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Date: 28/03/06


(I know, I should be hung, drawn and quoted for that, but you try to think of a headline...)

(By the way, I'm thinking of merging this page with Obits'R'Us...)

News reached me this afternoon of the death of Stanisław Lem, one of the masters of thinking science fiction. He was 84.

Photo of Stanisław Lem

I only recently re-read all the Lem books I have in my collection (about eight or nine - a mere fraction of his output), and once again marvelled at the author's invention, his comedic touches and his moral shrewdness.

The invention occurred not only in his 'straight' SF, but in other forms, too; although he didn't invent the genre by any means, his volumes of reviews of books which didn't exist, or existed only in potentia, allowed him to wax philosophical about humanity and its strangeness.

His comedy was often compellingly funny; like the Twentieth Voyage of his hapless cosmonaut Ijon Tichy (featured in The Star Diaries), in which an attempt to tidy up history leads to time ending up not so much out of joint as up the spout. This piece also contains some of the most wonderfully groanful puns I've ever come across in fiction. That's in the English translation - goodness only knows how it was in the original Polish.

His moral sense - never hectoring, but always firm - allowed Lem to use the Universe of his imagination to hold up a mirror to ourselves. This was particularly useful when dealing with the apparatchiks of Stalinist and post-Stalinist Poland, whose neutered imaginations could be cleverly by-passed, but he never shirked from a critique of what we delude ourselves is 'freedom'.

In short, Stanisław Lem was a very fine writer indeed, and I mourn the passing of his talent from a world which needs it about as much as it ever did.

Dziękuję, Stanisław.