On the surface, I was calm: in secret, without really admitting it, I was waiting for something. Her return? How could I have been waiting for that? We all know that we are material creatures, subject to the laws of physiology and physics, and not even the power of all our feelings combined can defeat those laws. All we can do is detest them. The age-old faith of lovers and poets in the power of love, stronger than death, that finis vitae sed non amoris, is a lie, useless and not even funny. So must one be resigned to being a clock that measures the passage of time, now out of order, now repaired, and whose mechanism generates despair and love as soon as its maker sets it going? Are we to grow used to the idea that every man relives ancient torments, which are all the more profound because they grow comic with repetition? That human existence should repeat itself, well and good, but that it should repeat itself like a hackneyed tune, or a record a drunkard keeps playing as he feeds coins into the jukebox…

Must I go on living here then, among the objects we both had touched, in the air she had breathed? In the name of what? In the hope of her return? I hoped for nothing. And yet I lived in expectation. Since she had gone, that was all that remained. I did not know what achievements, what mockery, even what tortures still awaited me. I knew nothing, and I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.

Stanisław Lem

Classifying Wolfe’s work with any taxonomical precision is further complicated by the allegorical cast of his imagination and his willingness to intermingle magic and fantasy elements together with scientific principles. Wolfe’s sensitivity to the ambiguities and contradictions of human experience (and those of the physical universe, as well) makes it similarly difficult to reduce his thematic preoccupations to simple polarities (“optimistic/pessimistic,” “liberal/conservative”) or formulas. Like Joanna Russ, Samuel Delany, Stanislaw Lem, and Gregory Benford, Wolfe frequently plays with and eventually deconstructs SF’s stock paradigms in order to question their assumptions. In a certain basic sense Wolfe’s works oppose the usual principle guiding most SF in its emphasis on the subjectivity of human perception rather than on the assurances of rational thought and scientific methodology. An even more radical departure from SF norms is Wolfe’s suggestion that it is religious faith, science, or any other system, which provides our most profound insights about our relationship to the universe. This religious orientation — akin to a sort of cosmic mysticism but specifically associated with Catholicism — finds its most complete expression in New Sun. Undoubtedly there will continue to be readers and critics within and without SF’s boundaries who will be bothered or puzzled by many paradoxical features of Wolfe’s literary imagination. But if it is true that a great man is one who never reminds us of someone else, then Gene Wolfe has the marks of greatness.

Larry McCaffery
On Encompassing the Entire Universe: An Interview with Gene Wolfe

I do not consider myself an SF writer. The question of genres is simply unimportant for me, and very often I turn to different modes of writing. I want to write about things that interest me and in ways that interest me. One could simply say that I attempt certain mental experiments and try to create certain situational models. I would also add that the conventions of normal, realistic literature, or whatever you call it, are insufficient for me. It is so because they usually limit one’s field of vision to small groups of people, while I am interested in the fate of humanity as a whole, even more so than in the fate of individuals.

Stanislaw Lem
Interviewed by Raymond Federman, May 1981, at Lem’s house on the outskirts ofKrakow

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem — I will go on record and state that this book can be a slog. At times plodding and self-indulgent, Lem has no qualms about giving us descriptive scenes that read like old IBM mainframe manuals written in the 80s. But on my second read of this fifty-year-old novel, it occurred to me that perhaps the style of the narrative serves as a plot function for the novel. That, at its kernel, humanity is a boring species, so the sometimes-boring prose reflects such an assertion  (and I’m further convinced of this as there are times Lem puts together jaw-dropping scenes and situations). We are wired to see ourselves in everything. Additionally, as a human, we are quite content with the status quo. Let’s not excite our lives with the addition of alien life, alien thoughts.

But the primary point of argument present in Solaris is that of identity (what makes a person… a person… a common thread in science fiction). If Kelvin sees the alien as his wife, then by all intent and purposes, isn’t she that person (especially if the construct has her memories)?

Jason Sizemore
Five Genre Books that Raise Mind-numbing Philosophical Questions

The only writers who have any peace are the ones who don’t write. And there are some like that. They wallow in a sea of possibilities. To express a thought, you first have to limit it, and that means kill it. Every word I speak robs me of a thousand others, and every line I write means giving up another.

Stanisław Lem

Hospital of the Transfiguration

Man has gone out to explore other worlds without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.

Stanislaw Lem

Thought for the day

March 16, 2009

“A man manifests his individuality by his actions.”

Stanislaw Lem