Translating Eastern European Science Fiction (Part 2)

Translating Eastern European Science Fiction: Stanislaw Lem and Beyond: A Conversation with Michael Kandel (Part 2)

by Chris Clarke

“But to try to explain that is absolutely unnecessary because we understand… The idea of blood crying out from the ground is clear. You don’t need to discuss it. But still, there’s a loss.”

What follows is the second half of my lengthy conversation with translator, writer, and editor Michael Kandel, best known for his many translations of the Polish master of science fiction, Stanislaw Lem. Part One was published here at Hopscotch Translation on June 7, 2022, and it can be found HERE.

Chris Clarke: Michael, I’d like to talk more specifically about your work translating [Stanislaw] Lem. I know that these projects are a little while ago for you now, so if you don’t remember, that’s fair. Just a general question to begin with. I’ve never translated any science fiction, but, as you mentioned, with your first reading of The Invincible, there’s a great deal of science in Lem’s work. Did you have a lot of scientific knowledge coming in, or just good research skills?

Michael Kandel: I did, I do. A long time ago, I was a physics major. I took a lot of math. And I’m married to a chemist. So I consider myself science literate. And that’s not so for people in the humanities, it’s not common. There are a lot of extremely intelligent, extremely well-informed people in the humanities who really don’t get what science is. They can have phrases, they can talk like they do, but they really don’t. They’re not literate in science. And there’s this gulf, like C. P. Snow pointed out, this huge gulf that for some reason exists between the scientists and the humanists, and they just don’t get it. There are a few people who actually have a foot in both worlds. Like Stephen Jay Gould is maybe an example. Lem was an example. Occasionally they know science, they have had scientific training, or they just know stuff that they should know.

CC: From my own experience, I wouldn’t have the scientific knowledge to approach some of it. But I think I have the research skills. And I also have the ability to ask around or to do the reading if I need to. But I think just as important is having that literary eye to note that something needs to be looked into, as opposed to… The example in your essay[1] was very, very clear, the howler of the “Brownian motion” versus the “brown movements.” If I came across something in a text and I translated it as “brown movements,” my alarm bells will be ringing so loudly that I would go and find out about Brownian motion. But I didn’t certainly didn’t know about it before encountering it in your essay.

MK: One of the facts of being a professional translator is that no matter how good you are, and how much you know, and how hard you try to be on top of everything, you are going to miss stuff that you shouldn’t.

CC: Always!

MK: And it’s going to be published, and you will be exposed to laughter. That just comes with the territory.

CC: What about fact checking? Not only is Lem using scientific jargon and concepts, but he’s projecting them into the future, as well. He was ahead of many when it came to futuristic thinking. For example, some attribute the first conception of nanotech to The Invincible. Did you find yourself having to talk to scientists to verify that you were understanding and correctly rendering things? Because it’s one thing to be able to research something, but if it doesn’t exist yet, or if it’s not in the dictionary, or in the manuals, where do you go?

MK: Well, these things sort of exist… I mean, the concepts behind virtual reality and nanotechnology were around. Maybe they weren’t technologically realized yet, but scientifically, they were around. It was known that things could take a certain path.

CC: So these topics were being discussed in English already.

MK: The thing that makes Lem so unusual… It’s true, he really prophesied stuff that happened maybe fifty years later, particularly in his writing in the 1960s. In his essay, the Summa Technologiae [1964], he was talking about this stuff. But what really makes him special and different is that he was talking about it in great depth. There were a lot of ideas, there was a lot of subtlety. And when you read a work of popular science, one that is important and good, like The Selfish Gene [by Richard Dawkins], just for one example, the basic idea of The Selfish Gene could be contained in an essay. You don’t need to have a whole book. And it’s actually a good book, but it just cannot compare with the depth and the complexity of Lem talking about what the consequences are for humanity and for ethics with these new scientific and technological developments. That’s what he was doing. He was a real philosopher, not just a writer.

CC: So he was more in tune with the implications. As for the terminology, this made me think of a professor I studied with in France, who had been a translator of philosophy for a long time. And he had found that when you’re the first to translate a philosopher, you’re not certain how to translate some of the terms that he’s generating, and that these terms will be established later on down the road. With Lem, there’s a lot of neologizing, there’s a lot of new derivation going on.

MK: Absolutely!

CC: Similarly, I think of Freud, where Freud’s [English] translators came up with all of these new terms for his concepts, choices which were often so far removed from what he wrote in German, and we’re still using those words in English a hundred years later.

