Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  


Entry updated 26 February 2024. Tagged: International.

Most Western sf readers associate Poland principally with the work of Stanisław Lem, whose books, widely published, much appreciated, and thoroughly scrutinized in the West, had a profound impact on the field. Lem still remains an iconic figure both in and out of Poland, while his enormous worldwide popularity more or less directly inspired the interest in the earlier Fantastika (John Clute's umbrella term seems particularly useful in this context, in part because of its Central- and Eastern European origin) of such Polish writers as Stefan Grabiński. Nevertheless, it is true to say that in contrast to England or France, Polish literature has no long and opulent tradition of the fantastic. In search of its roots it is essential to refer to the Age of Reason, with its emphasis on rationalism, stimulating inventions, theories, and the general climate conducive to the emergence of Proto SF, beginning with Mikołaja Doświadczyńskiego przypadki ["The Adventures of Nicholas Experiencer"] (1776) and Historia na dwie księgi podzielona ["A History Split into Two Books"] (1779), both by Ignacy Krasicki (1735-1801), and Wojciech Zdarzyński, życie i przypadki swoje opisujący ["Adalbert Happener Describing His Life and Adventures"] (1785) by Michał Dymitr Krajewski (1746-1817). Archbishop Krasicki was a key figure of the Polish Enlightenment, closely connected to the King Stanisław II August as his political, educational and cultural advisor and friend and at the same time a significant poet, writer, essayist and encyclopedist, involved in the reforms of the backward and neglected nation. He published his first novel (historically the first Polish literary text in this form) as a didactic illustration of the transition from a superstitious and obscurantist mentality to the fully rational and well-educated thinking of his protagonist, Nicholas Experiencer, a process which evolves through his experiences and education during a Fantastic Voyage. The plot was formally inspired by Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726; rev 1735), its satirical overtones rooted in Voltaire's Candide, while its message was aimed at attacking the stale educational methods and ignorance of the time. Its most directly fantastic element was the Utopian island of Nipu (it has not been agreed whether the name was derived by Krascki from the Latin "Nippon", other sources, or coined accidentally) conceived perhaps as a result of the vogue for didactic utopianism. More fantasy can be found in Krasicki's Historia, which features the discovery of a resinous juice that facilitates Time Travel, although it would be far-fetched to define either novel in terms of its scientific background or aspirations. What was crucial, however, was the way they fertilized such minds as that of Michał Dymitr Krajewski – like Krasicki a clergyman involved in the reform of education, and like him a writer of vivid imagination – and prepared the ground for speculations of a more disciplined nature. (Krajewski refers to Mikołaj Doświadczyński a few times in his Wojciech Zdarzyński, and also structures the adventures of his protagonist in a similar manner, and even employs the same derivational procedure to make his surname equally meaningful; Krasicki's Doświadczyński was clearly derived from Polish "doświadczać/doświadczenie" i.e. "to experience/an experience", while Krajewski's Zadrzyńki from "zdarzać (się)/zdarzenie" i.e. "to happen/a happening".) Wojciech Zdarzyński should be therefore perceived as the exemplary proto sf novel in Polish since it incorporates a trip to the Moon by means of a Balloon, while the venture itself is delineated in detail and logically argued. Though the discovery of the utopian state of the Idyllians (Polish Sielanie, derived from "sielanka" – "idyll") on the Moon serves here merely as the veneer for discussing social, political, and educational issues, Krajewski's interest in the subject, and determination to engender the plausible, were rooted in his scientific knowledge and imagination.

Early nineteenth-century Polish writers did not develop much interest in the scientific as the engine of credible extrapolation, even though the topos of the Balloon trip to the Moon (see above) was widely and willingly employed; but this trip normally functioned, however, as the start of a Fantastic Voyage to far-flung and exotic settings in which the vices of society could be comfortably castigated, in a manner characteristic of proto sf. The first more science-oriented treatment of the voyage to the Moon can be identified much later as Podróż po Księżycu odbyta przez Serafina Bolińskiego ["The Trip over the Moon Taken by Serafin Bolinski"] (1858) by Teodor Tripplin (1812-1881). Although his protagonist's trip occurs through a hypnotic sleep and the lunar societies still serve as the satirical mirror of those on Earth, the historical value of Tripplin's novel lies in an approach to science, practically absent in the case of his post-Krajewski predecessors. The novel's introduction details the state of research on the Moon and seems to be conceived to scientifically legitimize the possibility of life and civilization there, while the protagonist's adventures are occasionally interwoven with extrapolative passages in which new technological Inventions are presented, including talking clocks, oblong balloons and new telecommunication devices (see Communications).

The marginal interest in speculation and extrapolation powered by the growing significance and possibilities of science stemmed from the fact that throughout the nineteenth century Poland – which as The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned by Austria, Prussia and Russia between 1772 and 1795 – did not exist as an independent European state. Its literary output therefore evolved as peculiarly utilitarian and patriotic, hardly ever concentrating on anything other than an immediate sociopolitical moment or historical nostalgia aimed at cheering people's hearts and sustaining the national morale. This spirit was famously epitomized in Pan Tadeusz, czyli ostatni zajazd na Litwie. Historia szlachecka z roku 1811 i 1812 we dwunastu księgach wierszem ["Sir Thaddeus, or the Last Lithuanian Foray: A Nobleman's Tale from the Years of 1811 and 1812 in Twelve Books of Verse"] by Adam Mickiewicz, published in Paris in 1834, which became the national epic of Poland; and an adventurous historical Trylogia ["The Trilogy"] (1884-1888) by Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916), which offered panoramic frescoes of seventeenth-century patriotic heroes bravely protecting the Commonwealth's borders and its gentry-dominated democracy against Tartar, Swedish, and Turkish ravages, becoming a nationwide phenomenon in the 1880s and for decades dominating Polish imagination. The scientific as supporting the fantastic was a luxury of Western culture, for geopolitical reasons unattainable for an impoverished, enslaved and therefore parochial society until the second half of the nineteenth century, when positivist philosophy gained popularity and many major literary talents began to advocate education, science and progress in their works.

