the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Stanislaw Lem’ Category

Vintage SF badgeThe Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem (1921 – 2006) was known for his works in science fiction, satire, and philosophy.  His writing style is detailed, subtle and literary, making translations a challenge.  I got into a great discussion on twitter with Joachim Boaz about the Lem translations. Apparently much of his work was translated to French and then translated to English, doubling the chances of wit and puns being lost in translation. By sheer luck, the copy of The Cyberiad that I read was translated directly from the original Polish by the amazing Michael Kandel. I’ve got to wonder if crappy translation is directly responsible for my mixed luck with Lem titles I’ve read in the past. Note to self:  seek out the Kandel translations!

Cyberiad

The Cyberiad, by Stanislaw Lem

published in 1965, first English translation available 1974

where I got it: borrowed from a friend

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Subtitled “fables for the cybernetic age”, many of the short stories in The Cyberiad have a bedtime story fairy tale feel to them.  Featuring quests and adventures and demanding royals  and hermits and pirates and even the phrase “once upon a time”, alongside literary devices such as alliteration, punny phrases and nested tales, I quickly became desperate for a nerdy 8 year old to whom I could read these out loud to.

The series of stories follows the robotic constructors Trurl and Klapaucius.  The two friends build amazing machines either for their own amusement or to help (for vast sums of money, of course) people on other planets.  As with many parable style fairy tales, the machines and prophecies never quite work as intended, and on more than one occasion Trurl and Klapaucius are forced to destroy their creations and/or escape their insatiable clients. Most of the Sallys (as in To Sally Forth) are 10 pages or less, making the whole of The Cyberiad easy to digest in small portions, if you’re able to put it down, that is (which I wasn’t, and devoured this dense little package of amazing in just a few days).

Since Trurl and Klapaucius (and nearly every other character we meet) are robots, and can’t die or experience physical pain, there is a surprising amount of violence – people getting kicked and repeatedly beaten up or thrown off or into things. Since no one ever gets hurt, it’s humorous, not unlike an old style Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Beyond the hysterical and madcap adventures and Klapaucius egging Trurl on every step of the way, the writing is absolutely brilliant, with a level of literary humor and intelligent wordplay that is absolutely off the charts. Imagine if Charlie Stross and Terry Pratchett rewrote a book of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales, and then ratchet the whole thing up a bit more.

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I know, I know, classics month isn’t until January, but I’d started reading this book (and couldn’t put it down) before I made that announcement the other day.

The Investigation, by Stanislaw Lem

published in 1974

where I got it: purchased used

why I read it: had read his Fiasco many years ago and was looking to read more of his books.

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I think I’m finally old enough to appreciate Stanslaw Lem. I read his Fiasco when I was in college, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t get it (huh, maybe I should have taken that Literature class).   Maybe it’s a Eastern European thing (Lem is Polish), but his books simply don’t read like American or British books.  Metaphysical double meanings, characters who are 100% in the dark about what’s going on, and little if any closure at the end.  He’s not an easy guy to read. So of course, when I saw his The Investigation at the used bookstore, I grabbed it in a heartbeat.

The Investigation isn’t science fiction by any means, but depending on how you interpret it, it could be.  Let me explain.  The police are investigating rural cases of body snatching. The night before a burial, to the horror of the family, the body is moved in the coffin, dragged across the room, or disappears completely from the mortuary.  The obvious answer is someone is trying to steal the bodies and is only sometimes successful.  the post-modern answer is the dead people are turning into golems or limited zombies of some sort.  See how it could be SF?

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.