MK: They’ve been doing that for centuries. They’ll say, “Now, when I say green, I don’t mean green, I mean green.”

CC: Greeen with three E’s.

MK: And they’re creating a special concept, and they’re applying a word to it. And it’s very difficult for a translator to work with that. Really, really hard.

CC: Did you have any difficulty with that? Or is there a little less pressure considering it’s science fiction as opposed to something technical?

MK: I always felt that people tended to give me praise for the wordplay and the technical stuff, the kind of flashy stuff, that’s obvious. The humor, the puns. I always felt that much more difficult than that was the philosophical discourse. That was really… I sort of think that’s impossible.

CC: It’s the hardest part of the job, really, especially with something interpretive. You want to give your reader the same tools that you have to decipher what Lem is saying, without telling them what he’s saying. Without explaining.

MK: It’s really quite hard. And the Summa [Technologiae] is not only profound, intellectually, but it’s also charming, it’s quite playful. It’s playful, it’s beautifully written, and you would have no sense of that. When you read English translations of Lem’s philosophical pieces or works, you would never know how well they were written.

CC: Now that [the Summa Technologiae] has been published in a full version in English,[2] you don’t think it conveys the playfulness of the way he wrote it?

MK: That’s just my opinion. To me, that is a type of difficulty that remains hidden, that people would not… A lot of criticism of translation that might appear in The New Yorker or The New York Times tends to focus on the jokey stuff, the obvious stuff. It’s kind of on the surface. And that really isn’t as difficult as the stuff that has to do with concepts and, you know…

CC: Even just style or tone in general.

MK: It’s just not… You know, if you translate someone that writes very simply, for example. And you write simply as a translator, and the original is beautiful, and your translation is as flat as it can possibly be. And what do you do with that? I mean, that’s difficult.

CC: I’ve been there. When you work from French, the French have a tendency to write the thirty-clause sentence with nineteen commas in it, and so normally, we’re shrinking. Normally, we’re cutting things down into more palatable bites. But the opposite happened when I translated Patrick Modiano, the [2014] Nobel Prize winner. His sentences in French are very short and succinct, and they have flow and they have a nice rhythm to them. There’s very little complexity to the way his syntax works, comparatively. But when I did that in English, it just sounded like paragraph after paragraph of, “He did this. He did that. He did this. He did that.” There was no flow to it at all, and I found myself doing the opposite, where I started stitching sentences together and adding in commas that weren’t there, because I wanted the gentle rhythm of it instead of that choppy stutter.

MK: That’s a good example of it, that’s right.

CC: And I fully agree with you… You make it very clear when you address theory [in your essay][3] that the book always decides the approach. And each work demands, you know… A different translator is going to hear that call in a different way, but it needs to be heeded, the book needs to help us decide what’s important, what we’re going to try to bring out and how we’re going to focus our attention.

Let’s turn back to wordplay and humor. You mentioned in the talk that you shared with me that there were a number of examples of wordplay or linguistic-based humor that were impossible to replicate, or at least not in the same place where they occurred in the text. And, whether that was due to cultural differences or differences between the languages, in those situations, you tended towards substitution, which I agree is often the way that it has to work: inserting some wordplay of your own that functions in a similar way, or produces a similar effect. Sometimes not in the same spot, but just nearby in the text, wherever it fits best. Can you think of any notable examples, among all of the Lem originals that you worked on, where there was something that you really wanted to preserve, but just couldn’t find a way to do so, and had to resort to something of this of this nature?

MK: On every page!

CC: [laughs]

MK: No, really!

CC: Oh, you’re making me feel like I’ve missed out on so much!

MK: No, I mean, it was constant. That was the fun of it. I’ll give you a funny example. This has a Ukrainian in it, so that makes it current. I went to Krakow, they had an evening where different translators of Lem were talking about how they translated this or that. And there was a poem by Lem, in the Trurl and Klapaucius [tales], a poem [where every line] begins with the same letter.[4] And what did Swedish translator do? What did the Japanese translator do? What did I do? That kind of thing. It was interesting and funny. So, later, this Ukrainian scholar takes me aside. He was a Lem scholar, and he tells me, “You were the only translator that caught this joke.” And the joke was—and I think it was in the robot fables—when somebody utters a war cry. And the war cry was a curse word, in Polish, where the letters had been reversed. In Polish, the word was kurwa, which just means a whore. But it’s really pretty rude. And if you hit your thumb with a hammer, you say kurwa. I was working one time in Chinatown in New York, and someone had a problem working on the road, one of the construction people, and I heard him muttering kurwa, you know, it’s a word that you…

CC: It’s the Polish sonofabitch.

