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A Stanislaw Lem Reader [Paperback]

Peter Swirski
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 12 1997 Rethinking Theory
This collection assembles in-depth and insightful writings by and about, and interviews with, one of the most fascinating writers of the twentieth century. Anyone interested in Lem's provocative and uncompromising view of literature's role in the contemporary cultural environment, and in Lem's opinions about his own fiction, about the relation of literature to science and technology, and the dead ends of contemporary culture, will be fascinated by this eclectic collection.

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From Kirkus Reviews

Contrary to what the title suggests, this is not so much a sampler of Lem's writings as an introduction to and overview of the Polish writer's work. Swirski, a lecturer at McGill University (Canada), opens with an essay summarizing Lem's career and the major themes of his writings. Then comes a long 1992 interview with Lem, ``Reflections on Literature, Philosophy and Science.'' Lem contributes a retrospective essay primarily devoted to examining the accuracy of his 1964 book, Summa Technologiae, an essay in futurology in which he forecast (among other things) computer virtual reality. Another interview from 1994 consists of Lem's written responses to various broad questions on his thought and writings. The overall effect is to give an excellent, if very condensed, view of Lem's special concerns, particularly on the relationships between fiction and the real world. He comments in detail, for instance, on several writers who have attempted to portray Poland during the Nazi occupation, finding most to have missed the mark (Jerzy Kosinski in The Painted Bird overplays the peasants' sexual promiscuity, for instance). His observations on the ephemeral nature of much political satire (from Huxley's Brave New World to the Strugatsky brothers' attacks on Stalinism) draw attention to the rarely examined question of the place of the predictive element in fiction. While he has kept at arm's length from popular science fiction, Lem remains one of the few writers of fiction who is deeply conversant with scientific thought and who makes a point of getting his science right. His interest in philosophy is also genuine and wide-reaching, as numerous comments indicate. Densely written, with something to think about in almost every paragraph, this is probably the best quick introduction to the main currents of the large body of work Lem has produced over the last half-century. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult but worthwhile... Nov. 4 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A lot of information for being approx. 150 pages as every single page contains pertinent content. (In other words, there is not one single wasted line or sentence.) Very strong writing with a nice flair as it focuses on the interdisciplinary side of Lem's novels, rather than being just an ordinary literary review. The interviews with Lem are also thought provoking; since it allows Lem's "voice" to be "heard". However, it is a little dense and at some points may be difficult to decipher exactly what the author or Lem is trying to say as both use vocabulary that is not quite "layman's terms". Still, overall it does give good insight to Lem and is a useful introduction to Lem's works. In addition, the author's focus (how literature interacts with science and society)is a breath of fresh air compared to what is usually circulating around in the guise of literary criticism!
Was this review helpful to you?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I did not know anything about Lem before--this is a great and utterly challenging introduction to just about anything that Lem wrote about: contemporary culture, literature, science, philosophy. I admire the interviewer: it must have been a difficult task of arranging and editing (and translating) these talks. I read this book and bought a few Lem novels--what a treat! I recommend A Stanislaw Lem Reader to all who love literature and are of reflective nature.
Was this review helpful to you?
3.0 out of 5 stars The man behind the books. April 11 2001
By Alex
Format:Paperback
This slim volume isn't as much an introduction as a motley collection of interviews with Stanislav Lem, through which the author attempts to expose Lem's personal ideology. There is an overview of Lem's works - courtesy of the author, a pair of interviews (1992 and 1994), and a short essay written by Lem about his futurological masterpiece, "Summa Technologiae" (1964, essay written in 1991). The first problem the book runs into is that it's not particularly informative. I really hoped for a deeper analysis of Lem's works. In the interviews, Lem merely uses them to exemplify his beliefs. Furthemore, Lem himself comes off a bit patronizing and self-promoting. He repeatedly makes smug comments about his literary competition, several movements in philosophy, and a particular Polish critic who wrote an unduly scathing review of "Summa." Lastly, a good deal of the interviews become redundant. Lem's responses run long, and he manages to bring most to the followings few conclusions: the world can never be perfectly understood, or even fathomed; moderation is the safest philosophy - tertium datur; truth is in the eye of the beholder; language compromises any attempts at hard analysis; anyone who fails to believe that is misguided. Now that I think about it, Lem sounds very much like his GOLEM XIV. Nevertheless, he manages to make several interesting points about himself and his works: he proudly reiterates that he is most certainly not the alpha and omega of the European, or even Polish philosophical society; that his magnitude as a futurologist and philosopher is (mistakenly) overstated; and that his works are largely testing grounds for his evolving ideology.
The interviews portray Lem's faith in mankind as slight. He finds humanity as somewhat vain, and currently degenerating.
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Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult but really eye-opening Sept. 29 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Recommended to all Lem scholars, science-fiction fans, literature lovers, and people who like to look beyond literature. I thoroughly enjoyed it even though it's not exactly Sunday reading.
Was this review helpful to you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
49 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another chapter on Lem April 25 2006
By George Patinki - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The book is unusual, no doubt, for a "reader;" actually it's hardly a Lem reader as such. It consists of a long critical introduction/analysis plus a couple of long interviews on everything under the sun and a translation of a major (and mordantly Lemian) piece on computers, virtual reality, and its ab/uses.