There were, however, ingenious exceptions, the best-known being Jan Potocki's Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse (1804; 1810; 1847; trans Ian Maclean as The Manuscript Found in Saragossa 1995), the first fragments of which were printed in 1804-1805 in Petersburg [see his entry for complex publishing history and a detailed analysis] as proof copies. Potocki – a traveller of aristocratic origins, erudite and a pioneer of Slavic archaeology – wrote his novel with no clear scientific references or ambitions, but in a spirit of rationalism aimed at mocking superstitions and faith in the supernatural. Slowly The Manuscript gained recognition as a highly original work of fiction, becoming a classic and fascinating other artists. Published soon after Potocki's death, and vastly contrasting with his complex vision, Moszkopolis 3333 czyli sen niesłychany ["Moshkopolis 3333 or an Amazing Dream"] (1817; vt Przegląd Poznański 1858) by Julian Urysn Niemcewicz (1758-1841), an anti-Semitic political pamphlet depicting the world of the future as overrun with and controlled by the Jews, may be regarded as the first Polish Future History.

In the late 1820s. Mickiewicz [see above] commenced work on a visionary project of sociopolitical and futuristic scope, apparently inspired by the works of Russian Utopian writers, such as Jan Tadeusz Bułharyn and Włodzimierz Odojewski. For the Polish romantics such as Juliusz Słowacki (1809-1849) the use of the fantastic was natural; they purloined from folklore and drew inspiration from William Shakespeare's fantasy, after Mickiewicz declaring the superiority of "feeling and faith" over "a wise man's looking glass and eye". His Historia przyszłości ["History of the Future"] (surviving fragments 1964) was originally conceived as a utopian novel beginning in the year 2000, covering two centuries of life on Earth and going as far as visits to other planets; its underlying ambition was to extrapolate the consequences of materialistic and rationalistic egoism in the far distant future polarized by high technological advancement and the collapse of spirit and faith. This version of Historia przyszłości, however, was lost; the initial fragments as well as the writer's further plans and predictions were summarized in detail by the poet's friend Antoni Edward Odyniec, who gave an account of Mickiewicz's presentation of the original French text in a letter to a friend. Odyniec mentioned an impressive range of Inventions extrapolated by Mickiewicz, including a global railway system, fleets of balloons and telecommunication devices allowing its users to listen at home to live concerts performed in remote parts of town. Over time the project evolved; it is believed that there were as many as seven versions of Historia, whose focus ultimately became sociopolitical with no references to science and technology. The most original in terms of form and one of the very first attempts at what was later that century designated as Scientific Romance was perhaps the third, Wyjątek z listu do jednego z redaktorów ["An Excerpt from a Letter to One of the Editors"] (28 June 1833 Pielgrzym Polski) anonymous, which took the form of a fictional reportage from a future London newspaper – The Times, 2 June 1899 – allegedly acquired by a contemporary to Mickiewicz, Madame Lenormand, and shown to the narrator of the text, presenting Mickiewicz's insightful guess at the social and cultural situation in the late nineteenth century, particularly emphasizing a completely new political order in Europe and a few technological advancements for which the poet created several neologisms.

The second half of the nineteenth century brought to Poland Positivist philosophy, whose faith in a better future and the possibility of radical changes in the world as powered by inventions of brilliant human minds was typically expressed through highly didactic fantasies with numerous scientific and technological references. Translations of Jules Verne were prominent and popular and, rather naturally, provided a framework for the casting of literary fantasies of similar kind, the epitome of which were novels by Władysław Umiński, who debuted in 1891 and whose adventures inspired generations of young readers. Even though most of his best works were produced between 1891 and 1911, in the modernist period of Polish culture called Młoda Polska ["Young Poland"], they remained Positivist in their spirit and attitude towards science and progress and, intermittently, patriotic in character: though Poland was still absent from the political map of Europe, some of Umiński's characters undertaking their Voyages extraordinaires were Polish engineers and travellers proud of their national heritage and proudly hoisting the Polish flag on newly explored or discovered lands.

The greatest Polish sf writer of this period was almost certainly Jerzy Żuławski, whose lunar trilogy consists of Na srebrnym globie. Rękopis z Księżyca ["On the Silver Globe. A Manuscript from the Moon"] (1903), Zwycięzca ["The Victor"] (1908) and Stara Ziemia ["Old Earth"] (1910) [see his entry for detailed discussion]. But the greatest realist of this period may have been Bolesław Prus (born Aleksander Głowacki 1847-1912), who, due to his lively interest in all kinds of social and scientific speculations, had a natural predisposition and more than sufficient background to become a major sf writer. His most famous novel Lalka (1887-1889 Kurier Codzienny; 1890; trans David Welsh as The Doll, revised by Dariusz Tołczyk and Anna Zaranko 1996) presents a panoramic view of the stagnant Polish society in Warsaw of the late 1870s, deploying the story of Stanisław Wokulski, a middle-aged self-made rich merchant, who falls dramatically and romantically in love with a beautiful but vain and spoilt young aristocrat Izabela Łęcka. While on business in Paris, Wokulski meets a professor Geist, apparently the earliest incarnation of Mad Scientist in Polish literature, a French chemist and inventor discredited and mocked at by the academia and obsessed with the idea of producing in laboratory conditions a metal lighter than the air that would allow him to construct wingless airships. Geist proves to be more clear-headed and sceptical of the transformative power of science and progress over human society than one could expect. He perfectly realizes that throughout the ages all Inventions, from bronze to the steam engine, have been used by both the wise and perspicacious as well as the stupid and wicked, who are always in majority. His prodigious yet essentially Utopian ambition is to apply his invention not solely to the development of airships but also as an ultimate tool or even Weapon for the wise and virtuous who, in time, could bring on a better social order. Interestingly, Prus planned to write Sława ["Fame"], a sequel to Lalka, that would concentrate exclusively on the fate of professor Gneist (Geist renamed) and his invention (initially hydrometal, a metal lighter than water, which inspired the idea that one lighter than the air must also be achievable). Even though Prus never completed Sława, in its preserved fragments, discovered in 1936, can be discerned an epic aspiration to examine not merely the implications of a revolutionary invention both on an individual and society but, more significantly, to present a comprehensive examination of all aspects of life and work of an unflinching scientific mind. Arguably, Prus abandoned the project in the early 1890s after becoming effectively disillusioned with the utopian inclinations implicitly expressed in Lalka, coming to the conclusion that no single invention can change humanity; that no advancement in science or technology can eradicate inequality and the unfair distribution of goods because any paradigm shift must ensue or evolve in human nature, not from the world around. Nevertheless, late in his career he published Zemsta ["Revenge"] (1908), a novella with an explicit didactic and utopian address, another intriguing example of the Future History topos in Polish literature, and as a conspicuous reaction to intensifying Germanization by expropriation in the Poznań region (Western Poland). Its protagonist, Władysław Miler, is willing to trade his soul to the devil in order to save his fellow countrymen. He meets a diabolical Hindu magus, who offers him a Faustian bargain and a captivating vision of the future in the year 2008, when Poland celebrates the centenary anniversary of its rebirth not in Europe, but, surprisingly, in Africa. It turns out that the Poles have been offered an African desert by Britain, and by means of engineering and hard work turned it into a fertile land, bred new species of plants and animals, and became a highly successful nation.

