Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Aaron's Book of the Week :: The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem

The InvincibleThe Book of the Week is The Invincible by Stanislaw Lem. Once again we are postponing our history of the pulp magazines in favoring of honoring a fallen master of science fiction, this time Polish author Stanislaw Lem, who died last week at the age of 84.

Science fiction is largely an English language phenomenon, and very few significant works of SF have been written in other languages. Stanislaw Lem was an important exception, probably the most influential SF writer to write in another language since Jules Verne. Lem's books have been translated into over forty languages and sold tens of millions of copies worldwide, and he is one of the most widely read authors ever in Eastern Europe. While most of his 30+ books have been published in the United States, he remains best known here for his novel Solaris, adapted to film in the Soviet Union by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and in America by Steven Soderbergh in 2002 (with George Clooney in the starring role). Lem disliked both film versions. The Invincible is currently in early film production, and it is a shame that Lem will not be around to denounce this new movie.

The Invincible originally appeared in Polish in 1964 The Book of the Week is the first printing, paperback original of the English translation, published in 1973. Like Solaris, The Invincible tells of mankind's first contact with a strange form of alien life. In Solaris, the life form is a sentient ocean; in The Invincible, it is a society of autonomous nanomachines. As the cover suggests, these machines can be a bit hostile. The Invincible is an example of one portion of Lem's work, dealing with space exploration and contact with other races, but with a strong focus on the emotional and ethical ramifications rather than the technologies involved. Another portion of his work is heavily satirical. Next week's Book of the Week will be an example of Lem's satire.

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