20 best genre fiction writers from other countries to expand your horizons

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Solaris (Cover image via Mariner)

11. Stanislaw Lem

The Strugatsky brothers took more than a few of their literary cues from Stanislaw Lem, a significant Soviet science fiction writer in his own right. Lem was actually a Polish writer, though he came to prominence during the height of the Soviet Union.

Within the realm of science fiction, writers and works are often subdivided into “hard” or “soft” sci-fi. Hard science fiction generally prizes scientific accuracy — you won’t see much faster than light travel or mind-reading in hard sci-fi, though some authors are more willing to bend the rules than others. Soft science fiction tends to emphasize matters of social science. Works within this subset might focus on matters of culture or perception, a la Ursula K. Le Guin.

However, as happens whenever someone tries to impose a structure upon something as slippery as fiction, rules are meant to be broken. After all, it’s not as if humans can’t build accurate starships and still philosophize about their place within the cosmos on the same day.


That tension is beautifully explored in much of Lem’s work, especially in Solaris, published in 1961. Solaris follows a group of human scientists as they live and work on a scientific platform floating about the surface of the planet Solaris.

Solaris is full of heaving, changing oceans, but this is no mere ocean planet. It soon becomes clear that Solaris itself is intelligent and observing the humans, too. Indeed, it can enter human minds in a fashion, creating physical copies of people long gone.

This is especially painful for Kris Kelvin, whose romantic partner committed suicide long ago. Her reappearance aboard the science station is gut-wrenching for Kelvin. Other researchers are grappling with their own haunted pasts come suddenly alive as they orbit Solaris. All the while, the humans try to communicate with or understand the truly alien intelligence that surrounds them. Solaris the novel is at once both deeply moving and disturbing.