The pact-with-the-devil device was also utilized by Sygurd Wiśniowski (1841-1892) in his novella Niewidzialny ["The Invisible"] (1881), which explores the idea and consequences of Invisibility sixteen years before the famous novel by H G Wells. Its protagonist, count Zbigniew Opaliński, is a young aristocrat and science enthusiast who financially supports invisibility experiments of a German professor Discoloris and even offers himself as the subject. The scientific plausibility in the story is achieved through a detailed theory of invisibility based on research into, and authentic knowledge of, human body pigmentation. On the day of his triumph Discoloris unexpectedly dies of a stroke, leaving the invisible Opaliński unable to reverse the process, an outcome that directly prefigures the climax of Jules Verne's The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz (1910; text restored 1985). Niewidzialny presents a reasonable distrust towards too far-fetched interferences in the laws of nature and the omnipotence of science, so characteristic of the naive "miraculous invention" type of narratives, and heralds texts of more critical and penetrating significance.

After 1918 – the year when Poland regained independence – the process of building a new state after 123 years of political non-existence released an unparalleled amount of creative energy in practically every sphere of life from arts to engineering. Fantastic elements began to permeate literature soon becoming its legitimate and regular component. This was partly inspired by the vogue for the paranormal: hypnosis, mediumism, Telepathy, Reincarnation and other pseudoscientific claims found numerous advocates and stimulated their literary output. Fantastika became a fairly common and widely applied artistic tool, relevant to the fact that writers did not tend to draw a distinction between scientifically verifiable elements of fantasy and unproven ones. In fact, some of them, like Stefan Grabiński, believed that the supernatural and paranormal could be ultimately corroborated by science and willingly hybridized such elements with technology. Karol Irzykowski (1873-1944), the author of the first Polish metafictional novel Pałuba. Sny Marii Dunin ["The Effigy. The Dreams of Maria Dunin"] (1903), whose semi-essayistic narrative technique preceded the modernist prose of Marcel Proust (1871-1922) and André Gide (1869-1951), drawing inspiration from the psychology of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Alfred Adler (1870-1937). A distinguished modernist writer, film critic, and literary theoretician, Irzykowski believed that modern human imagination is an extension of practical life and is anticipatory by nature because modern human beings feel a deep yearning to make conjectures about the future; to anticipate and wonder in a fictional form before it comes true. Fantastika is therefore "a projecting thought" predicting the shape of things to come. Irzykowski freely utilized fantastic components in the short fiction assembled in Nowele ["Novellas"] (coll 1906) and Spod ciemnej gwiazdy ["From Under a Dark Star"; an equivocal title since in Polish idiom "dark star" means "low life"] (coll 1922), which included a pastiche of Grabiński's famous story "W przedziale" ["In the Compartment"] entitled "Wagon astralny" ["The Astral Carriage"].

In this context it is important to emphasize that prominent writers normally associated with realism (see Mainstream Writers of SF) employed the fantastic in their stories and novels or even created works of sf. Władysław Stanisław Reymont (1867-1925), the 1924 Nobel Prize laureate and author of the four-volume country life realistic/naturalistic epic Chłopi [1904-1909; trans Michael H Dziewicki as The Peasants 1924-1925], was fascinated by mediumism, spiritualism and Theosophy (he took part in séances as a spirit medium), and produced Wampir ["The Vampire"] (first appeared 1904 Kurier Warszawski as "We mglach" ["In Mists"]; 1904) an occult/horror tale Gothic SF. Set in decadent and gloomy London of the late nineteenth century and narrating the immersion of a successful Polish writer Zenon in the world of mystics, spiritualists, Hindu gurus, terrifying rituals and a femme fatale, it is in fact a depiction of people driven by the longing for deeper understanding of the mysteries of existence, who mistakenly, and characteristically of their time, take the occult for the scientific. The last novel by Reymont Bunt. Baśń ["The Revolt. A Fairy-Tale"] (Tygodnik Ilustrowany 1922; 1924) is an anti-Utopia in the form of a Beast Fable [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] depicting the revolt of animals against their human owners and targeting the violence and terror of the Bolshevik revolution, a use of the mode later similarly employed by George Orwell in Animal Farm (1945 chap). Notable for bold juxtaposition of the paranormal and the scientific are some prose works by Antoni Lange, a poet, polyglot, and erudite, who translated into Polish an impressive number of literary texts by H G Wells, Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949), Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), Gustav Meyrink, Edgar Allan Poe and some others, and whose intellectual and artistic ambition, similarly to Grabiński's, was to rationalize spiritualism, reincarnation, eternal recurrence and other phenomena of this kind within the context of science. The epitome of this approach was his first collection of short fiction W czwartym wymiarze ["In the Fourth Dimension"] (coll 1912) in which numerous stories played with scientific theories and inventions of the time, including Einstein's relativity, while his novel Miranda (1924) was a vision of Utopia composed as a specific sequel to Civitas Solis ["The City of the Sun"] (1623) by Tommaso Campanella. Antoni Słonimski (1895-1976), a distinguished poet, playwright and satirist, co-founder of the Skamander group of experimental poets (the best-known and most highly regarded poetry group in the interwar Poland) and a monthly of the same name, authored two sf novels: Torpeda czasu ["The Time Torpedo"] (1924) and Dwa końce świata ["Two Ends of the World"] (1937). While the first, apparently inspired by H G Wells, is a rather conventional Time Travel narrative of a futile attempt to change the world by adjusting its past with the help of modern technologies (in this case preventing the bloodbath of the Napoleonic wars), the other presents a partially satirical polemic against the National Socialist and Bolshevik fanatical imperative to replace the existing cultural heritage with an instant culture produced like a rabbit out of a hat, as well as against the concept of the Noble Savage. Its protagonist, a German madman named Hans Retlich, whose surname is an anagram of Hitler, believes that destroying his 1950 world by means of mysterious blue Rays will allow him to build up a new civilization based on his own rules and populated by a new kind of people unspoilt and uncorrupted by the twentieth-century culture. He sets up a colony of primitive Lapps who, under his instructions, are to become new masters of the world erected on the ruins of the old.

