Combining his background in science with her English education made translating a work of science fiction an enjoyable project for geology professor Frank Simpson and his wife, Barbara Marszał.
The two translated writer Stanisław Lem’s novel Return from the Stars from his native Polish. Originally published in 1961 under the title Powrót z gwiazd, the book has been released in a new edition by the MIT Press, its seventh since 1980.
It documents the experiences of astronaut Hal Bregg, who returns to Earth at the end of a 10-year expedition to a distant galaxy. Thanks to relativistic time dilation, 127 years have passed on the home planet since his departure and he experiences culture shock in a very different world. His bewilderment at unfamiliar realities, frequently loutish behaviour toward a new generation of humans, and efforts to come to terms with change form the basis of the story.
“I think that the most enjoyable aspect for both of us was working together on a translation project that was very different from anything we had done before,” says Dr. Simpson. “We had a lot of fun dealing with Lem’s neologisms, which in addition to their practical applications, in some cases contain shades of irony.”
Simpson met Marszał in 1965 during his doctoral studies at Jagiellonian University, where she had earned a degree in English philology. They translated numerous scientific papers together, says Simpson. She continued her education at the University of Windsor and was teaching immigrants English as a second language at the time of her death in 2012.
Simpson lauds Lem as a visionary, noting that among other predictions, his novel anticipated audiobooks and e-books — Return from the Stars has been published in both formats.