Stanislaw Lem — and sci-fi — can’t get a break

His peers hated him; he didn’t think much of them either. And now that Stephen Soderbergh has made a version of Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi novel Solaris, the 81-year-old Polish writer kinda hates it. Jeet Heer of the National Post has written a terrific piece summarizing the life and complex, frequently-misunderstood work of this sci-fi titan. A sample:

Among other things, ”Solaris” is a veiled attack on Marxism and its claim to have replaced religious mystery with a science of human history. Solaristics, the systematic study of the planet’s ocean, is said to be a rational pursuit - but it’s really, Kelvin notes, just ”the space era’s equivalent of religion: faith disguised as science.” He adds: ”Contact, the stated aim of Solaristics, is no less vague and obscure than the communion of the saints, or the second coming of the Messiah.”

Check the piece out; if more critics wrote this intelligently about science fiction, more people would read it!

Though maybe the tide’s turning. There’s been a recent boomlet of articles praising Philip K. Dick and noting how eerily prescient was his superparanoid vision of the world. Laura Miller wrote a terrific essay for the New York Times Book Review a while back — “It’s Philip Dick’s World, We Only Live in It” — and back in the summer, an op-ed piece in the Times noted that Dick was the perfect author for our highly-surveilled times.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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