Such catastrophic presentiments of Disaster were not uncommon in Polish Fantastika of the time. The atrocities of World War One and the Bolshevik revolution – as well as the ominous tone of some publications including Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1918-1922; trans Charles Francis Atkinson as The Decline of the West 1926) by Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) and its Polish counterpart, Upadek cywilizacji zachodniej: szkic z pogranicza kultury, filozofii i socjologii ["The Decline of Western Civilization: A Sketch from the Interface of Culture, Philosophy and Sociology"] (1921) by Florian Znaniecki (1882-1958) – exerted influence, for instance, on the work of Bruno Jasieński, a co-founder of Polish Futurism, whose explicit Palę Paryż (1929; trans Soren A Gauger and Marcin Piekoszewski as I Burn Paris 2012 [see his entry for publication history]), led to his expulsion from France but became a bestseller in the Soviet Union. Other works of a similar cultural provenance, more scientifically oriented and sinister in tone though of a lesser literary quality, include Ostatnia gwiazda ["The Last Star"] (1913) and Koniec świata ["The End of the World"] (1921) by Tadeusz Konczyński (1876-1944), Kiedy księżyc umiera ["When the Moon Dies"] (1925) by Jerzy Braun (1901-1975), and Czandu. Powieść z XXII wieku ["Czandu. A Novel from the 22nd Century"] (1925) by Stefan Barszczewski (1862-1937), the last marred by a Yellow Peril plot symptomatic of that era. Highly original and artistically accomplished decadent and visionary frescoes of disintegrating civilization, the clash of cultures, approaching future totalitarianisms and apocalypse (frequently poetically identified with revolution) were central to Stanisław Witkiewicz's Pożegnanie jesieni ["Farewell to Autumn"] (1927) and Nienasycenie (1930; trans Louis Iribarne as Insatiability 1977) as well as his avant-garde plays, of which a few were translated into English and succeeded on stage, including his most famous work for theatre, the Dystopian revolutionary fantasy Szewcy, subtitled Naukowa sztuka ze "śpiewakami" w trzech aktach ["A Scientific Play with 'Singers' in Three Acts"] (completed 1934; 1948; trans by Daniel C Gerould and C S Durer in The Madman and the Nun omni 1968). Other outstanding avant-garde authors of the period, namely Bruno Schulz and Witold Gombrowicz, employed neither science nor the scientific, yet often utilized fantastic elements; both Schulz's intoxicating beauty of phrase and oneiric microcosm and Gombrowicz's original narrative technique were to become a substantial influence on future generations of Polish genre and non-genre authors. The most distinctive and inventive among the sf writers of the time was perhaps Mieczysław Smolarski whose two novels, Miasto Światłości ["The City of Light"] (1924) and Podróż poślubna pana Hamiltona ["Mr Hamilton's Honeymoon Trip"] (1928), presented a remarkable range of technological speculations and devices within the context of his consistent emphasis upon the horrors of uncontrolled progress, with general indolence and social stagnation as evoked by automation and other innovations, and analysing negatively utopian faith in the possibility of an ideal social order based on scientific principles. When Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) became famous and was translated into Polish, Smolarski observed a number of striking similarities between that seminal Dystopia and his novels. He wrote to Huxley asking for an explanation but never heard from him; his efforts to clarify the matter through the agency of the Polish PEN Club turned out to be futile.

Polish post-war sf was created in a completely new geopolitical context; as a dramatic consequence of the Yalta Conference in February 1945, at which Poland was not represented, the Soviet Union was allowed to retain territories annexed (by agreement with Nazi Germany) in 1939, including Lwów, one of the intellectual centres of the Second Polish Republic; the rest of Poland then became a Soviet vassal state with a puppet government instructed from Moscow and units of the Red Army within its new borders. As a result Polish sf was forced to defer to communist doctrine, especially its social and technological utopianism and the sense of superiority towards capitalism. As early as 1946 Stanisław Lem, still a medical student, published a few stories and Człowiek z Marsa ["A Man from Mars"], an sf novel written during the war, soon condemned by the author to oblivion, though reprinted in 1994. In 1947 Schron na Placu Zamkowym ["The Shelter on Castle Square"] by Andrzej Ziemięcki (1881-1963) appeared, a Future History set in Warsaw of 1980 as visited by a Warsaw Uprising survivor who had lapsed into lethargy during warfare and woke up after thirty-five years (see Sleeper Awakes) to face fundamental changes in the world's geopolitical balance, economy and technologies. In 1948 two sf novels were completed, though not published for years: Zaziemskie światy ["Extraterrestrial Worlds"] (1956) by Władysław Umiński, the above-mentioned veteran of Polish young-adult post-Verne adventure prose; and Ludzie ery atomowej ["People of the Atomic Era"] (1957) by Roman Gajda (1908-?); these delays curtailed their full potential. The reason for this reluctance in publication was almost certainly the issuing of a decree, during the 1949 Polish Writers' Union convention, stating that fantastic tales of the future did not belong to the idiom of socialist realism, even though many of them glorified communist principles and ideals, including the utopian faith in a better future and universal happiness as promised by the ideology.

