In A Perfect Vacuum, Stanislaw Lem presents a collection of book reviews of nonexistent works of literatureworks that, in many cases, could not possibly be written Embracing postmodernism's games for games' sake ethos, Lem joins the contest with hilarious and grotesque results, lampooning the movement's selfindulgence and exploiting its mannerismsBeginning with a review of his own book, Lem moves on to tackles or create pastiches of the French new novel, James Joyce, pornography, authorless writing, and Dostoevsky, while at the same time ranging across scientific topics, from cosmology to the pervasiveness of computers The result is a metafictional tour de force by one of the world's most popular writers


10 thoughts on “Doskonała próżnia

  1. Manny Manny says:

    A delightful idea, that surely ought to appeal to habitués of this site - a collection of reviews for books that don't exist! My favorite was the one about the guy who thinks that there are three kinds of genius. Third-class geniuses do what everyone else does, but just get there quicker. They are very popular. Second class geniuses do stuff other people don't do yet - they are ignored for a while, but when the world catches up they also get their share of glory. But what about the first class geniuses, who are so brilliant that the world never catches up with them? The hero of the (fictitious) book sets out to find evidence of first-class geniuses. It's such a pity that no one has yet managed to write this novel; Lem gives a precis of the plot, which has a wonderfully satisfying ending.

    Some of the other books would be distinctly harder to write. There's the one constructed with computer assistance, which takes buried allusions to their logical extreme, so that, for example, the commas used in Chapter 4 form a floor plan of Notre Dame cathedral. Another one I liked was the novel in which everything is negated. It starts, innocently enough, by saying that she was not on the train, and then gradually proceeds to reveal that the train didn't exist, and neither did she. In fact, nothing happens at all, and we only learn what didn't happen. Lem's reviewer comments that people often describe the book as pornographic, but that this is unfair. It would be impossible for a book to contain less sex; it's just unusually explicit about specifying which acts did not occur.

    Some of the ideas don't work quite as well, but each chapter is self-contained, so it's easy to skip the few duds. This is a fun read!


  2. Mario the lone bookwolf Mario the lone bookwolf says:

    The distillation of the short story driven to sarcastic perfection

    Please note that I put the original German text at the end of this review. Just if you might be interested.

    The predicate unique fits for this collection. Not taking himself seriously, blasting the conventions of the short story, Lem introduces a subtle cultural criticism in the form of satirical gems. Alternatively, it can also be interpreted as a look into the soul world and the worldview of the author. But that would leave less room for interpretations that can be seen as a comprehensive reckoning with the upscale literature establishment.
    It is necessary to differentiate whether the works to which the allusions are aimed deserve such harsh treatment. The subjective taste of every single reader also plays a part in this.

    The most significant wound, which Lem continues to tear open with relish, are the so elevated works that alienate themselves. Those are so subtle, profound and full of conclusions that one can not understand them anymore. Because they want to escape the demands and dogmas of usual novels and want to be more. Unique, in a not always positive way. In a sense, a parallel to modern art can be drawn, which can also be interpreted differently by everyone. But not in unison as a masterpiece or, in literature, as a timeless classic.

    This arbitrary creative process, which does not bow to any rules, contributes much to the lousy nimbus of reading. Unfortunately, especially in schools, the profound, concerning narratology inadequate works of dusty masters are preferred. At universities the incomprehensible works of new luminaries raised. The damage in form of lifelong aversions against reading is primarily caused by such machinations. If, on the other hand, works that are fun and meshed with media such as film and computer games were read in schools, there would be more readers.

    Lem indirectly campaigns against the vain, self-conspicuous and self-styled elite of the literary scene. He satirizes the alleged subtlety and wisdom, revealing them in the light of cold cynicism. And that is due for works that are suited for wanne be intellectuals and literary critics, but not for readers.
    Because crossing the line between subtle and incomprehensible should not be a guarantee for higher literary consecrations. But a fundamental, serious mistake in the methodical working of the writer, which deserves no praise. Bizarrely, the proponents of such controversial works regard the accessible works of trivial literature as unworthy.
    But on the contrary, the creation of a universe, accessible to millions, deserves more respect than the incomprehensible juxtaposition of allusions and artificial subtlety. As well as the cultural film, the upscale literature suffers from state stunts and megalomania.