MK: Right. I did the same thing. The English I used was fuckit. And I put the letters backwards, and so this Ukrainian says, “Ahhh, you caught that! You’re the only one who caught that!”

CC: I love it. Well, that’s one that you did catch and you were able to recreate in place.

MK: So yeah, it was constant. There were so many examples of things where there was no way you could do anything with them.

CC: So not only was he profound, but he was very clever.

MK: Oh, yes! So I figured, if I can put in a little cleverness of my own, I’m just helping to get in what isn’t… you know…. possible.

CC: So to go from wordplay back to tone, which you found to be even harder, did it take you a long time to figure out the tone for some of his books? There’s a very particular voice to some of these works, whether it’s the future academic aloofness of the later century “Tichologists,” for example—again with my eminent Tichologists—or the futuristic mythology of a collection like The Cyberiad. In some ways, it must have felt like you were translating different writers altogether, moving from one of these books to the next. How did you settle into these different voices?

MK: Well, if you have a story that takes on the style of a children’s tale, you try to get into a children’s tale mode. If someone is laughing at scholars, you go into a parody of scholarly style. I mean, it’s just different for each book.

CC: I reread His Master’s Voice most recently, and while reading it, I wanted to know more about the actual deciphering of the [alien] language. But all the same, the tone was just wonderful throughout, I think you really hit it with that one. And it’s very different from something like The Cyberiad or The Star Diaries.

MK: Oh, yeah!

CC: Extremely different! But that one is more of a philosophical opus, in a lot of ways.

MK: Did you read Fiasco?

CC: Years ago. And the other one that I really enjoyed, as far as a science fiction idea that American [science fiction writers] haven’t seemed to hit on, was Eden,[5] where the ship crash lands on a planet, and they have a physicist, a biologist, a chemist, it’s almost like the start of a joke… They have all of their earthly disciplines represented, they have their linguist, and they very promptly realized that they don’t understand the first thing about what’s going on around them, and decide they had better get the hell out of there. I think that’s maybe more what we might find, should we ever be able to explore space! That trying to understand any of it by our limited human conceptions, or assuming that the encounter will be like Captain Kirk meeting a blue humanoid woman? Yeah, it’s just really naïve!

MK: Eden is sort of in the category of The Invincible and Solaris and Fiasco. And one of the ideas is that this Other, that’s like a mystery, is really ourselves. We’re looking into a mirror. And that appears in Fiasco as well. You look in the mirror and you see the alien.

CC: I think that’s maybe the general conceit of Solaris as well, if you ignore the movie versions that miss the point, such as the last one, which focuses completely on George Clooney’s love and loss… On a similar note, there is clearly a great deal of allegory present in many of these works. I don’t know if I read this somewhere, or if it was something that Lem even wrote himself, but I vaguely remember someone asking him why he decided to write science fiction, and his semi-joking reply was that as soon as he put robots into his stories, the censors stopped reading his books.

MK: Right, they were no longer for adults.

CC: There is a lot of political allegory going on in some of these stories, and I’m pretty certain, seeing that I haven’t reread the robot fables since I was in my early twenties, that I likely missed a lot of the allegorical parallels.

MK: Well, a lot of the people reading them in Polish or Russian, they didn’t miss them [laughs].

CC: Did you have to do anything in particular to make those as opaque as he made them, to leave the possible interpretation just beneath the surface?

MK: Well, again, what do you do?

CC: You don’t want to spell it out, or over interpret…

MK: It’s hard. If the American reading public has not grown up in a dictatorship, where things work a certain way, they’re not going to get certain things. And you can’t…

CC: A slew of footnotes and annotations isn’t going to make it any more enjoyable.

MK: Sometimes that can work, you can do that. And sometimes it’s appropriate. Pointing things out to people, there’s no reason you can’t do that. But if you want to present something that is extremely readable and fun, and fun in a popular way, then you can’t do that.

CC: Sure, you don’t want to bog it down too much. You have to keep your market in mind, your target audience.

MK: Yeah, you can’t always go the route of footnotes or introductory essays. If this is going to be fun to read, it’s got to be fun in the translated language. Otherwise, who is going to read it?

