The Polish writer Stanisław Lem (1921-2006) is perhaps best known for his novel Solaris (1961) – a visionary work of ‘first contact’ science fiction later adapted for film by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972, and again by Steven Soderbergh in 2002. However, as this video essay explores, Solaris represents just one small piece of Lem’s sprawling and prolific career as a writer of both peculiar and imaginative works of science fiction, and of speculative works of philosophy that anticipated many of the technologies and anxieties of the modern world. Adapted from an essay for the London Review of Books by the US writer Jonathan Lethem, Five Lems distills a long career into five distinct categories. In doing so, it explores Lem’s insights into the human condition, as well as how his imaginative ‘fairy tales and folk tales for the future’ offered an antidote to the ‘technocratic triumphalism, manifest destiny, libertarian survivalist bullshit’ of American-dominated mid-20th-century science fiction.
Video by the London Review of Books
Producer: Anthony Wilks
Writer and Narrator: Jonathan Lethem
Technology and the self
Greetings from Green Bank – the small town where modern technology is banned
Stories and literature
What makes John Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ so enduringly powerful?
Dance and theatre
How a Noh mask-maker summons a lifelike face from a single block of wood
The ancient world
What wine vessels reveal about politics and luxury in ancient Athens and Persia
David Goldblatt captured the contradictions of apartheid in stark black and white
Philosophy of mind
Do we have good reasons to believe in beliefs? A radical philosophy of mind says no
Philosophy of religion
How a devout Catholic philosopher approaches the problem of evil
Love and friendship
When drawing your muse hundreds of times becomes an exercise in love
Thinkers and theories
Is simulation theory a way to shirk responsibility for the world we’ve created?