    Moreover, a conventional, so called trivial, writer needs lifelong reading, learning, perhaps a master's degree and perfection of skills. A high literate, on the other hand, just needs unraveled, profound thoughts, which he pervades in eternal monologues, dialogues, and descriptions. Imagine music or paintings made with that mentality. Ruthless to the reader and the reading pleasure, he is focused on the glorification of his own intellect. Being an egoist or an empath, what is harder? To delight and inspire millions or just a few of questionable, egocentric minds.

    Optimistically, the short stories can be seen as condensed directorial statements, which easily have the potential for whole novels. Lem also shows the reduction of a book to its essential essence, a compelling case of reverse engineering. A finger exercise for him, out of which other authors would roll to a whole novel. He, on the other hand, uses it modestly for a short collection, in which his complex, multi-layered wit bubbles from all sides. Like the author's visionary genius, which manifests itself in the ability to dissect himself, his work and his medium with humorous detachment.

    Die Destillation der Kurzgeschichte zur sarkastischen Perfektion getrieben

    Das Prädikat einzigartig passt für diese Sammlung. Sich selbst nicht ernst nehmend, die Konventionen der Kurzgeschichte sprengend, legt Lem eine subtile Kulturkritik in Form von satiritischen Kleinoden vor. Alternativ kann man es auch als Blick in die Seelenwelt und auf die Weltsicht des Autors interpretieren. Aber das würde weniger Spielraum für
    Interpretationen lassen, als es als umfassende Abrechnung mit dem gehobenen Literaturbetrieb zu sehen.
    Wobei zu differenzieren ist, ob die Werke, auf die die Anspielungen abzielen, eine so harte Behandlung verdient haben. Da spielt auch der subjektive Geschmack eines jeden einzelnen Lesers mit hinein.

    Die größte Wunde, die Lem genüsslich weiter aufreißt, sind die so gehobenen Werke, die sich ihrer selbst entfremden. Die so subtil, tiefsinnig und voller Anspielungen sind, dass man sie nicht mehr verstehen kann. Weil sie sich den Vorgaben und Dogmen normaler Romane entziehen und mehr sein wollen. Einzigartig, auf eine nicht immer positive Weise. In gewissem Sinne kann eine Parallele zu moderner Kunst gezogen werden, die auch von jedem anders interpretiert werden kann. Aber eben nicht unisono als Meisterwerk oder, in der Literatur, als zeitloser Klassiker.

    Dieser willkürliche, sich keinen Regeln beugende Schaffensprozess, trägt viel zum schlechten Nimbus des Lesens bei. Gerade in Schulen werden leider die tiefsinnigen, narratologisch ungenügenden Werke verstaubter Meister bevorzugt. An Universitäten die unverständlichen Werke neuer Koryphäen erhoben. Der Schaden, lebenslange Aversionen gegen das Lesen zu schüren, wird zu guten Teilen von derartigen Machwerken verursacht. Würden hingegen Werke, die Spaß machen und mit Medien wie Film und Computerspielen verzahnt sind, an den Schulen gelesen werden, gäbe es mehr Leser.

    Lem zieht indirekt gegen die abgehobene, sich selbst beweihräuchernde und selbst ernannte Elite des Literaturbetriebs ins Feld. Er persifliert die vermeintliche Subtilität und Weisheit, indem er sie im Licht des kalten Zynismus offenbart. Und das gebührt den, von Intellektuellen und Literaturkritikern, aber nicht von Lesern, geschätzten Werken.
    Denn die Grenze zwischen subtil und unverständlich zu überschreiten, sollte eigentlich kein Garant für höhere literarische Weihen sein. Sondern ein gründsätzlicher, schwerer Fehler in der methodischen Arbeitsweise des Schriftstellers, der keine Lobpreisungen verdient. Bizarrerweise werden von den Befürwortern so strittiger Werke die zugänglichen Werke der Trivialliteratur als unwürdig erachtet. Dabei ist es im Gegenteil so, dass die Erschaffung eines für Millionen zugänglichen Universums mehr Achtung verdient als die unverständliche Aneinanderreihung von Anspielungen und künstlicher Subtilität. Wie auch der Kulturfilm krankt die gehobene Literatur an Standesdünkeln und Größenwahn, die Lem ihr mit spitzer Feder auf den Kopf fallen lässt.

