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‘Solaris’ author Stanislaw Lem dies at 84

Science-fiction writer passes away in his native Poland
/ Source: The Associated Press

Stanislaw Lem, a science fiction writer whose novel “Solaris” was made into a movie starring George Clooney, died Monday in his native Poland, his secretary said. He was 84.

Lem died in a Krakow hospital from heart failure “connected to his old age,” Wojciech Zemek told The Associated Press. He gave no other details.

Lem was one of the most popular science fiction authors of recent decades to write in a language other than English, and his works were translated from Polish into more than 40 other languages. His books have sold 27 million copies.

“A great artist has died, a man with the hallmarks of a genius,” renowned Polish film director Andrzej Wajda told the country’s PAP news agency.

His best-known work, “Solaris,” was adapted into films by director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and by Steven Soderbergh in 2002. That version starred George Clooney and Natascha McElhone.

Set on a spaceship above a fictional planet, a psychologist meets the likeness of a long-dead lover as he and the crew grapple with suppressed memories of lost loves.

Lem’s first important novel, “Hospital of the Transfiguration,” was censored by communist authorities for eight years before its release in 1956 amid a thaw following the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Other works include “The Invincible,” “The Cyberiad,” “His Master’s Voice,” “The Star Diaries,” “The Futurological Congress” and “Tales of Prix the Pilot.”

“He was an amazingly talented man, and Polish literature never had anyone like him before,” said Tomasz Fialkowski, co-author of a book of interviews with Lem and the deputy editor of the weekly Tygodnik Powszechny.

While Lem was widely known as a writer of science fiction, his works were never simple tales of spaceships and light sabers.

Instead, he wrote about new scientific discoveries and the evolution of man and technology, Fialkowski said. Lem also foresaw many new technologies, including virtual reality, Fialkowski said.

While his novels often took place in space in the undetermined future, Lem “connected it all with his interest in what is going on in the here and now, with politics,” Fialkowski said.

Lem was born into a Polish Jewish family on Sept. 21, 1921, in Lviv, then a Polish city but now part of Ukraine.

His father was a doctor and he initially appeared set to follow in that path, taking up medical studies in Lviv before World War II.

After surviving the Nazi occupation, in part thanks to forged documents that concealed his Jewish background, Lem continued his medical studies in Krakow. Soon afterward, however, he took up writing science fiction.

Lem addressed his multiple talents with a touch of modesty and humor.

“If I was a child prodigy, it could only have been in the eyes of doting aunts,” Lem once said. “In my fourth year, I learned to write, but had nothing of great importance to communicate by that means.”

Lem is survived by his wife and a son, Zemek said. Funeral arrangements were not disclosed.