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 Contrary to what the title suggests, this is not so much a sampler of Lem's writings as an introduction to and overview of the Polish writer's work. Swirski, a lecturer at McGill University (Canada), opens with an essay summarizing Lem's career and the major themes of his writings. Then comes a long 1992 interview with Lem, ``Reflections on Literature, Philosophy and Science.'' Lem contributes a retrospective essay primarily devoted to examining the accuracy of his 1964 book, Summa Technologiae, an essay in futurology in which he forecast (among other things) computer virtual reality. Another interview from 1994 consists of Lem's written responses to various broad questions on his thought and writings. The overall effect is to give an excellent, if very condensed, view of Lem's special concerns, particularly on the relationships between fiction and the real world. He comments in detail, for instance, on several writers who have attempted to portray Poland during the Nazi occupation, finding most to have missed the mark (Jerzy Kosinski in The Painted Bird overplays the peasants' sexual promiscuity, for instance). His observations on the ephemeral nature of much political satire (from Huxley's Brave New World to the Strugatsky brothers' attacks on Stalinism) draw attention to the rarely examined question of the place of the predictive element in fiction. While he has kept at arm's length from popular science fiction, Lem remains one of the few writers of fiction who is deeply conversant with scientific thought and who makes a point of getting his science right. His interest in philosophy is also genuine and wide-reaching, as numerous comments indicate. Densely written, with something to think about in almost every paragraph, this is probably the best quick introduction to the main currents of the large body of work Lem has produced over the last half-century.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8101-1494-1
Page count: 144pp
Publisher: Northwestern Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1997