    Noch dazu braucht ein konventioneller Schriftsteller lebenslanges Lesen, Lernen, gern auch ein Masterstudium und eine Perfektion der Technik. Ein Hochliterat hingegen braucht nur nicht entwirrte, tiefsinnige Gedanken, die er in ewigen Monologen, Dialogen und Beschreibungen, durchzieht. Man stelle sich Malerei oder Musik vor, die nach diesem Konzept erschaffen wird. Dem Leser und dem Lesespaß gegenüber rücksichtslos auf die Verherrlichung seines eigenen Intellektes fokussiert. Ein Egoist oder ein Empath zu sein, was ist wohl schwerer? Millionen zu begeistern und zu inspirieren oder einige wenige von fragwürdiger Gesinnung.

    Optimistischer gesehen kann man die Kurzgeschichten als komprimierte Regieanweisungen sehen, die leicht das Potential für ganze Romane haben. Lem zeigt damit auch die Reduzierung eines Romans auf seine wesentliche Essenz, ein interessanter Fall von Reverse Engineering. Eine Fingerübung für ihn, die andere Autoren zu einem ganzen Roman auswälzen würden. Er hingegen nutzt sie bescheiden für einen kurzen Erzählband, in dem sein komplexer, vielschichtiger Witz aus allen Seiten sprudelt. Wie auch die visionäre Genialität des Autors, die sich in der Fähigkeit, sich selbst, sein Schaffen und sein Medium mit humorvoller Distanziertheit sezieren zu können, manifestiert.


  3. Gwern Gwern says:

    As Lem explains in the introduction, the fake book review (and fake acceptance lecture), as particularly exemplified by Borges's book reviews, is a micro-genre suited for intellectual jokes - for ideas which need more than a tweet, but can't be written out unironically or in full as articles/books. (If dry academic humor is not your thing, you probably already know from reading descriptions that you should not read this book, so I can address fellow aficionados.)

    One way to fail in this rather abstract micro-genre is to tell too much - since this is a genre where more detail can make it worse the same way that a horror movie can be worse when it shows too much and the horror collapses into irony & camp when you see the rubber monster. Lem's own fakes succeed when they maintain this distance from the subject matter; this is why Robinsonade, Gruppenführer Louis XVI, A Perfect Vacuum, You, De Impossibilitate Vitae and, De Impossibilitate Prognoscendi, and Non Serviam fail, as they try to be the works they purport to describe (particularly A Perfect Vacuum and Non Serviam), but of course neither Lem nor anyone else could write them for lack of the required exceptional talent & knowledge.

    Still, that leaves half the volume as successes, interesting and amusing.

    Gigamesh takes Finnegan's Wake into the Wikipedia age, describing a mobster story with improbable allusive density where a single item requires several pages of lists of things it is an allusion to; while it's easy enough for Lem to merely tell us that such a chapter in Gigamesh is an encoded work of classical music which comments on the events of the chapter, Lem goes one better by showing us at least 26 interpretations or allusions he is able to contrive for the word 'Gigamesh'.

    Sexplosion is a satire of technologizing sex which takes a left turn, leaving us in not so much a dystopia but a weirdtopia where food assumes the role played by sex, down to the pornography and moral hysteria (a satire particularly pointed these days by the extent to which all sorts of sexual deviancies have been normalized but the moralizing of food seems to have hardly ever been stronger).

    Pericalypse is a modest proposal to treat the inexhaustible emission of human culture as not an asset but info-pollution, to be discouraged because every book written obscures further the best books, a viewpoint with which I have some sympathy myself.

    Idiot proposes a psychological horror novel (somewhat similar to Robinsonade) in which the parents of a retarded child convince themselves he is intelligent, and perhaps he is and has been murdering and rearranging his life as convenient; like most horror, in the end humans are the real monsters, as Lem has described little but 'facilitated communication' after all.

    U-Write-It is another parody like Sexplosion, but where Sexplosion criticized human tendencies towards over-moralizing everything, U-Write-It criticizes apathy & disinterest toward fine literature by the general population in describing the commercial failure of an attempt of an Oulipo-like company to sell its kits for splicing together classic novels into new fanfictions - the moral being, of course, that most humans are not interested in or even capable of such disrespect. (One has to wonder what Lem would have made of FanFiction.net; is the glass half full or half empty?)

    Odysseus of Ithaca offers an inversion and image that seems like it should have been in Calvino's Invisible Cities: searchers convinced that the greatest wisdom by the greatest geniuses, truly original thoughts, would be ignored and not understood as comprehensible by the general population ('if a lion could speak, we would not understand him') and so to find treasures, they must search through sewers and insane asylums and trash cans. (Odysseus could have been combined nicely with Pericalypse, I think.)

