Science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, 84, whose novel Solaris was made into a film by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1972, died today of heart failure at a hospital in Krakow. According to the Associated Press obit, Lem was one of the most popular science-fiction writers working in a language other than English. His books have been translated into more than 40 languages, having sold 27 million copies.
At home in Poland, things weren’t always easy for Lem. Born to a Jewish family on Sept. 21, 1921, in Lviv (now part of Ukraine), Lem survived the Nazi occupation partly because of forged documents that concealed his ethno-religious background. His first important novel, Hospital of the Transfiguration, was banned for eight years, before being published in 1956 following the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Among Lem’s other works are His Master’s Voice, The Star Diaries, and Tales of Prix the Pilot.
Tarkovsky’s Russian-made Solyaris / Solaris, from a screenplay by Tarkovsky and Fridrikh Gorenshtein, and starring Donatas Banionis and Natalya Bondarchuk, is considered by many one of the best science-fiction films ever made - a sort of Russian answer to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). U.S. director Steven Soderbergh remade the film in 2002, with George Clooney and Natascha McElhone as the leads. The remake made little impact, whether with critics or at the box office.