Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, the author of Solaris, is one of the genre’s most celebrated writers. Solaris was a literary marvel, and was later adapted into a film by Andrei Tarkovsky. Despite his success, Lem does not quite receive the adulation in literary circles enjoyed by the likes of Jules Verne, Aldous Huxley, and Phillip K. Dick. This is perhaps a slight to Lem, as he has proven to be one of the most visionary science fiction writers of all time, according to Culture. Lem correctly predicted many key aspects of our modern world during his literary ruminations on the technological innovations of the developing world.
In his 1961 novel, A Return From The Stars, the characters loaded memory crystals into a device called an “opton,” which allowed one to read a book while swiping to successive pages. Today, we call those Kindles. In the same novel, a sales robot tells the main character that most readers prefer the “lectons,” in which text is read aloud, just like modern audiobooks.
In his collection of philosophical essays, Dialogues, Lem considers how computers might eventually be connected into “state, continental, and, later, planetary computer nets.” Lem lived to see the invention of the internet before his death in 2006.
In his 1955 novel, The Magellanic Cloud, Lem envisioned a future in which people had access to a virtual database that held a vast library of knowledge called the “Trion Library.”
“Trion can store not only luminescent images, not only all kinds of photographs, maps, images, graphs, and tables — in other words, anything that can be observed by sight. Just as easily, Trion can store sounds, the human voice as well as music.”
Sounds a lot like Google.
The novel goes on, “We use it today without even thinking about the efficiency and might of this great, invisible net which enlaces the globe. Whether it be in one’s Australian studio, or in a lunar observatory, or on board an airplane – how many times has every one of us reached for their pocket receiver and called upon Trion Library central, naming the desired work which, within a second, appeared in front of you on the television screen.”
Anyone who has flown on an airplane, surrounded by passengers using onboard wi-fi to Google something on their smart phones can see the prescience in this statement.
Will Wright, creator of The Sims, has repeatedly named Lem as the inspiration behind his best-selling games. Lem’s book of short stories, The Cyberiad, is cited by Wright as the stimulus for the idea, particularly Lem’s story of an exiled dictator given a simulated civilization in a box to rule over.
Stanislaw Lem’s vision of the future was prophetic in so many ways, and he deserves to stand among the giants of science fiction writing.