“The twentieth century had dispensed with the formal declaration of war and introduced the fifth column, sabotage, cold war, and war by proxy, but that was only the beginning. Summit meetings for disarmament pursued mutual understanding and a balance of power but were also held to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy. The world of the war-or-peace alternative became a world in which war was peace and peace war”.
I was first put on to him by Philip Challinor, who kindly gifted me one of his books. I was immediately taken aback by just how good it was.
When Philip first gave me the book (The Cyberiad) I felt that the quote on the cover “The best writer alive working in any language at the moment” or something like that, was a bold claim indeed. As I continued reading the book it seemed a fairer and fairer assessment.
He wasn’t particularly popular with some other well-known science-fiction writers, probably because he was frequently insulting about them. It would be fair to say that they often responded in kind.
Strangely, he’s probably most famous for something that he didn’t like. His book Solaris was adapted by Andrei Trakovsky into a film that is now regarded as a classic. Lem made quite a few disparaging comments about both film and director…
“I have fundamental reservations to this adaptation. First of all I would have liked to see the planet Solaris which the director unfortunately denied me as the film was to be a cinematically subdued work. And secondly — as I told Tarkovsky during one of our quarrels — he didn’t make Solaris at all, he made Crime and Punishment. What we get in the film is only how this abominable Kelvin has driven poor Harey to suicide and then he has pangs of conscience which are amplified by her appearance; a strange and incomprehensible appearance”.
“Tarkovsky reminds me of a sergeant from the time of Turgenev — he is very pleasant and extremely prepossessing and at the same time visionary and elusive. One cannot “catch” him anywhere because he is always at a slightly different place already. This is simply the type of person he is. When I understood that I stopped bothering. This director cannot be reshaped anymore, and first of all one cannot convince him of anything as he is going to recast everything in his “own way” no matter what”.
It’s always best to go to source though and I’m writing this just to give you a recommendation for some very good reading, as Philip was kind enough to do for me.