Page 2 of 2   <      

Stanislaw Lem, 84; Polish Sci-Fi Author

"Why was I able to write this?" he later told The Post. "Because in that book there were no political terms. 'Party,' 'politburo' -- these words were not necessary for me. And the authorities are very afraid, mainly, of certain words."

"Solaris" (1961) was a novel about the paranoia that overcomes a scientific expedition sent to study a sprawling -- and living -- ocean on the planet Solaris. When the scientists cannot comprehend the sea, they attack it with radiation. The liquid body responds by recreating figures symbolizing great guilt for each scientist.

As with many of his books, "Solaris" showed a probing intellectual hero who explores eerie situations that have emotional and psychological repercussions. He was unsatisfied with Soviet filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 film version, once saying, "Tarkovsky wanted to show that the cosmos is very nasty and unpleasant, whereas on Earth it is fine. But I wrote and thought quite the contrary."

He was also unimpressed with Steven Soderbergh's 2002 version that cast George Clooney and Natascha McElhone. He said the film should have been renamed "Love in Outer Space."

Mr. Lem spun out many more books, including "Memoirs Found in a Bathtub" (1961), an espionage tale of unimaginable bureaucratic labyrinths; and "The Futurological Congress" (1974), featuring a world run by "chemocrats" who pacify revolt through peace-inducing drugs. Though not every book met with unanimous approval, the overall constancy and quality of his output brought him important backers in the United States, including writers John Updike and Ursula K. Le Guin.

He was offered an honorary membership in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, but he was soon expelled after denigrating many members for writing "pure fantasy."

Membership was not something he craved in any form, literary, scientific or political. He once spoke of members of the Solidarity movement, which fought the Communist regime in Poland, as "good-hearted and sincere but very naive and inexperienced and understood nothing at all of little or big politics."

Long settled in Krakow, he enjoyed giving the illusion of rudeness. His home bore a sign warning of "ferocious dogs," but the animals, one reporter noted, were "five friendly dachshunds."

Survivors include his wife, Barbara; and a son.


<       2

© 2006 The Washington Post Company