Stanislaw Lem, 84; Polish Science Fiction Writer, Author of ‘Solaris’

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Stanislaw Lem, a science fiction writer whose novel “Solaris” was made into a movie starring George Clooney, died Monday in his native Poland, his secretary said. He was 84.

Lem died in a Krakow hospital from heart failure “connected to his old age,” the secretary, Wojciech Zemek, told the Associated Press.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. March 29, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 29, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Stanislaw Lem obituary: The obituary of science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem in Tuesday’s California section misidentified the title of his book “Tales of Pirx the Pilot” as “Tales of Prix the Pilot.”

Lem was one of the most popular science fiction authors of recent decades to write in a language other than English, and his works were translated into more than 40 languages.

His books have sold 27 million copies.


“Solaris,” his best-known work, was adapted into films by director Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972 and by Steven Soderbergh in 2002. That version starred Clooney and Natascha McElhone.

His first important novel, “Hospital of the Transfiguration,” was censored by communist authorities for eight years before its release in 1956 amid a thaw after the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Other works include “The Invincible,” “The Cyberiad,” “His Master’s Voice,” “The Star Diaries,” “The Futurological Congress” and “Tales of Prix the Pilot.”

Lem was born into a Polish Jewish family on Sept. 21, 1921, in Lvov, then a Polish city but now part of Ukraine.

His father was a doctor and Lem initially appeared set to follow in that path, taking up medical studies in Lvov before World War II.

After surviving the Nazi occupation, in part thanks to forged documents that concealed his Jewish background, Lem continued his medical studies in Krakow. Soon afterward, however, he took up writing science fiction.

But later in life he expressed dissatisfaction with the limits of that genre.

“I have always resisted the label of science fiction,” Lem said in a 1987 interview with the Washington Post. “I’ve always believed in science, but I write about the real world. So I write about what is happening, only in my own way, in my own terms.”

After the fall of communism in 1989, Lem ceased writing science fiction, instead devoting himself to nonfiction essays on computer crime, as well as technological and ethical problems posed by the expansion of the Internet.

Lem is survived by his wife and a son, Zemek said. Funeral arrangements were not disclosed.