Much as I enjoyed it, I liked another chapter on Lem much more, this one is in another book by Swirski, From Lowbrow to Nobrow. Entire chapter six is on Lem's Chain of Chance, and it's brilliant, written more like a cross between philosophical journalism and a reader's guide, check it, it's a classic
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult but worthwhile... Nov. 4 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A lot of information for being approx. 150 pages as every single page contains pertinent content. (In other words, there is not one single wasted line or sentence.) Very strong writing with a nice flair as it focuses on the interdisciplinary side of Lem's novels, rather than being just an ordinary literary review. The interviews with Lem are also thought provoking; since it allows Lem's "voice" to be "heard". However, it is a little dense and at some points may be difficult to decipher exactly what the author or Lem is trying to say as both use vocabulary that is not quite "layman's terms". Still, overall it does give good insight to Lem and is a useful introduction to Lem's works. In addition, the author's focus (how literature interacts with science and society)is a breath of fresh air compared to what is usually circulating around in the guise of literary criticism!
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, challenging, innovative, thought-provoking... July 9 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I did not know anything about Lem before--this is a great and utterly challenging introduction to just about anything that Lem wrote about: contemporary culture, literature, science, philosophy. I admire the interviewer: it must have been a difficult task of arranging and editing (and translating) these talks. I read this book and bought a few Lem novels--what a treat! I recommend A Stanislaw Lem Reader to all who love literature and are of reflective nature.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The man behind the books. April 11 2001
By Alex - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This slim volume isn't as much an introduction as a motley collection of interviews with Stanislav Lem, through which the author attempts to expose Lem's personal ideology. There is an overview of Lem's works - courtesy of the author, a pair of interviews (1992 and 1994), and a short essay written by Lem about his futurological masterpiece, "Summa Technologiae" (1964, essay written in 1991). The first problem the book runs into is that it's not particularly informative. I really hoped for a deeper analysis of Lem's works. In the interviews, Lem merely uses them to exemplify his beliefs. Furthemore, Lem himself comes off a bit patronizing and self-promoting. He repeatedly makes smug comments about his literary competition, several movements in philosophy, and a particular Polish critic who wrote an unduly scathing review of "Summa." Lastly, a good deal of the interviews become redundant. Lem's responses run long, and he manages to bring most to the followings few conclusions: the world can never be perfectly understood, or even fathomed; moderation is the safest philosophy - tertium datur; truth is in the eye of the beholder; language compromises any attempts at hard analysis; anyone who fails to believe that is misguided. Now that I think about it, Lem sounds very much like his GOLEM XIV. Nevertheless, he manages to make several interesting points about himself and his works: he proudly reiterates that he is most certainly not the alpha and omega of the European, or even Polish philosophical society; that his magnitude as a futurologist and philosopher is (mistakenly) overstated; and that his works are largely testing grounds for his evolving ideology.
The interviews portray Lem's faith in mankind as slight. He finds humanity as somewhat vain, and currently degenerating. An especially hard-hitting forecast of his predicts a deluge of information that will drown civilization. This examination of Lem's repeatedly frustrated attempts to bring the cosmic forces of logic to crack the tough nut of the Western civilization made me aware of just what I want from Lem as a reader: I want a book where mankind is awed and humiliated in numbers sufficient to produce a positive effect. I want the cosmos to teach man a lesson. I want an emergency exit.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Difficult but really eye-opening Sept. 29 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Recommended to all Lem scholars, science-fiction fans, literature lovers, and people who like to look beyond literature. I thoroughly enjoyed it even though it's not exactly Sunday reading.
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