As a result, between 1949 and 1955, sf in Poland was generally disdained, regardless of Lem's "Imperializm na Marsie" ["Imperialism on Mars"] (July 1953 Życie Literackie), an essayistic attempt to define it within the broader context of realistic literature ancillary to the ideological requirements of the period. The effects on what sf was published under these circumstances can be observed both in early Lem novels, such as Astronauci ["The Astronauts"] (1951) and Oblok Magellana ["The Magellan Nebula"] (1955), neither yet translated; and in Zagubiona przyszłość ["The Lost Future"] (1953) by Krzysztof Boruń and Andrzej Trepka, the first volume of their trilogy of the future. After the Polish ideological thaw of 1956 more sf publications began to appear, while works by some authors previously blacklisted were reissued, including Witold Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke (1938). Julian Stawiński (1908-1973), a translator from English and Russian and literary editor, provided the first wide presentation of Anglophone sf in his anthology Rakietowe szlaki ["Rocket Trails"] (anth 1958), which included stories by Poul Anderson Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Robert A Heinlein, C M Kornbluth and other prominent authors of the time. In the same year this was followed by W stronę czwartego wymiaru ["Towards the Fourth Dimension"] (anth 1958), another collection of stories by Western writers. By the end of the decade more works of foreign sf were published such as Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, as well as reissues of H G Wells's The War of the Worlds and The First Men in the Moon. In Dzienniki gwiazdowe (coll 1957; trans Michael Kandel with added material as The Star Diaries 1976), Stanisław Lem continued the partly satirical partly grotesque adventures of Ijon Tichy, the cosmic traveller and narrator of numerous stories and novels conceived in the tradition of Lemuel Gulliver (see Gulliver; Jonathan Swift) and Baron Münchausen (see Rudolph Erich Raspe); while Krzysztof Boruń and Andrzej Trepka completed the conclusive volumes of their trilogy: Proxima (1956) and Kosmiczni bracia ["The Cosmic Brothers"] (1959). 1958 brought two sf debuts: Katastrofa na Słońcu Antarktydy ["The Disaster on The Sun of Antarctica"] (1958) by Adam Hollanek, which was the first Polish sf novel to employ the investigation trope characteristic of detective fiction within the framework of a futuristic world, and Aspazja ["Aspasia"] by Andrzej Ostoja (1931-2008). Even though Polish sf of the time remained rather conventional, dominated by Hard SF topoi deemed doctrinally admissible, interest in sf as a literature of ideas and speculative medium was steadily growing.

The 1960s were primarily dominated by Stanisław Lem, whose major works were written and published between 1959 and 1971 (see his entry for detailed analysis), fully exhibiting his excellent narrative skill, scintillating wit, exceptionally wide intellectual scope, and conceptual originality, especially the radical subversion of the First Contact topos – by then well-established in Western sf and exploited most frequently with naively excessive optimism – through a highlighting of its unlikelihood and the torments such an encounter might impose in such novels as Solaris (1961; trans Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox from French trans 1970; new trans Bill Johnston from the Polish 2011 ebook), Niezwyciężony (1964; trans by Wendayne Ackerman from German trans as The Invincible 1973; new trans Bill Johnston from the Polish 2014 ebook) and Głos pana (1968; trans Michael Kandel as His Master's Voice 1983). Lem's comprehension of the universe stemmed from the assumption that homo sapiens is not exceptional by any means but rather represents one of many possible manifestations of life, one of numerous creations of the universe.

No Polish sf author of the time managed to compete with Lem's hegemony at all levels. Fortunately, his growing popularity and esteem did not suppress literary attempts but rather inspired others. More and more writers employed sf topoi, even if only to treat them as a rather fragile facade for moralizing or allegorically speculating about the perils inherent in the increasing clash between the humanistic and the technological, as in numerous stories by Czesław Chruszczewski (1922-1982) collected in volumes Bardzo dziwny świat ["A Very Strange World"] (coll 1960), Magiczne schody ["The Magic Stairs"] (coll 1965), Pacyfik-Niebo ["Pacific-Sky"] (coll 1967), Bitwa pod Pharsalos ["The Battle of Pharsalus"] (coll 1969), Różne odcienie bieli ["Various Shades of White"] (coll 1970). Significant book debuts of the decade included Krater czarnego snu ["The Crater of a Black Dream"] (1960) by Witold Zegalski (1928-1974), followed by a collection Wyspa Petersena ["Petersen's Island"] (coll 1968); Wróble galaktyki ["Sparrows of the Galaxy"] (coll 1963) by Konrad Fiałkowski, followed by two collections: Poprzez piąty wymiar ["Throughout the Fifth Dimension"] (coll 1967) and Włókno Claperiusa ["The Claperius Fibre"] (coll 1969); Babcia-robot przy kominku ["Grandma-Robot by the Fireplace"] (coll 1963) by Maciej Kuczyński, followed by a young-adult novel Atlantyda, wyspa ognia ["Atlantis, the Island of Fire"] (1967); and a utopia Katastrofa ["The Catastrophe"] (1968), and Jad mantezji ["The Venom of Mantesia"] (coll 1965) by Janusz A Zajdel, followed by a young-adult novel, Lalande 21185 (1966).

Both novice and renowned authors published their short fiction in popular science magazines such as Astronautyka, Horyzonty Techniki, and especially in Młody Technik, whose editor-in-chief since 1956, Zbigniew Przyrowski (1921-2008), efficiently supported sf by publishing it regularly and editing four anthologies: Posłanie z piątej planety ["A Message from the Fifth Planet"] (anth 1964), Nowa cywilizacja ["New Civilization"] (anth 1973), Wołanie na Mlecznej Drodze ["The Crying on the Milky Way"] (anth 1976) and Drugi próg życia ["The Second Threshold of Life"] (anth 1980).