    Being Inc is an update on Borges's The Lottery in Babylon, with more computers; what I loved most about this one was two throwaway lines: Antitrust legislation in the U.S.A. forbids monopolies; consequently Being Inc. is not the only life arranger. There are its great competitors, Hedonica and the Truelife Corporation.

    The story Culture as Mistake has as its core an interesting argument: that 'culture' can only refer to everything which is not useful or backed up by reality, and so, in the strictest and most concrete sense, all of culture is lies and mistakes.

    And finally, the piece Lem calls the best, and I would have to agree, the A New Cosmology. Here Lem offers up an explanation for the Great Silence: all our knowledge predicts countless alien civilizations but we observe not the slightest trace (here nothing has changed, as modern astronomy vindicates Lem's assumptions of the commonness of planets and entire absence of signals or anomalies), and this is because the aliens have become so advanced that they have become indistinguishable from nature; but here, where most speculation idiotically stops, showing that the author has not thought in the slightest bit about resource limits or competition or exponential growth or the likelihood of all aliens being consistently the same way over billions of years without the slightest deviation, Lem keeps going, suggesting that the laws of physics themselves have already been molded by the most advanced aliens in a previous multiverse as a solution to an intractable conflict in which different bubbles of physics in the multiverse try to expand (erasing and eating other bubbles), where the solution hit upon by all parties independently is to fix a single common set of physics, and that we do not see the original universe but a successor, a stabler successor with physics strategically chosen to limit the ability of any alien civilization to expand or tinker with the laws (especially the lightspeed limit), where the existing alien civilizations continue to remain silent & hidden as they strategically continue to tweak physics like the value of certain constants while wishing to avoid tipping off competitors. This is a theory of the Great Silence which is far from idiotic and quite interesting as a hard SF premise. (It still doesn't work, though. While the multiverse part is unfalsifiable, the explanation for our current universe still makes no sense as lightspeed is not that much of a barrier and we can easily imagine expansionist strategies which make more sense; eg when it only takes a few million years to colonize a galaxy, if you're worried about competition, why not put Von Neumann probes around every planet to kill competitors in the womb, so to speak?)


  4. anthony e. anthony e. says:

    Astounding. I was introduced to Lem through the Special Collections librarrian at UWM, as a means to formulate imaginary works (which is the cornerstone of my thesis). I am smitten. Lem writes with a Vonnegutian goofiness, a palpable delight in his ideas. Many of the works he describes sound SO interesting, but wholly impossible as realistic books. Furthermore, the theories of science and literature he puts forth are dizzying and mind-altering. For example, in The New Cosmogeny, Lem lays out a theory for the structuring of the universe via previous civilzations arising from a protouniverse, and that the laws of physics themselves are the creations of these socities! He goes on to suggest that the laws of physics are in fact alterable by these beings, and that anomalies we see (I read this as, say, black holes) are the rsult of these beings changing the physics around us, or are the visual represenations of another protocivilizations physics in action! AMAZING!

    At times his writing slips into a thick, almost imperceptible jargon. Nevertheless, its ideas resonate through even that prosaic haze, and startle the intellect. Marvelous stuff, and definately worth the effort.


  5. Alex Alex says:

    I mean, yeah, I do want to read reviews of books that don't exist. Why wouldn't I?


  6. Kathleen Flynn Kathleen Flynn says:

    I downloaded this from the library because of a reference in the book I'd read just before (I Am a Strange Loop) to Non Serviam, one of the pieces that make up this wonderfully bizarre and thought-provoking book.

    It's a series of essays about imaginary books, occupying a strange nether realm between satire, science fiction and metafiction. I've never read anything quite like it; but then maybe I've just been reading the wrong things. Perhaps Borges comes the closest. Clearly it was a mistake not to have read Stanislaw Lem before now. The only problem is, which of his work to read next?


  7. Lukasz Pruski Lukasz Pruski says:

    [...] And the only subterfuge the evasive Lem might still avail himself of would be a counterattack: in the assertion that it was not I, the critic, but he himself, the author, who wrote the present review and added it to - and made it part of -'A Perfect Vacuum.'

    Whenever I begin a re-read of a Stanislaw Lem's book I am afraid of disappointment. Lem was by far the most favorite author of my youth, some 35 to 55 years ago, and I have been worrying that in re-reading his works my enthusiasm may diminish for the Polish philosopher and futurologist who is best known for his incomparable science fiction books, such as Solaris. I am happy to report there have been no disappointments so far and A Perfect Vacuum (originally published in 1971) is one of the best books I have recently read, maybe even better than Lem's His Master's Voice which I rated with almost five stars.

