Jacek Dukaj, born in 1974, is the most distinguished Polish science-fiction writer of today, widely considered a successor of Stanisław Lem. Dukaj studied philosophy at the Jagiellonian University. He is known for the complexity of his books, and it is often said that a single short story of Dukaj contains more ideas than many other writers put into their books in their lifetime. Popular themes in his works include technological singularity, philosophy of history, limits of language and humanity, and thus his books often can be classified as hard science fiction. Dukaj's books bear some resemblance to Neal Stephenson's, although his stylistic brio makes him as much a "literary" as a "hard science fiction" writer – allowing comparisons with the books of Thomas Pynchon or David Mitchell. Dukaj’s essays touch on subjects like "engineering the meaning of life", "art in the age of artificial intelligence", consequences of shift to non-symbolic communication and thought, relations between values and technology - drawing frequent comparisons to work of Yuval Noah Harari.
He was made known to the wider public through Tomasz Baginski’s 2002 Academy Award-nominated Katedra (The Cathedral), a short animated film based on Dukaj’s short story. His novel Starosc aksolotla (The Old Axolotl) inspired a 2020 Netflix-original TV series Into the Night.
As of 2021, Jacek Dukaj is also involved in business, being main shareholder and CEO of Nolensum company, founded to produce video games based on his stories and original ideas.
The story takes place in an alternate universe where the First World War never occurred and Poland is still under Russian rule. Following the Tunguska event, the Ice, a mysterious form of matter, has covered parts of Siberia in Russia and started expanding outwards, reaching Warsaw. The appearance of Ice results in an extreme drop in temperature, putting the whole continent under constant winter. Moreover, the Ice freezes History, preserving the old political regime, affecting human psychology and changing the laws of logic from the many-valued logic of "Summer" to the two-valued logic of "Winter" with no intermediate steps between True and False. We follow the journey of a troubled mathematician, Benedykt Gieroslawski, on Trans-Siberian Railway to Irkutsk and further, to the very heart of Winter. He meets on his way many historical figures (Nikola Tesla, Grigori Rapustin, Jozef Pilsudski), works in a new coldiron industry, gets entangled in political and religious intrigues, falls in love and develops a new philosophy – all the while doubting his own existence.
On the fourteenth day of July 1924, when the chinovniks from the Ministry of Winter came for me, in the evening of that day, on the eve of the Sibiriade, only then did I begin to suspect that I did not exist.
Under an eiderdown, under three blankets and an old gabardine overcoat, in fustian long johns and a worsted pullover, in socks pulled up over socks – only my feet protruded from under the eiderdown and the blankets – finally thawed out after more than a dozen hours of sleep, curled up almost into a ball, with my head squeezed under a pillow in a thick pillowslip, so that the sounds reached me already soft, warmed, immersed in wax, like ants mired in resin, pushing their way through, slowly and with great toil, through my slumber and through the pillow, millimetre by millimetre, word by word:
‘Gospodin Venedikt Yeroslavsky.’
‘Asleep, Ivan Ivanovich.’
A voice and another voice, the first deep and husky, the second deep and melodious.
Even before I had lifted the blanket and a single eyelid, I could already see them as they leant over me, the husky one by my head, the melodious one by my feet, my tsarist angels.
‘We have woken Master Venedikt,’ declared Ivan once I had raised the other eyelid. Henodded at Bernatova; the landlady obediently left the chamber.
Ivan drew up a tabouret for himself and sat down; he held his knees together, and on his knees a narrow-brimmed black bowler hat. A vatermörder collar, white as snow in the noontide sun, dazzled my eyes, a white vatermörder and white office cuffs, blinding against the simple black background of their vestiture. I blinked.
‘Pray, permit us to be seated, Venedikt Filipovich.’
They permitted themselves. The second one perched on the foot of the bed, his weight pulling down on the eiderdown until I had to relinquish it; after taking hold of the blankets, I raised myself on the pallet and in doing so uncovered my back, the cold air rushed in under my pullover and long johns, I shivered, awake.