September 12, 2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the outstanding Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem (1921 - 2006).
Science fiction plays a very important role in culture. And not only in the culture of the 20th century. The first science fiction novel in history was created almost 2 thousand years ago. His hero, the Messenger of the Highest Civilization (in the language of his time, "the Son of God") walked with his friends on the land of Ancient Judea, expressed various non-trivial thoughts for his time, helped good people and mocked greedy and self-righteous ordinary people. Probably, he also performed some other important tasks, but nothing is said about this in the novel. In the end, the authorities got tired of it: they grabbed the Messenger and crucified him on the cross. But, using some technologies unknown neither in the first nor in the twentieth century, the Messenger was resurrected, and, forty days later, having said goodbye to his friends, he ascended into the sky, where a spaceship was probably already waiting for him.
This novel is known in several versions created by different authors. The first version of the novel ("Source Q") has not reached us, although from a comparison of other versions one can draw some conclusions about its content. The name of the author of Source Q is also unknown, although he was undoubtedly a Great Writer.
In the future, one of the world's religions grew out of this novel. Science fiction can have such an impact on humans.
The official history of literature considers Lucian of Samosatsky (125 - 180) to be the first science fiction writer , who told in his works about the journey to the Moon and Venus. But in ancient times, such literature did not receive significant development.
In the 17th century, science fiction was resurrected by the Angian priest Francis Godwin ( 1562-1633 ) and the brave French warrior, duelist and writer Hercule Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655). They wrote about traveling to the moon and not only to the moon. But the real development of science fiction began only in the 19th century.
Faddey Venediktovich Bulgarin
The first Russian science fiction writer was Faddey Venediktovich Bulgarin (1789 - 1858), who published in 1824 the novel "Incredible fables or wanderings around the world in the XXIX century." His hero once went for a boat ride on the Gulf of Finland. A storm began, the boat capsized, the hero lost consciousness and woke up in the XXIX century.
From a modern point of view, the technique of the XXIX century described by Bulgarin looks rather archaic. Social relations are also archaic. The servant in the novel refers to his master as "master". But Bulgarin predicted one important thing correctly: the development of technology and technology will lead to an environmental crisis. Money in the XXIX century is made not from gold, but from wood, since there is a lot of gold, but few trees.
Vladimir Fedorovich Odoevsky
Apparently, it was F.V. Bulgarin introduced time travel and the description of the distant Future into world science fiction. For this, despite all his vices, about which many and justly were written by different authors, he earned an honorable place in the history of world literature. And the next novel describing a journey into the distant future was the novel by Prince Vladimir Fedorovich Odoevsky (1804 - 1869) "4338", written in 1837. In this novel, Prince Odoevsky predicted the emergence of the Internet and China's leading role in the future world. The first prediction has already come true, and the second may well come true soon enough.
The rise of science fiction in Russia was facilitated by the rapid development of the revolutionary movement and the victory of the October Revolution. A prominent science fiction writer was one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party, Alexander Alexandrovich Bogdanov (1873 - 1928); after the revolution, such striking works as "The Country of Gonguri" by Vivian Azarevich Itin (1893 - 1938) and "Aelita" by Alexei Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1883 - 1945) appeared. These works combine science fiction with revolutionary romance.
Illustration for the novel by A.N. Tolstoy "Aelita". Artist A. Dubovik
At the end of the 19th century, science fiction appeared in the Polish language (Poland, as an independent state, did not exist then). Among its representatives are Vladislav Uminsky (1865 - 1954) and Jerzy Zulawsky (1874 - 1915).
But back to Stanislav Lem.
Stanislav Lem was born in the city of Lvov (then part of Poland) in the family of a doctor. Before the war, the future writer entered the medical faculty of Lviv University. During the years of the German occupation, he worked as an auto mechanic, participated in the Resistance movement and, along the way, wrote a short story "The Man from Mars". After the war, the Lem family moved to Krakow, where Stanislav graduated from the Faculty of Medicine of the Jagiellonian University, then worked as an assistant at this university. In 1946 he published The Man from Mars and began writing short stories. In 1951 , the novel Astronauts was published, after which Stanislav Lem became a professional writer.
The novel "Astronauts" describes an attempt to capture the Earth by a very aggressive civilization from the planet Venus. But in the end, this civilization destroyed itself in a nuclear war. The meaning of the novel is to compare humanistic and aggressive civilizations. The novel "Astronauts" was published in Russian in 1957 .
