Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2012 Evelyn C. Leeper.


CYBERIAD by Stanislaw Lem:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/05/2012]

CYBERIAD by Stanislaw Lem (translated by Michael Kandel, ISBN 0-380-51557-1) was this month's science fiction discussion group's choice. There were a couple of interesting points. In "Trurl's Machine" the machine insists that two plus two is seven. Trurl insists it is four. At one point, Trurl says, "Two and two is--as it always was--" but is interrupted by the machine insisting it is seven. All this is very reminiscent of the discussion between O'Brien and Winston in George Orwell's 1984 about how Big Brother (the State) can convince anyone that two plus two is five.

As far as I can tell from Kandel's translation, Lem relies a lot on word-play, puns, made-up words, and so on. And this is because the stories in English have a lot of word-play, puns, made-up words, and so on. But this tells me nothing about what the original Polish looks like. And there is so much of it, that one begins to think that Kandel is the author and Lem merely the supplier of the underlying idea. In any case, a little Lem goes a long way, and even these short stories at times seem too long.

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EDEN by Stanislaw Lem:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/06/2007]

Our science fiction discussion group's selection, EDEN by Stanislaw Lem (ISBN-10 0-156-27806-5, ISBN-13 978-0-156-27806-5), was written in Poland almost fifty years ago, yet one finds the following:

"Then you think it's impossible for us to help!" said the Chemist with vehemence.

The Captain looked at him a long time before replying. "Help, my God. What do you mean by help? What's taking place here, what we're witnessing, is the product of a specific civilization, and we would have to destroy that civilization and create anew one--and how are we supposed to do that? These are beings with a physiology, psychology, and history different from ours. You can't transplant a model of our civilization here. And you would have to construct one, too, that would continue to function after our departure. . . . I suspected, for quite some time, that you had ideas similar to those of the Engineer. And that the Doctor agreed with me, which is why he kept discouraging us from making analogies to Earth. Am I right?"

"Yes," said the Doctor. "I was afraid that through an access [sic] of noble-mindedness you would all want to establish 'order' here, which in practice would mean a reign of terror." [page 219]

The odd thing is that I think that Lem was not echoing a common sentiment at the time. Indeed, one might claim it is an early example of cultural relativism, but it perfectly encapsulates our current problem.

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THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS by Stanislaw Lem:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/03/2006]

"In the Rialto" by Connie Willis was nominated for a Hugo Award for 1989, and everyone talked about how the problems and situations at her "International Congress of Quantum Physicists Annual Meeting" were so like science fiction conventions. But no one seems to have commented on how similar the underlying ideas are to a book from 1974, THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS by Stanislaw Lem (translated by Michael Kandel, ISBN 0-156-34040-2). One can argue, I suppose, that the notion of a conference where things go very strangely is not an unusual one--BORGES AND THE ETERNAL ORANGUTANS (reviewed in the 01/20/06 issue) is set at a conference, for example. But the use of the word "Congress" reinforces my notion that Willis had read THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS at some point before writing her story.

As proof that everything fits together, the previous week our other discussion group read the Book of Job, and this week the science fiction group read THE FUTUROLOGICAL CONGRESS, which refers to the Book of Job. It also has connections to the Philip K. Dick works we have been reading, such as when Lem has one of his characters say, "A dream will always triumph over reality, once it is given the chance."

It is, however, a translator's nightmare. I do not have the original Polish, but just the last ten lines on page 84 has the following words in English: locomotors, cyberserkers, electrolechers, succubuts, incubators, polypanderoids, multiple android procurers, high-frequency illicitation solicitrons, osculo-oscilloscopes, synthecs, gyroflies, automites, army ants, and submachine! Hats off to Michael Kandel (who has translated a lot of Lem's works).

I also love the Lem's inclusion of the quote from some (unidentified and possibly fictional) French philosopher: "It is not enough that we are happy--others must be miserable."

Arthur C. Clarke, in the early 1950s in CHILDHOOD'S END, thought that over five hundred hours of radio and television every day was an enormous number (it's the equivalent of about twenty full- time channels). Here Lem (in 1971) uses forty channels of television as an over-whelming number of choices.

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