Throughout his life, Stanislav Lim (1921-2006), who would have turned 100 on Sunday, refused to be called a science fiction author. Of course, he himself was not fully responsible for this classification, because anyone who transfers a significant part of his literary subjects to extraterrestrial worlds, about which “Fairy Tales of the Robot” and “Memoirs of the Stars” tell, could easily happen to end up on the library shelf Beside Berry Rodin.
Through the worlds of the famous “Solaris” or the strange adventures of astronaut Egon Techy – “Schwick as a space traveler,” as Siegfried Lenz called him – Stanislav Lim was transported to future realms in the eyes of his readers. A method that makes it easy to forget the real time and environment in which the writer lived.
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Lim spent his youth in Europe’s “blood country” between Hitler and Stalin, with a rapid change in political conditions and the invasion of the occupiers. He experienced here, he wrote, “poor but independent” pre-war Poland, “Pax Sovietka in 1939-1941, German occupation, second coming of the Red Army, post-war years in a completely different Poland”.
“Break the heaviness of memory”
His first novel, The Hospital of the Transfiguration, was a highly realistic work, and it also explored a historical abyss: it describes the murder of residents of a mental institution during World War II at the hands of German occupying forces. Apparently Kulparkow, an institution near Lem’s hometown of Lemberg and the scene of the horrific murders of patients, served as a model here.
As a motive behind his novel, Lim called the intention “freeing oneself from the weight of memory”, but at the same time “not forgetting: one can certainly go hand in hand with the other.”
This debut for a long time remained largely hidden behind the spiral nebulae of the author’s later bestselling book. But the text helps highlight a key dimension of Stanislav Lim’s autobiography: his personal and family experience with tyranny and occupation.
Lim studied medicine
Stanislav Lem studied medicine like his father. His way of life, as well as his own experiences, brought him to one of his life’s themes, ‘serendipity’, as a constant relevant to existence. His father, a former physician in the Austro-Hungarian army, narrowly escaped being shot as a “class enemy” after the Russian Revolution.
Lim himself at times narrowly escaped disaster when he was secretly transporting weapons to the Polish underground under German occupation. These experiences have justified “that it is no coincidence that I have ascribed chance to chance as a shaper of fate in my work”—reflections that have inspired the author to the two-volume Philosophy of Opportunity.
Since extensive research on the Holocaust in the 1980s, Lim has occasionally reported on his experiences: In 1986, German readers learned that Germans “except for my father and mother killed my entire family,” when Lim read the introduction to the collection of texts by Vladislav Bartosevsky “Learning from history?”.
Also, as his son Thomas Lim recently recalled, one of his father’s most dramatic experiences was under German supervision, in which he had to carry rotting corpses from the basement of prisoners shot by the retreating Soviets. It was these “personal passages into the disaster zone” that defined Lem’s claims to futurology and its potential as a serious literary genre.
In Lim’s view, the only desirable path of science fiction was the “advancement of attitudes” created by H.G. Wells in his 1898 novel The War of the Worlds. “He has climbed the hill of the First Commander, where one can observe the species in an extreme position. He foresaw a stricken area, and rightly so: I saw it during the war when I read the novel many times.
The shadow of evil in people is the main theme of Yam
His generation will remember, “especially in this terribly afflicted country,” “how few books of that time one could read without being angry” given the true knowledge “of the mechanisms of the destruction of culture.” And it was insignificant that “what threatens to crush us was an invasion of people motivated by the genocidal doctrine, while the policy of extermination of the same magnitude in Wells’ novel goes back to a fictional invasion from Mars.”
“Evil” in people, military conflicts and tyranny remained the main theme of the author in many forms. This is also the case in The Voice of God, published in Poland in 1968. The protagonist, mathematician Peter Hogarth, is easily identifiable as the alter ego of the writer.
Extraterrestrial signal to humanity
In this novel, humanity receives a signal from extraterrestrials, and Lim plays the role of consequences: scientists from different disciplines mutually deny the power of interpretation – in the end, a new weapon of mass destruction is produced from the information fragments of the heavenly message.
Lim saw the danger of brutality stemming from evolution itself: “We are accustomed to the dead. Our capacity to adapt and, by implication, accept everything is one of the greatest threats. Beings that are highly adaptive in terms of resilience cannot have unassailable morals. Also,” he told Hogarth in The Voice of the Lord.
Throughout his life Lem dealt with physics as well as with metaphysics, with biological evolution as well as with technical development. He could not find solace in a religious interpretation in light of human devastation. But he appreciated the spiritual healing effect of religions, which he considered “the smartest invention” because they “complement the real world with a transcendent extension in which everything is reformed.” With serious “respect” he considered “the moral imperatives that make us love our neighbors and even our enemies.”
Despise conspiracy theories
Meanwhile, Lim utterly despised myths, charlatans, and conspiracy theories. He mocked the pseudoscience of Charles Berlitz or Erich von Dänken, which sold millions of copies. And he was outraged by the “enlightened pseudo-mass” who “are ashamed to believe in God today, but are not ashamed to seek and use false alternatives. They acknowledge the existence of flying saucers instead of angels, and the “Bermuda Triangle” instead of Hell.”
Lim lamented that such “metaphysical junk” seemed to be much in demand, as an “antidote” to the “important sage tone” of science.
Lim’s explanations have never been more cheerful, not even in his major scientific work, Technological Abstracts, where he outlined the possibilities of knowledge and extrapolated it into the future. Like many of his generation, Lim dashed hopes for cybernetics as a model for social governance. But he took it with humor and, in turn, mocked belief in technology.
During his life, Lim did not find rest
In 1971, for example, Lim summed up the “pathology of socialist management” in Gerek’s Poland in a tongue-in-cheek article regarding cybernetics: The “robot” state creates its own illusion, because the system effectively seals itself. away from social motives. Censorship activated and confiscated this criticism. At the time, did the author think that exactly 50 years later Poland would celebrate the “Year of the Lim” in honor of his 100th birthday?
During his life, Lim found no solace in the face of the suffering inflicted on his family and country by the German occupying power, but he did find a small moment of reconciliation. This also happened – how could it be – by accident. As Lim noted in 1986: “To this day, I remember the moment when (I firmly believe) I went through reconciliation with the Germans more than thirty years ago. At the time I was trying to put on shoes in a department store in Berlin when a child probably came to me He is four years old and spoke to me in his childish German to show me pictures in a brochure I had just bought.”
Turns out, the “complete innocence of the little boy” was an “argument to my memory.” But “turning memory into a blank sheet of paper was not in my power.”
The author is a research associate at the German Historical Museum in Berlin and an associate researcher at the Leibniz Center for Contemporary History in Potsdam (ZZF). The article is based on a longer text published in the “Zeithistorische Forschungen”. .
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