Illustration for the novel "The Magellanic Cloud". Artist A. Durasov
In 1955 , Stanislav Lem publishes the novel "The Magellanic Cloud", dedicated to the exploration of outer space in the distant communist future. It tells about the flight of an earthly expedition to the star Alpha Centauri and the establishment of contact with civilization on one of the planets in the vicinity of this star. Many features of this novel (up to the title) make it related to The Andromeda Nebula by Ivan Antonovich Efremov (1907 - 1972), but I.A. Efremov undoubtedly covers a wider range of problems.
In the 1950s, both in our country and abroad, there were heated discussions about the further development of science fiction. In the USSR, these discussions took the form of a confrontation between supporters of close-range fantasy and long-range fantasy.
Fiction close-range aimed to describe the near future and new scientific and technological advances. She played an important role in the popularization of science and technology among young people and therefore was strongly supported by the Soviet leadership.
Still from the film "Air Seller", Odessa Film Studio, 1967
On the contrary, the fiction of the long-range sight told about the distant Future. And, most importantly, for long-range fiction, the foreground was not science and technology per se, but their impact on people. The attitude of the Soviet leadership to long-range fiction was more restrained. On the one hand, most of the long-range fiction stories told about the communist future, which could not fail to cause approval. But, on the other hand, this future was not always portrayed in a sufficiently orthodox way. And, in a number of cases, it was opposed to the not entirely bright Soviet present.
The leader of close-range fiction was the engineer and writer Vladimir Ivanovich Nemtsov (1907 - 1993). He was well versed in technical problems, but he was less interested in people than in technology. Therefore, today, when many of Nemtsov's predictions came true, his work was practically forgotten.
The literary fate of the leaders of long-range fiction Ivan Antonovich Efremov (1907-1972) and the brothers Arkady Natanovich (1925-1991) and Boris Natanovich (1933-2012) Strugatsky developed differently . And not only because they wrote about the distant future. But because for them in the foreground were not science and technology, but people.
Boris and Arkady Strugatsky at work
The same opposition existed in painting. Most of the Soviet artists who painted the Future drew (and very interestingly) the technique of the future world. But the semi-paralyzed artist from Balakovo Gennady Grigorievich Golobokov (1935 - 1978) depicted not so much technology as people of the Future and the problems facing them. And therefore, he is rightfully considered the most outstanding Soviet artist of the space age.
By and large, good science fiction is little different from fairy tales. Both are thought experiments that analyze the behavior of people in an unreal situation. And allowing to draw conclusions about their behavior in real situations. The difference between a fairy tale and science fiction is only that in science fiction works Baba Yaga flies not just in a mortar, but in a mortar with a photon engine.
>> As it was rightly said in V. Ozerov 's novel "Plutishka's Tale": "A fairy tale is also a weapon, and woe to those who do not have one!"
Stanislav Lem was a prominent representative of long-range fiction.
In the novel Return from the Stars (1961, Russian translation 1965), the cosmonaut returns to Earth from a stellar expedition that lasted 10 years. More than 100 years have passed on Earth during this time. In the new earthly world, everything is alien to the cosmonaut, and he is alien in this world. The picture of GG Golobokov "The Paradox of Time" can serve as an illustration of this novel.
Artist G. Golobokov "The Paradox of Time"
In the novel "Solaris" (1961, Russian translation in the same year), the Thinking Ocean is described, materializing the images lurking in the depths of the subconsciousness of astronauts from Earth. Solaris is, of course, not a book about the Thinking Ocean, but a psychological novel about earthly life and earthly people.
It is possible that the idea of a thinking ocean originated in Stanislav Lem under the influence of the science fiction novel "Black Cloud", written in 1957 by the outstanding British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle (1915 - 2001). This novel describes a giant thinking cloud approaching the Earth and the Sun and the attempts of earthlings to prevent danger.
Director Andrei Arsenievich Tarkovsky (1932 - 1986) directed the film of the same name based on the novel "Solaris" . It was released in 1972 and enjoyed great success among the Soviet, and not only among the Soviet audience.
A still from the film "Solaris", dir. A. Tarkovsky, film studio Mosfilm, 1972
In 1964, S. Lem publishes the book "The Sum of Technology", in which he tries to imagine the future of Mankind, both from the point of view of technology and from other points of view. The writer makes a number of predictions about the technology and technology of the future. Some of them have come true and some have not.
The writer's view is still generally optimistic. Although Stanislav Lem understands that serious problems will arise in the future society, which will somehow have to be solved. He calls his reflections on the problems of the Future "the study of the thorns of roses that do not yet exist."
The understanding that the future will give rise to serious problems was also characteristic of Russian science fiction writers. Vladimir Fedorovich Tendryakov (1923 - 1984) , in particular, writes about the serious problems that will arise in the communist future in his story "A Journey of a Century" (1961).