Significantly, by the end of the decade the growing popularity of both the speculative efficiency of sf and artistic possibilities offered by sf settings, themes and components induced a few Mainstream Writers of SF to address questions characteristic of sf, such as the psychological aspects of a long space journey or rapid technological progress, which resulted in such books as Z drugiej strony nieba ["On the Other Side of the Sky"] (1969) and Przygoda w czasie ["An Adventure in Time"] (1970) by Jerzy Jesionowski (1919-1992), and Labirynt. LLW, czyli co się może zdarzyć jutro ["A Maze. LLW; or What May Happen Tomorrow"] by Hanna Malewska (1911-1983). Filmmakers also turned to the genre and created some memorable productions: Janusz Majewski directed a series of short black and white films such as Pierwszy pawilon ["The First Annex"] (1965), a story in which a Mad Scientist miniaturizes human beings (see Great and Small), and Docent H ["Assistant Professor H"] (1968). In 1965 Marek Nowicki and Jerzy Stawicki adopted Profesor Zazul ["Professor Zazul"], an Ijon Tichy story by Lem, and in 1968 Andrzej Wajda directed Przekładaniec ("The Jumble"), written by Lem himself on the basis of his story Czy pan istnieje, Mr Jones? ["Do You Exist, Mr. Jones?"], about a race driver in the year 2000 whose numerous accidents force successive transplants causing unforeseen transformations of his personality and nature and leading to legal problems.

By the early 1970s a certain exhaustion in Lem's production could be observed; his fiction output slowed drastically, with his main publications being Próżnia doskonała (coll 1971; trans Michael Kandel as A Perfect Vacuum 1978), containing reviews of non-existent books, and Wielkość urojona (coll 1973; trans Marc E Heine as Imaginary Magnitude 1984), composed of introductions to non-existent books as well as the inaugural lecture of an imagined super-Computer. But then Robot (1973), a debut novel by Adam Wiśniewski-Snerg, appeared; its technical proficiency and ontological ambitions could be compared to those of Lem at his best, and its author, like Lem, considered himself less an sf writer than a prose-writing philosopher of metaphysical inclinations. With its powerful vision of a society of slaves controlled and abused by a mysterious Mechanism and a stimulating theory of Superbeings, Robot was almost immediately recognized as an instant classic which catapulted Snerg to the rank of Poland's best sf authors; it was followed by equally impressive, though less science-fictional and more Kafkaesque, Według łotra ["According to the Impenitent Thief"] (1978), in which a metropolis is turned overnight into a gigantic film set and its inhabitants into actresses, actors and extras in some incomprehensible production whose very nature the protagonist strives to fathom.

In the 1970s foreign Fantastika began to appear more regularly, which undoubtedly contributed to wider awareness of the potentials of both Genre SF and its peripheries. Some books by the brothers Strugatski appeared in Polish, including Obitaemyi ostrov (1971; trans Tadeusz Gosk as "Przenicowany świat" ["A Twisted World"] 1971), set on a planet under a totalitarian dictatorship (some fragments of the original material had been censored before publication and appeared only in the 1987 edition); Trudno byt' bogom (1964; trans Irena Piotrowska as Trudno być bogiem ["Hard to be a God"] 1974); and Piknik na oboczinie (1972; trans Irena Lewandowska as Piknik na skraju drogi ["Roadside Picnic"] 1974). This novel reappeared in 1977 in a series called "Stanisław Lem poleca" ["Stanisław Lem Recommends"] initiated in 1975 by Lem in collaboration with Wydawnictwo Literackie, his publisher of the time and one of the major publishing houses in post-war Poland; other titles included Ubik (1969) by Philip K Dick, and two collections by Stefan Grabiński and Montague Rhodes James respectively. However, by the end of the decade Lem withdrew his patronage of the series as a result of his disappointment with the publisher's reluctance to bring out A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) by Ursula K Le Guin since it was translated by Stanisław Barańczak, a prominent poet, talented translator and activist in the anticommunist opposition, and thus a politically suspicious figure. In the mid-1970s Wydawnictwo Literackie launched another series of foreign fiction called "Fantastyka i groza" ["Fantasy and Horror"], which lasted till the late 1980s and covered an ample selection of Gothic, Horror and sf ranging from tales by such authors as Sheridan Le Fanu and Théophile Gautier (see also Time Travel) to novels by Mervyn Peake, Ursula K Le Guin et al. At the same time Wydawnictwo Poznańskie (a publisher from Poznań in Western Poland) launched a series of sf books which ranged from anthologies of stories by authors from Eastern Bloc countries and novels and collections by Polish and Western writers to a volume of theoretical essays on history and specificity of sf. Between 1970 and 1976 Lech [JĘCZMYK], a translator and acquiring editor for one of Warsaw's publishing houses, edited and partly translated six volumes of Kroki w nieznane ["Steps into the Unknown"], a series of anthologies containing both Western and Central/Eastern European sf stories and novellas, being the widest presentation of both thematic and stylistic variety of the genre available in Poland at that time. When the series was cancelled for political reasons (Jęczmyk refused to include Soviet stories in the seventh volume since in his view those available were of rather poor quality), he then conceived a series of sf mass-market paperbacks with no specific title but the characteristic logo of an astronaut, for which he selected and occasionally translated an impressive variety of both Eastern and Western authors. By the end of the decade he had edited three more anthologies: the second volume of Rakietowe szlaki ["Rocket Trails"] (anth 1978) as well as Wynalazca wieczności ["The Inventor of Infinity"] (anth 1978) and Gość z głębin ["A Visitor from the Depths"] (anth 1979) – the latter two uncredited collections of Soviet and Polish sf respectively – and, more significantly, published novels by Polish authors, commencing with Wir pamięci ["A Whirl of Memory"] (1979) by Edmund Wnuk-Lipiński, whose work only a few years later was labelled as Polish Sociological SF, arguably the most distinct mode of sf in the entire Eastern Bloc [see entry for analysis]. In 1976 Relax was introduced onto the market, the first Polish comic magazine, in which sf played a considerable role. By 1979 its circulation reached 200 000 copies monthly, although due to the growing economic crisis only three issues were published in that year and three more in 1980; the title was eventually cancelled in 1981. Also in 1976 Alfa was launched, a sf magazine which combined graphic tales, short fiction and popular science articles, but which appeared too irregularly (only seven issues between 1976 and 1987) to become more than the icing on the cake. In 1978 the first (and at that time the only) Polish astronaut went to outer space to spend eight days on the Soviet Salyut 6 orbital space station, which increased interest in space exploration and, consequently, inspired literature and film that employed it as its natural setting. Around then the newly established second channel of Polish TV broadcast the British sf series Space: 1999 (1975-1977) and the US The Invaders (1967-1968), while in March 1979 Star Wars (1977) directed by George Lucas premièred in cinemas, followed in May by Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) directed by Steven Spielberg; the ground was prepared for the sf boom of the 1980s.