CC: And at the end of the day, whether or not you’re getting the allegory that is buried deep at the bottom of any fable, there’s still entertainment at the surface. If they’re presented in such a way, if someone wants to peel back the onion to find those hidden layers, great! If not, it’s still an entertaining story told in an entertaining fashion.

MK: I think any translator knows that there’s lots of stuff that isn’t going to make it into a translation. And you have to say, Well, maybe it’s not as important. You have to decide what is important, what isn’t important. I’ll give you a recent example from the Bible, it came to my attention about a week ago. The community where I live is mainly Christian, and they don’t know Hebrew. And I’m Jewish, and I know a little bit of biblical Hebrew. Over the years, you kind of accumulate it. In the beginning, in Genesis, particularly, there’s a lot of wordplay, puns that are there that you wouldn’t know by reading a translation. Here’s an example: Cain has just killed his brother. And the Lord says, Where’s Abel? And Cain says, Am I my brother’s keeper? And the Lord says, His blood cries out from the ground. Well, ground is adamah. And blood is dam. Dam is included in adamah. And of course you have Adam, adam. Now, when people read that in the original, it’s very meaningful.

CC: And very poetic!

MK: But to try to explain that is absolutely unnecessary because we understand… The idea of blood crying out from the ground is clear. You don’t need to discuss it. But still, there’s a loss.

CC: Very interesting, that’s a great example!

Now, to backtrack to a question that we sidestepped earlier. We were speaking of Lem’s The Invincible, which was translated [into English] from the German translation of the Polish. And then of course there is the notorious translation of Solaris, [brought into English from] the French translation. Let’s talk about these relay translations. From what I understand, Joanna Kilmartin[6] is a very decent translator from French. She went on to translate Françoise Sagan and Proust and a number of important French writers. Over the years, this translation has been much maligned; I think this may have been her second project, but either way, I don’t know how much of the fault for this legendarily bad translation of Solaris can rest on her. Instead, we have to consider the fact that this version was translated from what is already, in its own rights, reputed to be a poor translation from Polish into French. Have you looked at the translation closely? I don’t read Polish. This is all hearsay, of course, fifty years later, but I’ve heard many many times that it’s not a good translation, without anyone ever going into specifics.

MK: Well, I became aware that there were pages that didn’t appear in the translation. You have to understand that it might not even have been the translator’s decision, it might have been the publisher’s decision, because Lem goes on and on, there is all the scholarly discussion of what the ocean is…

CC: Descriptions of the surface phenomena…

MK: It’s very scientific or pseudo-scientific. And you can easily say, well, enough of that!

CC: And considering the French audience in the late sixties, they may have just said, Well, you know, this is supposed to be fun, we need to trim this down.

MK: The prose is very convoluted. It’s like you’re on the ocean itself, and all these things are taking shape and disappearing. So you can see that it’s difficult prose. It’s beautiful, but it’s difficult.

CC: If we also consider the fact that this is a relay translation to begin with, and think of the implications of that, we’re left with an interpretation of an interpretation of something that’s already very difficult in the original.

MK: Many things have been translated from an English translation, because English has sort of come to be considered the lingua franca.

CC: Sure. And The Invincible, how did that one end up coming over [to English] from German?

MK: Well, I read it in Polish. And I was blown away by the Polish text. But I don’t think I spent much time with the English translation.

CC: Since you were translating him already, and you were blown away by that text, why didn’t you translate that one yourself, as opposed to them deciding that they would have the German version translated?

MK: Rights! It had to do with publisher’s rights. There was talk about doing an English translation of Solaris from the [Polish] original. But the British publisher would not allow it.

CC: And it’s still held up… fifty-two years later!

MK: There were some people at a science fiction convention, and someone approached me. They were from Silicon Valley, they had money. And they said, We’re willing to pay for a translation of Solaris.

CC: And finally, there is one.

MK: There is now!

CC: Do you know Bill Johnston?

MK: I do! There is now.

CC: But available in audiobook [format] only, isn’t that it? I guess they’ve just renewed those rights enough times by putting out a new movie tie-in addition, and then a new cover, and so on.

MK: So that’s the reason, that part of the story is an international legal issue to do with copyright.

CC: Perhaps one day I’ll take a closer look at the French and see what’s going on in that version. Meanwhile, we all want to read Bill Johnston’s new translation. We’re dying for it! I’ve only read Solaris in the old Berkley pocket edition, and I still find it to be a fascinating book, but if it’s not what it could be, one day I’d love to see what that is.