Vladimir Fedorovich Tendryakov
Among the important ideas expressed in the "Sum of Technology", the idea of the existence of general laws of biological and technical evolution should be noted. Many researchers and not only researchers have speculated on this topic. In 1956, Soviet engineer and science fiction writer Genrikh Saulovich Altshuler(1926 - 1998) formulated the main provisions of the TRIZ methodology (Theory of Inventive Problem Solving), which are based on the analysis of contradictions in designs and the search for possible ways to resolve them. It is essential that TRIZ orients the inventor not towards finding a compromise between extreme options, but towards accepting one of the extreme options, supplemented with something that neutralizes its shortcomings. Figuratively speaking, TRIZ calls on the left activist not to look for something in between socialism and capitalism, but to try to understand how one can get out of the vicious circle of contradictions of both systems and build communism.
The outstanding Soviet paleontologist and science fiction writer Ivan Antonovich Efremov (1907 - 1972) wrote about the analysis of contradictions in the design of living organisms. At present, the idea that the analysis of these contradictions is the theoretical basis of both zoology and botany has acquired many supporters in the scientific world.
Fragment of the portrait of I. Efremov
Of considerable interest to the reader is the Afterword to the Soviet edition of Summa Technologies, among the authors of which was one of the informal leaders of Soviet cybernetics Felix Vladimirovich Shirokov (1927 - 2002).
Stanislav Lem's optimism did not last long. In 1971 he publishes the novel The Futurological Congress. Its hero, space pilot Iyon Tikhiy, goes to the Futurological Congress in a certain Latin American country. During the congress, a military coup takes place in the country. A seriously wounded pilot is frozen in order to unfreeze in the Aftertime, when they learn to heal such wounds. And in the distant Future, they defrost it.
Residents of the Society of the Future with the help of chemicals immersed in the hallucinatory world, where everything is fine. In fact, everything is far from perfect, but only a narrow circle of top leaders should know about it. As a man of old upbringing, Iyon Tikhiy is trying to fight such an outrage. But the forces are too unequal. In the end, he gets hit on the head and wakes up in the basement, where he was hiding from shelling during the coup. It was all just a dream.
Still from the film "Congress" based on the novel "Futurological Congress". Dir. Ari Folman
In the world of the Future, described by S. Lem in the "Futurological Congress", there are many interesting things. For example, bribe robots (they are called corruptions ), simulator robots ( idiots ), idle robots ( robots ), boorish robots ( hamants ). And in general, nothing human is alien to robots.
The Futurological Congress undoubtedly influenced a new direction in Western science fiction called cyberpunk. Cyberpunk describes the conflict of loners living on the outskirts of society with a Social System that uses the most modern achievements of science and technology.
Shot from the movie "Blade Runner"
In 1970, S. Lem wrote the book "Science Fiction and Futurology", dedicated to science fiction literature. This book provides a fairly critical assessment of many works of Western science fiction. S. Lem criticizes them for superficial ideas, overloaded with adventures to the detriment of thoughts, and, most importantly, commercial orientation.
This book had an unexpected sequel . In September 1974, the US FBI received a letter that spoke of a communist conspiracy to take over the minds of Americans with communist propaganda disguised as science fiction. Communist agents have infiltrated American publishing houses and science fiction associations and are successfully carrying out their subversive work. And this work is supervised by a high-ranking officer of the Soviet and Polish special services Stanislav Lem. The author called on the FBI to stop the vile intrigues of the enemies of the American people.
This letter was signed by the outstanding American science fiction writer Philip Dick (1928 - 1982).
Philip Dick was a very talented writer, albeit to a great amateur. During his relatively short life, he wrote 44 novels (40 of them before 1974, and twenty novels in just five years). Stanislaw Lem highly appreciated Dick's work and contributed to the publication of his works in Poland. And at the same time, F. Dick had serious mental problems, aggravated by drug use.
After reading F. Dick's letter, the FBI came to the obvious conclusion that its author needs urgent medical attention. Moreover, later F. Dick wrote that, starting in 1974, he regularly communicated with the Lord God Himself. Twenty novels written in five years have left their mark on the psyche. Therefore, they put the letter in a distant box and did not take it out again.
However, in 1976, the American Science Fiction Writers Association, under pressure from F. Dick and Philip Farmer (1918 - 2009), expelled S. Lem from its honorary members. In protest against this, some of its members left the Association, in particular, Ursula Le Guin (1929 - 2018).
Ursula Le Guin
However, in one thing F. Dick was absolutely right: many of Stanislav Lem's works objectively work for the Cause of Communism. Although, of course, S. Lem had nothing to do with the Soviet or Polish special services.
Among other works of social fiction, written by S. Lem, mention should be made of the early novel "Eden" (1959), which describes the invisible power existing on the planet Eden, which controls all information flows. Thanks to this management, the inhabitants submit to it voluntarily and without coercion.
