The Polish Parliament has declared 2021 the “Stanisław Lem Year.” Its slogan, “I’ve seen the future,” might aptly apply to many science-fiction writers. But the visions of Stanisław Lem (1921-2006) are still unknown to most American readers.
You will, however, most certainly have been exposed to his ideas, trickled down through other media, much like the work of the similarly influential Philip K. Dick. Closest to hand may be the 2002 film “Solaris,” starring George Clooney and based on Lem’s 1961 novel of the same name. It’s about an alien world whose ocean is a single conscious entity humans utterly fail to understand. It’s also a bittersweet story exploring the underlying humanity of the last scientists studying the alien and the persistence of loss and regret. A driving force in “Solaris”—as well as other stories by Lem—is the idea of human doppelgängers created by a not necessarily evil alien being, for unknown reasons. This trope has shown up everywhere recently, from the film “Annihilation” to the Icelandic television series “Katla.” It’s about time the Anglophone world learned about the writer who came up with it.
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