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Stanislaw Lem

Stanislaw Lem - prominent science fiction writers of the 20th century, classic writer of contemporary sci-fi - was born in L'viv and lived there for a quarter of a century. «I recall the gates, the stairs, the doors, the corridors and the rooms of that house in Brayerovsk St., where I was born.» wrote Lem 40 years past...

His works have been translated and reprinted in 40 languages and are popular all around the globe.

Stanislaw Tsalyk Lem was born in Lviv on Sept. 12, 1921 to the family of a famous laryngologist. The house at 4 Brayerovsk St. (today Bohdan Lepkiy St.)- in which the Lem family lived on the 3rd floor is still standing today.

Lem admitted that he had had a «peaceful and idyllic» life; as a young boy he had a French nanny and his parents constantly spoiled him with loads of toys and books.

His love for sweets and food in general, eventually led to the young boy developing a figure that began to take on the shape of a pear, Lem himself recalled jokingly, adding «I had a cheeky face, eyes that were slightly bulging, and was curious about trying everything - thinking that it would give me a certain charm.»

Lem learned to read and write at an early age and was particularly fond of studying medical textbooks and other literature from his father's forbidden bookcase: «...my destiny and calling to become a writer began to develop when I saw skeletons, galaxies in astronomy atlases, reconstructions of monster lizards of the Mezozoic Era and a multi-colored human brain in an anatomy book.»

The future writer's other hobby was inventing. He constructed antediluvian animals not known to paleontologists. He also thought up different imaginary kingdoms, diligently drawing their coat-of-arms, preparing passports for monarchs which he gave magnificent ranks and titles, and issued special «attestations» and extraordinary «passes» that gave their bearers access to underground treasure troves.

Later the writer admitted, «Though I knew this was all simply a game, there was something about it that was very serious for me.»

In 1932, the 11-year old Stanislav went to study at the Karol Szajnochy No. 2 Boy's Gymnasium (pronounce Karol Shainokhy), where in 1939 the young scholar received a diploma for earning a secondary education.

Lem decided to dedicate himself to technical sciences. Unfortunately, the year in which he was writing his entrance exams was the same year in which Lviv came under Soviet rule and the intelligent student was not accepted.

Lem recalled, «I passed the exam to enter the Polytechnical University in the first round, but I wasn't accepted because I was a representative of the «wrong class» (his father was a laryngologist, which was considered bourgeoisie).

It was only in 1940 that Lem became a student at the Lviv Medical University: «My father used his connections with the famous bio-chemist Prof. Parna to get me into study medicine without the least bit of enthusiasm on my part.»

In any case, Lem never finished his education at this institution due to the war with Hitler breaking out in 1941. Whilst L'viv was occupied by the Germans, Lem was forced to work as a mechanic, locksmith and welder under a false name and with false documents.

He found himself in a dangerous situation as his ancestors were Jewish and the presence of the Nazis in L'viv posed the threat to his family of being resettled to the ghettos. Nevertheless, Stanislaw helped out the Polish Resistance Movement any way he could. Indeed, he stole ammunitions from the «magazines of the German Luftwaffe (Air Force)».

The risk was great, but he felt it his duty to help the war effort in any way he could. In 1944, when Lviv again came under Soviet rule, Lem continued his studies at the medical institute.

And two years later, when the Polish population of L'viv was given permission to go to Poland in accordance with the Treaty on Repatriation, the 25-year old Stanislaw and his family left L'viv to resettle in Krakow, Poland.

Lem recalled, «I could have made quite a lot working as a welder. On the one hand, it seemed quite attractive, since I had to start my studies from scratch in Krakow. On the other hand, even the thought of my giving up medical school deeply distressed my father and, in the end, I decided to continue my medical studies.»

Four years later, in 1948, Lem graduated from the medical faculty of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow and received a diploma for completion of his medical education.

Prior to this, he had already made his literary debut in 1946, when the local weekly publication Nowy Swiat Przygod (New World of Adventures) published excerpts of Lem's first novel Czlowiek z Marsa (The Man from Mars).

In 1950, the native of L'viv gave up a medical career to work as a junior assistant in the Conservatory of Scientific Knowledge and eventually became a professional writer.

In 1951, Lem's first book Astronauci (Astronauts) was published. The writer explained, «I began writing science fiction because I believe it is a genre that should deal with the human race per se (and even with possible forms of intelligent life, one of them being humans), and not only focus on saints or monsters.

It is most likely for this very reason that I revolted against the canons of this genre in the form it had been shaped into and ossified in the US.»

The novels to follow like Inwazja z Aldebarana (Invasion From Aldebarana), Eden, Solaris, Powrot z gwiazd (Return From The Stars) and Niezwyciezony (Invincible), which Lem had written literally in a few years and today are recognized as contemporary sci-fi classics, were the author's attempt to escape into «a totally different field of possibilities». Among these works were some amazing novels, for example, Solaris, which to this day remains an insoluble mystery and was recently used as the basis for the Hollywood Film Solaris, starring George Clooney.

Lem admitted, «I would love to write something in the vein of Solaris once again, but such a success happens only once in a lifetime.»

Today the 82-year old patriarch of world science fiction lives in Poland, though he has never forgotten the years he spent in Ukraine.

Indeed, in 1966 a memorial novel by Stanislaw Lem titled Wysoki Zamek (High Castle) was dedicated to the old district of Lviv.

Moreover, the writer is fluent in Ukrainian, something he stated in a recent interview: «I learned Ukrainian whilst studying in the gymnasium in L'viv and later at the medical institute in Soviet times up until 1941. I still know the language very well today.»

So, it should not come as a surprise to many fans of Lem's works that the world famous sci-fi writer was for many years an avid reader of the Ukrainian journal Vsesvit (The Universe).