Polish sf effectively began with the publication in 1785 of the novel Wojciech Zdarzyński, zycie i przypadki swoje opisujacy ["Wojciech Zdarzyński, Describing his Life and Adventures"] (1785) by the Reverend Michał Dymitr Krajewski. This describes the civilizations of the Moon.
Between then and World War Two, Polish sf had, in terms of literary quality, at least four major landmarks. (1) In 1804 Jan Potocki (1761-1815) published (in French) Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse (2 vols 1804 and 1805 Russia and 1 vol 1813; exp 1847 as Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie Poland; cut trans as The Saragossa Manuscript, ed Roger Caillois 1960). This extraordinary work – more fantasy than sf – is a well written and witty novel, a prolonged and vivid joke made by a worldly gentleman, a Count, at the expense of all the superstitions of his age. The complex plot could be seen as a series of Parallel Worlds nestling within one another like Chinese boxes. It was filmed in Poland under the Polish title in 1965, directed by Wojciech Has, and distributed quite widely in the West as The Saragossa Manuscript. (2) Historia przyszłości ["History of the Future"] (composed 1829-1842; part published in French 1835; 1964) by Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), unfortunately unfinished and partly lost, was done as a large fresco of the world seen more from the cultural than from the technological point of view. (3) The Moon trilogy by Jerzy Ƶuławski consists of Na Srebrnym Globie ["On Silver Globe"] (1901), Zwyciezca ["The Victor"] (1908) and Stara Ziemia ["Old Earth"] (1910). This is an essay on the birth of civilization and myth, and on myth's clash with reality, beautifully written in the fin de siècle mood. (4) The road to modern Polish sf was paved by the avant-garde painter and writer Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz in his apocalyptic novels Pozegnanie jesieni ["Farewell to Autumn"] (1927) and Nienasycenie (1930; trans Louis Iribarne as Insatiability 1977). Having seen the 1917 Revolution from inside Russia, Witkiewicz was obsessed by the vision of "hordes of Asians" invading Europe and destroying whatever cultural values might exist in the future. He lived up to his philosophy and committed suicide when the Red Army invaded Poland in September 1939.
Polish postwar sf has had its literary achievements, too – not only the celebrated works of Stanisław Lem but also the classical sf of Konrad Fiałkowski, Adam Wiśniewski-Snerg's cult novel Robot (1973) and, in the 1980s, such novels by the wonderfully inventive Wiktor Ƶwikiewicz as Delirium w Tharsys ["Delirium in Tharsys"] (1986). Poland also has its Genre-SF writers, such as Bohdan Petecki with Strefy zerowe ["Zero Zones"] (1972).
The current running through Polish sf has really been political. Because sf provides a perfect means of diverting attention away from drab reality into a beautiful future, it was encouraged in the decade after World War Two by Poland's communist rulers. The best examples of such political sf are Krzysztof Boruń's and Andrzej Trepka's Zagubiona przyszłość ["The Lost Future"] (1953), #1 in a Space-Opera trilogy, and Stanisław Lem's early novels Astronauci ["The Astronauts"] (1951) and Obłok Magellana ["The Magellan Nebula"] (1955). Rather later, from the mid-1970s onwards, sf writers began to take the opposite tack. Escaping strict censorship by using sf imagery, and with the help of a linguistic ingenuity reminiscent of George Orwell, they began to describe the real world – even if at the price of incurring serious publication problems. (Orwell was probably a direct influence on such work, as several of his books had been published in Poland by underground publishers.) The best examples of such works are Edmund Wnuk-Lipińński's Wir pamieci ["Whirlpool of Memory"] (1979), Maciej Parowski's Twarza ku Ziemi ["Face to Earth"] (1981), Janusz A Zajdel's Limes inferior (1982) and Marek Oramus's Senni zwyciezcy ["Sleepy Victors"] (1982).
Sf writers of the younger generation are now turning to fantasy, which is more marketable, and, because censorship no longer exists, political sf is in retreat and looks a bit old-fashioned: the gaping hole this leaves in the Polish sf tapestry is currently being filled by the importation (on a massive scale) of US-UK sf by such new private publishers as Amber and Arax.
Film has never been a strong point of Polish sf. Aside from The Saragossa Manuscript, Two further sf films deserve attention. Fitting well into the political-criticism-through-sf-metaphor stream, Wojna Światów – Następne Stulecie (1982; vt The War of the Worlds – Next Century) directed by Piotr Szulkin tells of government manipulation of the media to disguise the facts of a Martian invasion. Something of an exception to this sort of political cinema is Seksmisja (1984; vt Sex Mission), a comedy directed by Juliusz Machulski.
There are currently two monthly sf magazines in Poland. The older, Fantastyka, has run since 1982 and has a circulation of over 120,000. Its strong points are its fine critical essays and a good choice of Polish authors. Fenix is the first privately owned and edited magazine; it emerged from Fanzine origins in 1990 and now has a (growing) circulation of about 70,000. Its selection of US-UK sf is considered the better, and it also publishes young Polish writers. Polish Fandom is massive and well organized, its main activities centring on fanzines and Conventions. [KS]
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