and it’s not pretty. He didn’t foresee the Internet (as far as I know), but did tell us what would happen when information overload hit. He skewered not only his own Communist government, but bureaucracies and governments everywhere.

If I could get you to read just one science fiction author … well, I’d probably send you straight to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide … but after that, I’d loan you a Lem book.

In fact that’s exactly how I got started, a Polish friend who knew I liked Hitchhiker’s sent me a Lem and it blew my mind and has done so repeatedly.

So where should you start?

First of all, skip Solaris. It’s not terrible or anything, but I don’t think it’s as unique or outstanding as his best books.

Maybe you should start with that book my Polish friend gave me, “The Cyberiad.” This is some of the silliest science fiction you’ll ever read, but it’s also some of the smartest. It’s a series of short stories -- Fables for the Cybernetic Age, Lem called them. If I tell you the plots, I’d be missing the point. The point is to turn your brain on high and try to keep up.

Another batch of short stories “The Star Diaries” will provide a similar effect.

From there, novels such as “The Investigation” and “Memoirs Found in a Bathtub” will be less funny and require even deeper thinking on your part.

Note: These books were written in Polish. Translator Michael Kandel performed a series of miracles to turn them into English.


mr chompchomp said...

You're right, Solaris is a fine book, but doesn't have the humor of many of the works you recommend. Beginners might also avoid Fiasco (utterly depressing) and Eden (utterly unreadable, IMHO). Some commentators have grouped these three together, so maybe tackle them together after you've had some good laughs with Star Diaries and Cyberiad.

Kristopher said...

Just found one of the stories from The Cyberiad online. I'm sold.