Some say that Stanisław Lem is one of the most popular among physicists. Prof. Krzysztof Turzyński from the UW Faculty of Physics is his faithful reader. Do we need knowledge in physics to understand Lem’s works? Can women be astronauts, according to Lem? To find out, watch the second episode of #CzytajzUW (Read with UW) series.

Stanisław Lem is one of the patrons assigned for 2021. This September marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the most widely read science fiction writers. Prof. Krzysztof Turzyński, the Vice-Dean for Student Affairs at the UW Faculty of Physics has been interested in Lem’s masterpieces for years. “Tales of Pirx the Pilot” was read as first. He regularly reads “Return from the Stars”, in which he discovers something new every time.


Why reading is beneficial? “Books are a kind of psychological laboratory for me. Thanks to them, we can conduct imaginary social experiments. Think about how people react under conditions that they will never experience or would never want to experience,” he explains.


The world: Annoyingly unrealistic

Stanisław Lem’s books are often based on knowledge in physics. Physics can be useful to understand particular threads in Lem’s books, but it is not necessary to get the message.


“In ‘Return from the Stars’, the main character travels across space at a very high speed, while according to the theory of relativity, time is different for space traveller and people on Earth. The mission has lasted only ten years for the character while 127 years have passed on Earth. He comes back to Earth, but the planet is completely different, transformed by the advances in technology, and how the human race has adapted to technological change. The world is so ideal that it is annoyingly unrealistic,” points out Prof. Turzyński.


The book chosen by Prof. Turzyński was written in the early 1960s when the dream of travelling to the stars was present in pop culture. “Today, it belongs to the past. We are not planning to fly to Mars. NASA Space Center Houston is more of a showcase of past conquests and past glory,” says the professor.


How does the world featured in the book refer to the real experiences of astronauts? Astronauts spend even more than a year in orbit around the Earth. Prof. Turzyński indicates, however, the range of these journeys. “In ‘Return from the Stars’ there is a mission to Fomalhaut. A star that is located 25 light-years away. Today, the longest human flight in space is limited to the International Space Station,” he adds.