Or, A Book Review from a Planet-sized Hive Mind


The only thing I missed from Trog’s edit of our two-hour conversation was my endorsement of Stanisław Lem, Polish science fiction author.  Lem is best known as the author of Solaris (1961), which was made into a ponderous and enigmatic Soviet movie.  But Lem isn’t a science fiction Dostoevsky.  In spirit he’s closer to Douglas Adams.  This is from the introduction to one of the short stories in The Cyberiad (1965), a collection of robot-centered fairy tales.

Everyone knows that dragons don’t exist.  But while this simplistic formulation may satisfy the layman, it does not suffice for the scientific mind.  The School of Higher Neantical Nillity is in fact wholly unconcerned with what does exist.  Indeed, the banality of existence has been so amply demonstrated, there is no need for us to discuss it any further here.  The brilliant Cerebron, attacking the problem analytically, discovered three distinct kinds of dragon: the mythical, the chimerical, and the purely hypothetical.  They were all, one might say, nonexistent, but each non-existed in an entirely different way.

Lem is not the most accessible author.  He writes reviews of non-existent books, memoirs of super-intelligent computers, accounts of bizarre alien encounters and (non-fictional) serious, literary criticism of other authors’ science fiction.  There are plenty of brilliant people who write science fiction, but brilliant science fiction writing is very rare.  The Cyberiad is probably the best introduction to his oeuvre, but I also recommend Perfect Vacuum and Imaginary Magnitude.


Trurl, the Lonely Robot

These books are currently gathering dust at your local lending library, but if you feel inspired to buy and read your own copies, consider using the link to Amazon on the right.  You’ll be doing  a pair of hard-working geeks a good turn.

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