The launch of Fantastyka in October 1982 can be regarded as marking a new stage for Polish sf. The first magazine exclusively devoted to Fantastika, it offered monthly both Polish and foreign short fiction, novellas and novels in its middle pull-out section, Interviews, reviews and columns; serialized an original Space Opera comic, Funky Koval, written by its editorial staff members Maciej Parowski – then already a recognized author of short fiction published in the 1970s and of a novel, Twarzą ku ziemi ["Face Down"] (1981) – and Jacek Rodek, and drawn by a well-established Comics artist, Bogusław Polch; and last but not least presented the work of major graphic artists in the field. Quite naturally, the magazine soon became a focal point for Polish readers of sf and played a pivotal role in raising the awareness and popularity of sf (and Fantastika in general) as well as contributing to the growth of Polish fandom at the national level. Its initial circulation reached 140 000 copies (the print run of bestselling sf books by the mid-1980 frequently exceeded 100 000 copies). The magazine's second contest for a short story announced in March 1985 turned out to be a breakthrough as two major writers of contemporary Polish sf and fantasy were among its winners, Marek S Huberath and Andrzej Sapkowski respectively. By 1985 sf seemed to have become as universal in terms of attractiveness, production and consumption as rock music; clubs thrived (including such initiatives as the Trust group, later renamed as Klub Tfurcuf, inaugurated as early as in 1981, being the first and very successful Polish attempt at organizing workshop-like meetings both for already publishing authors and beginners), bringing out not merely fanzines but also their own editions of translated novels and stories. In 1984 at Polcon, the Polish national Convention, the first Polish Award was founded; originally named Sfinks, in 1985 it was renamed the Janusz A Zajdel Award to commemorate the author of Limes Inferior who died prematurely only a month before Polcon '85. Some writers and critics nevertheless tried to bring the enthusiastic practitioners to earth by pointing out various weaknesses of mass-produced sf; in particular, Marek Oramus published a now famous essay "Siedem grzechów głównych polskiej science fiction" ["Seven Deadly Sins of Polish Science Fiction"] (July 1985 Fantastyka).

Even though sociological sf was preponderant, and most writers who debuted in the 1980s were to a certain degree under its influence, there were a few who wrote outside the box, including Marek Baraniecki, whose Post-Holocaust Głowa Kasandry ["Cassandra's Head"] (July 1983 Fantastyka; in coll 1985; exp 2008) was one of the most memorable stories of the decade, and Wiktor Żwikiewicz, whose stories were published in collections in the 1970s, but whose three visionary, though at times overwritten, novels appeared between 1982 and 1986.

It was also in the 1980s that sf written by women began to appear more regularly, although it has to be noted that, with a few exceptions within the domain of children's literature and young adult markets, sf never particularly attracted female authors during the second half of the twentieth century and even now it remains relatively unpopular among Polish female practitioners of fantastika, who generally seem to prefer fantasy, horror and their hybrid forms. Neurony zbrodni ["The Neurons of Crime"] (1980) by Lucyna Penciak (1914-1993) was a rather unsuccessful young adult Under the Sea utopia, whose main drawback is its social-realist didacticism. A more convincing novel was Bogowie naszej planety ["The Gods of Our Planet"] (1981) by Aleksandra Szarłat and Ewa Szymańska, whose plot, built around a secret manuscript and an ancient, advanced and mysteriously vanished civilization, may be associated with the concepts of Erich von Däniken, but to a larger extent relies on the Atlantis topos. Goniący za słońcem ["Chasing the Sun"] (coll 1983) by Julia Nidecka contains the notable "Wilki na wyspie" ["Wolves on an Island"], a sociological novella about a girl whose only slightly higher than average Intelligence, recognized in annual psycho-physical tests, leads to ostracism in an authoritarian society occupying an enclosed urban structure (see Keep) and callously eliminating violations of normalcy by stigmatizing offenders as Mutants and sending them to lower levels, the environment for society outcasts. Emma Popik, who debuted as Emma Popiss with a short story "Mistrz" ["The Master"] (March 1983 Fantastyka; in Tylko Ziemia ["Only The Earth"] coll 1986), a collection of dark and unsettling stories whose underlying concept is the conviction that real human drama is always to be found on Earth rather than far from it. "Nadejście Fortynbrasa" ["The Arrival of Fortynbras"] depicts a Ruined Earth totally devastated in what may be concluded as an unprecedented nuclear and ecological catastrophe, which leaves nothing but urban wastelands occupied solely by children, the only remaining life after all adults died. Their single concern is survival and their only means to survive is scavenging canned food. The inevitable consequence of constant hunger and no prospect of finding more edible products is the "discovery" of cannibalism in the final scene. The most prominent female sf author of the decade was Gabriela Górska (1939-2013) who between 1980 and 1988 published three collections and three novels. Her work can be characterized as concentrated on exploring the very essence of humanity within various technological and sociological contexts. In her debut collection, Sprawa precedensowa ["The Precedent"] (coll 1980), the title story, written as courtroom drama dialogues, examines moral and legal consequences of a murder committed by a Space Station scientist, a biotechnologically designed highly intelligent man, in order to protect crucial computer data that may allow Faster Than Light travel, while Ostani nieśmiertelny ["The Last Immortal"] (1988) is a meditation on sociological, anthropological and personal repercussions of immortality offered to a human being who is forced to serve humanity as a Superman, but who considers giving back his exceptional yet burdensome gift.