Illustration for the novel "Eden". Artist A. Andreev
S. Lem's novel "Invincible" (1964) tells about the laws of biological and not only biological evolution of nature. On a distant planet, the evolution of robots began according to the mechanism proposed by Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882). In the competitive struggle, large and intelligent robots have been supplanted by very small and primitive forms like insects, which have grown in huge numbers. In essence, a secondary biosphere has arisen on the planet.
It is interesting that the novel "Invincible" appeared almost simultaneously with the work of the British researcher Alexander Kearns-Smith (1931 - 2016). A. Kearns-Smith suggested that initially earthly Life was built on a completely different chemical basis, and modern earthly Life is secondary; it was formed from the byproducts of the primary Life and displaced the secondary one.
Illustration for the story "Invasion from Aldebaran"
Apparently, Stanislav Lem's political views were originally communist. This, in particular, is evidenced by the novel "Magellanic Cloud". But, like many communists, these views were largely romantic and did not rely on a serious analysis of reality and its contradictions. And when it turned out that life in the countries of the Soviet bloc was far from heavenly, the writer became disillusioned with communist ideas. For many members of the intelligentsia, this path was quite typical.
In 1983 S. Lem emigrated from the Polish People's Republic; lived in Germany and Austria; in 1988 he returned back to Poland. He became disillusioned with anti-communism and became a convinced pessimist.
Stanislaw Lem was not subjected to any persecution for his political views in the Polish People's Republic.
At the same time, Stanislav Lem treated the Soviet Union and the Soviet people very well. Which was atypical for Polish intellectuals. In the USSR, S. Lem had many friends and a huge number of admirers of literary talent. Stanislav Lem's books were very fond of, in particular, the head of the Soviet space program Sergei Pavlovich Korolev (1907 - 1966) and many Soviet cosmonauts.
Stanislav Lem repeatedly came to the Soviet Union and was a welcome guest in any audience.
Stanislav Lem at a meeting with students and teachers of Moscow State University
In 1986 S. Lem wrote his last major work - the novel "Fiasco".> “Personally, I am terribly annoyed by the anti-Russian rhetoric of President Kaczynski, however, I believe that most of his statements should not be taken seriously. I have repeated many times that good-neighborly relations with Russia are an indispensable condition for the economic development and sovereignty of Poland. Russia is closest to us both geopolitically and culturally. There is no point in taking offense at each other and stirring up the past, for which extremists on both sides bear a considerable share of responsibility, ”wrote Stanislav Lem.
Stanislav Lem closely followed the development of Soviet science fiction. He highly appreciated the work of the Strugatsky brothers. S. Lem's attitude to the work of I.A. Efremov was ambiguous (as was the attitude of I.A.Efremov to the work of S. Lem). S. Lem criticized Ivan Antonovich for his desire to view Man as the pinnacle of development, as well as for excessive optimism about the future. I.A. Efremov and S. Lem were people of different cultures and held different philosophical views. Ivan Antonovich Efremov was the last great representative of Russian cosmic philosophy, Stanislav Lem was brought up on Western positivism. Therefore, it was difficult for them to find a common language.
An interstellar ship sent from Earth lands on the planet Quinta, where a civilization clearly exists, moreover, it is very different from the earthly one. The Earthlings are trying to establish contact with her. But the contact fails.
In this novel, S. Lem put forward the "windows of contact" hypothesis, according to which any civilization is interested in interplanetary contact only at a certain stage of its development. And then civilizations isolate themselves. For they are very different and it is difficult for them to understand each other. That is why we do not see signs of the existence of alien civilizations. And earthly Humanity is doomed to loneliness in space. This point of view was implicitly opposed to the ideas of I.A. Efremov on the Great Ring.
In 1989, S. Lem published an article "The strategy of the parasite, the AIDS virus and one evolutionary hypothesis." In this article, the writer reflects on the evolutionary prerequisites for the emergence of the AIDS virus. This article was reprinted by the Soviet magazine "Nature". As the writer notes, the evolutionary strategy of the AIDS virus is based on a very long incubation period, which leads to infection not from the patient, but from the carrier. The AIDS virus strives to be overlooked for longer. This makes possible a relatively fast and covert increase in the number of carriers. This strategy is rare in nature. S. Lem expresses a number of original ideas, the question of the correctness of which currently remains open. Therefore, I would prefer to refrain from discussing them.
Stanislaw Lem died at the age of 84 in Krakow on March 27, 2006.
Lem's books have been translated into 41 languages. The total circulation of books sold is over 30 million . In 2002-2015, AST published a collection of works in Russian in 19 volumes.