MK: Well, there’s a certain rhythm. It has a certain music, the music of this ocean, and then there’s the futile scientific attempt to uncover what it all is: this theory, then that theory. It’s powerful, but it would be a lot of work to translate it successfully, it would be pretty hard.

CC: Speaking of Solaris, and I haven’t verified the source, but I love Lem’s supposed reaction to the second film version of Solaris,[7] according to which he is supposed to have said, “If I had intended for the book to focus on the relationship between those two characters, I would have called the novel ‘Love in Outer Space.’”[8]

Two cinematic adaptations of Solaris were made, one in Russian (1972, dir. Tarkovsky), one in English (dir. Soderbergh, 2002). Neither seem to have hit the mark by comparison to the novel, although they each have qualities of their own. Apparently there was a third version made in Japan by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (2007). As far as visual adaptations of Lem’s works go, we can also add to the list a fourteen-episode German television series based on the Ijon Tichy stories (2007-2011), a five-episode Hungarian series based on the Pirx the Pilot stories, and a variety of international film fare, including:

  • Der schweigende Stern (“First Spaceship on Venus,” based on the novel Astronauci, a book not translated into English) – dir. K. Maetzig, Germany, 1960
  • Prezekladaniec (“Roly Poly,” adapted from the short story “Czy pan istnieje, Mr. Jones?”) – dir. Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1968
  • Szpital Przemienienia (“The Hospital of the Transfiguration,” based on the novel of the same name) – dir. Edward Zebrowski, Poland, 1979
  • Maska (short, based on the short story of the same name), – dir. Brothers Quay, Poland, 2012
  • The Congress (based on the novel The Futurological Congress) – dir. Ari Folman, Israel/Germany, 2013
  • His Master’s Voice (based on the novel of the same name) – dir. György Pálfi, Hungary, 2018

Given the fact that many of these adaptations have had little or no distribution in North America, have you managed to see any of the cinematic adaptations of Lem’s work, and does one stand out in your mind?

MK: I saw Tarkovsky’s Solaris several times and think it’s great. The Soderbergh is interesting but not great. The Futurological Congress film, the one that becomes an animation, is jawdroppingly awful.

CC: If you were to recommend one of Lem’s novels or short stories to a film director for adaptation, which do you think would work best? Some of them seem as if they would be really difficult to capture on screen, but surely there’s something in this great body of work that could make a wonderful film.

MK: I would love to see an Invincible film.

CC: Considering the fact that you translated by my count eight full novels [by Stanislaw Lem], and contributed to several others, that makes for a long and dedicated association with one author… and a very particular author at that. I have found through the ten book-length translations that I’ve now done that I get very emotionally and mentally connected to the books I’m working on; you spend so much time with them and dwell on them for so long… some more than others, evidently. What was it like to spend the larger part of fifteen years inside the books of one author? Did it affect the way you wrote yourself? For example, when you turned to writing your own fiction, publishing four science fiction books of your own in between your translation of Fiasco and the final Lem books that you worked on, did it color the way you work with and think of literature more generally? Or the way you think about the world? Is there a little bit of Stanislaw Lem left in Michael Kandel now that it’s all said and done?

MK: Well, when I wrote to Lem, when Lem offered that I should translate him, I said, Well, I’m not a writer. I had written some stuff, but it had ended up being thrown in the garbage. So I had concluded that I was not a writer. But then some of the translations were very successful, and a lot of people praised them. It was really kind of surprising and gratifying. And then I began to think, well, maybe in some way I am a writer. I think that probably gave me a little push in the direction of writing. Also Lem, himself… I had sent him some stuff and he wasn’t very encouraging… and then I tried something that was kind of silly. And he said, That’s what you should be doing. So I took that advice from Lem, and tried to have more humor and not take myself so seriously. That seemed to work for me. When I didn’t take myself so seriously, I tended to be more successful as a writer.

CC: And what about his philosophical and scientific outlook on the world? Has that affected you in any way?

MK: I think it probably has… When you read a philosopher, it changes the way you think about the world. Yes. I think I was influenced by that. And other people have been, too.

CC: A more abstract question for you. Is there something particular about the Polish language that played a hand in making Lem write the way he did? More generally, do you feel that the language a writer writes in limits or constrains the way a writer writes? Would Stanislaw Lem have had a similar voice if he had grown up a speaker of Czech, Albanian, or Bulgarian? Or even something from further afield?

MK: We are all shaped by our language, but I am not sure how exactly it determines the course of a literary career. A few writers have been brilliant in more than one language; most are brilliant in one only, whether it’s their native tongue or not.