Between 1978 and 1985 Piotr Szulkin directed four artistically accomplished and potent full-length sf Dystopias both in their aesthetics, and in the issues addressed, deeply rooted in the experiences of living in the Soviet-imposed totalitarian state; at the same time, as noted, Western sf films were regularly shown throughout the 1980s in Polish cinemas. However, one of the most successful sf productions of the time was the native comedy Seksmisja (1984) directed by Juliusz Machulski, in which first two male volunteers for a hibernation experiment are woken after fifty-three years of Suspended Animation in an all-female Dystopian post-World War Three Underground world. Sf on television was relatively regular; even Polish Television Theatre adopted and broadcast two sf texts: Algi ["Algae"] (1986), based on a short story by Krzysztof Boruń, and Paradyzja ["Paradisia"] (1987), based on the novel by Janusz A Zajdel.

Polish Fantastika written after the breakthrough of 1989 has been varied, frequently original and thought-provoking, yet more frequently secondary, produced in emulation of established Western patterns, and aimed at sheer entertainment, an accusation famously made by Maciej Parowski in the late 1990s, when he was still the leading Polish editor of Fantastika, which resulted in his open conflict with fandom. In 1990 a group of writers, translators and editors, some of whom were connected with Klub Tfurcuf, including Jarosław Grzędowicz and Rafał A Ziemkiewicz, launched their own digest-format monthly magazine Fenix, which soon became a solid competitor with Nowa Fantastyka (that is Fantastyka as renamed in the same year in order to celebrate freedom from communism as well as mark a complex caesura from the past), presenting both Polish and foreign fiction, and which lasted until 2001. Less successful were the Polish-language edition of Asimov's, which launched in 1991 but lasted for only ten issues, and Voyager, launched in the same year as a quarterly edited by Tomasz Kołodziejczak and Dariusz Zientalak Jr, which published seven issues before ceasing in 1993. In general, the Polish publishing market of the decade was in turmoil; a plethora of foreign sf, fantasy and horror titles were published, many pirated, others poorly translated and edited. In 1990 Jacek Dukaj made his debut and within a decade became one of the most ambitious Polish authors of sf, his most impressive work appearing after 2000. Rafał Ziemkiewicz, now concentrated mainly on political commentaries as one of Poland's leading columnists, published two important novels: Pieprzony los kataryniarza ["The Damned Fate of an Organ-Grinder"] (1995) and Walc stulecia ["Waltz of the Century"] (1998), both utilizing elements of Cyberpunk but with a focus on strong political messages, both winners of the Janusz A Zajdel Award; while Tomasz Kołodziejczak produced a vigorous and coherent Space Opera, Kolory sztandarów ["The Colours of Banners"] (1996). However, fantasy was rapidly becoming the dominant form of Fantastika on the market, largely due to the enormous commercial success of Anderzej Sapkowski. Another definable trend began to take discernible shape in the 1990s, soon slightly ironically labelled as "clerical fiction", a term referring to sf and fantasy stories and novels by such authors as Marek S Huberath, Rafał A Ziemkiewicz, Jacek Dukaj, Janusz Cyran, Jacek Piekara, Szczepan Twardoch, Wojciech Szyda et al, characterized by metaphysical exploration and investigations of religious inclinations most frequently conducted within the framework of Christian philosophy and iconography (see Religion).

Near the beginning of the new millennium two highly original works of sf appeared: Gniazdo światów ["Nest of Worlds"] (1999) by Marek S Huberath and Opuścić Los Raques ["To Abandon Los Raques"] (September-October 1998 Nowa Fantastyka; exp 2000) by Maciej Żerdziński. The diversity of Polish Fantastika continued to increase after the year 2000, while the sf publishing market stabilized: new magazines, both paper and online, attempted to draw readers of genre literature, while a few publishing houses began to specialize in sf, fantasy and horror, including MAG, Solaris, Fabryka Słów, Powergraph, with major players on the market still more or less regularly publishing both foreign and native Fantastika. Most schools of sf, fantasy and partially horror are currently well represented. Some writers, including Jacek Dukaj, Marek S Huberath, Rafał Kosik, Cezary Zbierzchowski in sf (and Anna Brzezińka, Robert M Wegner in fantasy and Łukasz Orbitowski in horror) could easily compete with the best contemporary British and American authors if translated, although non-Anglophone sf is rather ignored by major publishers in the West (with the exception of Chinese sf which has been almost regularly published in the US in recent years) as it happened in the case of Nest of Worlds by Marek S Huberath (see above), brilliantly translated by Michael Kandel years ago, yet completely overlooked by publishers until its eventual release in the US as a 2014 ebook from a small press. Others, such as Anna Kańtoch, Michał Protasiuk, Krzysztof Piskorski offer Polish variants of the New Weird and Steampunk modes. Alternate History is popular both among older and younger authors; adventure-fiction Fantastika can still rely on a fairly wide audience, especially Military SF represented by Magdalena Kozak, Michał Gołkowski and Michał Cholewa, and Equipoisal novels by Maja Lidia Kossakowska and Jarosław Grzędowicz. Even though contemporary Polish readers seem to prefer literature with clear genre boundaries and straightforward messages, some writers are more ambitious – such as Paweł Matuszek, whose Kamienna Ćma ["The Stone Moth"] (2011) can be characterized as a literary equivalent of a Buddhist kōan, a narrative aimed at provoking doubts in readers, undermining their expectations of a clear conclusion and easily extractable central idea, and forcing them to take an inquiring attitude; and particularly Jacek Dukaj, whose Inne pieśni ["Other Songs"] (2003) is one of the finest Polish sf novels of the post-communist era, while his Lód ["Ice"] (2007), a historico-philosophical tale of stunning proportions and scope, potently reminiscent of the work of Thomas Pynchon and with a significant appearance by Nikola Tesla, is one of the most ambitious literary enterprises in the history of Polish sf. Such authors do not hesitate to experiment and produce unconventional work tailored for more demanding sensibilities. They carry Polish sf forward into the new century. [KW]

see also: Hydrozagadka; Kingsajz; Krzysztof Kiwerski; Polish Sociological SF; Fantastyka.


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies