Stanislaw Lem

KRAKOW, POLAND--Science fiction author Stanislaw Lem, whose works included the novel "Solaris," which was twice adapted into a feature film, died in a hospital here March 27 of heart failure. He was 84. MSTies may recall that he helped convert his 1951 novel "Astronauci" ("The Astronauts") into the 1960 East German film DER SCHWEIGENDE STERN, which, when redubbed in English, became the movie featured in episode 211- FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS. When he saw the final product he (understandably) repudiated the film and attempted (unsuccessfully) to have his name removed from it.

Lem's novels were translated from Polish into more than 40 other languages, and sold 27 million copies.

Lem was born in Lwow, Poland (which become Lvov, in the Soviet Union, and is now Lviv, Ukraine). As a young man he studied medicine, following in the footsteps of his father. When the Nazis invaded his country, his family was able to avoid persecution by obtaining forged documents that concealed their Jewish background. He found work as a garage mechanic, but did his part to hinder the Nazi war machine: "I learned to damage German vehicles in such a way that it wouldn't immediately be discovered," he later recalled.

After the war he continued his medical studies, but when he learned that upon graduation he would be automatically conscripted as an Army doctor, he refused to take his final exams. He found work as a biological researcher at a scientific institute and began writing in his spare time. He soon soured on Soviet-style biology and turned to writing full-time.

Having survived the Nazis, Lem now had to deal with repressive Communist officials, who insisted on approving his works before they were published, and sometimes censored them. However, the authorities seldom took the science fiction genre seriously, and Lem was able to slip a good deal of political satire and criticism past them.

In addition to 1961's "Solaris," his most notable works include "The Invincible," "The Cyberiad," "His Master's Voice," "The Star Diaries," "The Futurological Congress" and "Tales of Prix the Pilot."

In the 1970s, he ignited a controversy in the science fiction world after he criticized American authors in the genre, charging that they were more interested in making money than in creativity (though he also expressed admiration for author Philip K. Dick). In response, his honorary membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association was withdrawn. There was a later campaign to reinstate him as a member, but he refused the offer.

After the fall of Communism in 1989, Lem ceased writing science-fiction, instead devoting himself to reports on near-future predictions for governments and organizations.

In the 1990s he was asked to describe the guiding principle underlying his writing.

"People are terrible and the future is bleak," he replied.

Lem is survived by his wife and son.