CC: Similarly, it is worth noting that his most active years, say, 1945-1991, perhaps not-so-coincidentally coincided with the timeline of the “Iron Curtain.” How do you feel Polish culture of the second half of the 20th century impacted Lem’s work? Did being Polish affect his writing in a way that might be different from the mindset of writers in other Eastern European countries?

MK: In general, yes. But I think that Lem is a writer who in a lot of ways is (or seems) independent of his culture. There are a few like that.

CC: There is no doubt that Lem was a pioneer in the genres that we today call science fiction and speculative fiction. Lem was trained as a medical doctor, which colors his first novel, The Hospital of the Transfiguration, and is discussed in his autobiography, Highcastle: A Remembrance. You mentioned earlier that he wrote criticism on a number of Anglophone science fiction writers. Where do you see this groundbreaking work of his coming from? Are there any clear influences you can pinpoint? There are definitely hints of Kafka in works such as The Investigation and Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, but are there predecessors or contemporaries we can look to? Russians, perhaps? Or was he drawing more from science and philosophy and not from other genre writers?

MK: I think he drew more from science and philosophy—and from earlier writers, like Swift and Voltaire.

CC: What first led me to the website compiled by Lem’s son, many years ago, was the hope that there were more great Lem stories yet to be translated. We’ve seen two recent publications of previously untranslated works, both from MIT Press: a non-fiction work (Dialogues, translated by Peter Butko, 2021), and a collection of short stories (The Truth and Other Stories, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, 2021). From what you’ve read in Polish, are there other novels or story collections that we can hope to read down the road? For example, I note that there is an untranslated Ijon Tichy novel called Wizja Iokalna, and a late story collection, Zagadka, as well as a number of early works and a variety of nonfiction. Was there anything left on your list of Lem works to bring across?

MK: No.

CC: That’s unfortunate.

I also note that Polish parliament declared 2021 to be “Stanislaw Lem Year” to honor his centenary. I’m glad to see that he has become a national treasure of sorts. Did you look into any of the cultural events and publications surrounding this?

MK: I especially liked seeing a photograph of a Lem excerpt on a park bench in Krakow.

CC: However it was that I first discovered him, it is clear to me that I have come to love the writings of Stanislaw Lem through the writing of the writer, Michael Kandel, whether or not he wants to admit to being one, and I appreciate that you did all of that hard work and shared it all with us.

MK: Well, thank you.

CC: And I greatly appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today!

MK: And good fortune to you with your endeavors as a translator and a scholar.


[1] Michael Kandel, “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” Times of Mobility: Transnational Literature and Gender in Translation. Edited by Jasmina Lukić, Sibelan Forrester & Borbála Faragó. CEU Press, 2019.

[2] Stanislaw Lem, Summa Technologiae, translated by Joanna Zylinska. University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

[3] See note 1.

[4] Stanislaw Lem, The Cyberiad. Seabury, 1974. The poems are to be found in “The First Sally (A), Or: Trurl’s Electronic Bard,” pp. 43-57.

[5] Stanislaw Lem, Eden. Translated by Mark Heine, Harcourt, 1989.

[6] Joanna Kilmartin translated the English version of Solaris, which was first published in 1970 by Walker & Co, New York, a version that is still in print fifty-two years later. This was a relay translation of Jean-Michel Jasienko’s 1966 French translation for Denoël, which was in turn translated from the original, published in Poland in 1961 by Wydawnictwo Ministerstwa Obrony Narodowej.

[7] Solaris, dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2002.

[8] An alternate version of this quip has Lem retitling Tarkovsky’s rendition of Solaris as “Crime and Punishment in Space.”

Michael Kandel got a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Indiana University, taught Russian literature at George Washington University, worked as an editor for Harcourt and then for the Modern Language Association. He translated science fiction (Stanislaw Lem), acquired a few science fiction authors for Harcourt (e.g., Jonathan Lethem, Ursula K. Le Guin), and authored a few science fiction books for Bantam and St. Martin’s.

Chris Clarke is a literary translator and scholar currently based in Philadelphia, where he teaches French. His translations include work by Raymond Queneau, Ryad Girod, and Éric Chevillard. His translation of Marcel Schwob’s Imaginary Lives was awarded the French-American Foundation Translation Prize for Fiction in 2019, and his translation of Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano’s In the Café of Lost Youth was a finalist for the same award in 2017.

Originally published on Hopscotch Translation
Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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