- At a recent international conference at the University of Alberta,
professors of literature, film and philosophy gathered to discuss
the works of renowned Polish author Stanislaw Lem. Among the nine
scholars invited to speak at the conference, one stood out for his
unusual academic background - chemistry.
science of molecules is Dr. Peter Butko's profession. But studying
the science fiction of Lem is one of his passions.
been an avid reader of Lem since my teens, and I actually learned
Polish in order to be able to read his books in his original language,"
said Butko, who presented an essay on Lem at the international conference
last month that drew scholars from Canada, Hong Kong, Poland and
the United States.
Butko, an associate
professor of chemistry and biochemistry at The University of Southern
Mississippi, was the only natural scientist invited to the conference
on Lem. A writer of science fiction and fiction, Lem is regularly
nominated by the Polish Pen Club for Nobel Prize literature. Lem
might be best known stateside for his novel "Solaris,"
which was recently made into a critically acclaimed movie starring
members of the Nobel Committee do not read science fiction,"
Butko said. "Otherwise, they would know that Lem belongs with
the best writers of speculative fiction, such as Jorge Luis Borges,
Italo Calvino or Ursula LeGuin."
English-speaking readers can convince themselves of Lem's genius
by checking out any of the available translations, including "A
Perfect Vacuum," "The Cyberiade," "His Master's
Voice" or "Solaris."
At the conference
in Edmonton, Canada, Butko presented an essay titled "Summa
Technologie - Looking Back and Forward," which is devoted to
the crucial work of Lem. The book's title is an obvious reference
to "Summa Theologiae" by St. Thomas Aquinas, written in
the 13th century. As the latter was the sum of all contemporaneous
knowledge about God, the former is the sum of all knowledge about
technology, Butko said.
so much gives an historic account of technology development, as
rather he represents his speculations on where the current burst
of technological innovations will lead us and where the limits of
technology are, if any," Butko said. Butko's essay is an important
contribution to the field of Lem studies because the book Summa
Technologiae is still unavailable in English translation.
he was honored to be included in the gathering of the world's top
Lem scholars. "The meeting was good not only for improving
our knowledge of Lem's works, but perhaps even more importantly,
for promoting the meaningful communication between scholars in natural
sciences and humanities, which is a rare occurrence," he said.
presentations will be published next year in a self-standing collection
of essays titled "The World According to Lem: Science Fiction