    A full review would take too much space so let me just offer a few remarks about this impressive work. A Perfect Vacuum is set up as an exercise in metafiction where Lem offers a collection of reviews of non-existent books. In the author's stroke of genius, the collection even includes a review of the book that contains the review - how's that for advanced self-referentiality? On a similar note, in the review of (fictitious) Gigamesh Lem provides delicious satire on literary criticism that indulges in looking for non-existent references: after all, it is true that any reference to anything can be found anywhere if one looks hard enough.

    Lem creates the author of Gruppenführer Louis XVI who writes about artificial reality of 17th century French royal court created in Argentina by SS officers who escaped Germany. Any older Polish reader will immediately recognize this as satire on the so-called communist government in Poland that created an artificial reality for the citizens. A contemporary reader, on the other hand, may easily make a connection to the current situation when it seems that about half of all people are unable to distinguish the artificial reality of TV shows from the actual reality. Another fictitious book under review, Rien du tout, ou la conséquence, pushes the meta-literature to the extreme positions: narration is eliminated to the extent that only pure language remains. The piece also contains a hilarious passage about an author who wrote Don Quixote from the scratch and obtained exactly the same text as the one produced by Cervantes.

    Now about my three favorite pieces. The review of De Impossibilitate Vitae, a fictitious work halfway between mathematics and total lunacy, is a playful take on probability theory (the subject that I teach, by the way). Lem presents the author's clear and convincing explanation that his existence is a result of chains of events so improbable that it is not at all possible for him to exist. Neither is it for any other person (De Selby's observations presented in The Third Policeman come to mind).

    Non Serviam, perhaps the deepest piece in the set, reviews a book about personetics - science and technology that enabled people to create personoids, sentient beings that exist as executing programs, computer models implemented in software. Nevertheless they are completely real to themselves; they build their culture, philosophy and even religion that seeks to embrace the Creator of their Universe. Lem, as the reviewer, emphasizes the monumental moral and ethical dilemmas of those sentient creatures' creators. Alas he takes an easy way out and only glides over the crucial issue of the origin of self-awareness.

    Finally, in New Cosmogony Lem quotes the Nobel Prize acceptance speech of a physicist and philosopher who is one of the pioneers of a new model of cosmology - Universe as a Game - where the oldest civilizations are the players who apply minimax strategies to construct the laws of nature. It is also here that Lem, through the fictitious physicist's words, states the audacious yet utterly brilliant thesis that the expanding Universe serves the purpose of keeping the distance between new civilizations and the existing ones, which would cleanly account for the so-called Silentium Universi. Physics of the Universe as a by-product of sociology - it is not possible not to admire the author's (and the author's author's) cheek!

    Despite Lem's usual hang-ups about sex, the piece Sexplosion exudes sheer hilarity with its memorable mentions of unchastity belts, sodomobiles, cybordellics, gomorcades (my own translations as I read the book in its original Polish version), and many, many other vehicles of pleasure. Perycalipsis is also a hoot with its spiritual masturbation, that is getting off on promises rather than releases. Phenomenal stuff!

    Great book: funny yet deep and thought-provoking. In fact, now I love it more than 45 years ago. Despite my stinginess with top ratings here's the second one in just one week! Maybe I am getting soft in the head faster than I think.

    Four and three quarter stars.


  8. John Jr. John Jr. says:

    Simply put, Stanislaw Lem is one of the masters of science fiction. Yet you can meet an endless number of SF fans who don't know his work and even find best-SF-books lists from seemingly respectable sources that don't include anything by him. Is it because the smarter you are, the more you'll appreciate in his work? (That risks being a nasty comment. But it must be admitted that much Western SF still possesses a pulp-fiction aspect, and at least some of its many readers may believe that's all there is or needs to be.) Is it that the further you go from Western societies, the less likely are the authors to be known? Milan Kundera hails from Czechoslovakia but has broken through, as has Czeslaw Milosz, a Pole. Then why not Lem, another Pole? Or, for that matter, the Strugatsky brothers, who are Russian? Lem himself could probably have constructed not one but half a dozen or more increasingly complex and satirical reasons to account for it; I can't.

    I bought and read this collection more than five years before entering it here. The reason was that I wanted to refresh my memory of the story Non Serviam, which I had first encountered in the 90s, as research for something I was considering writing. I won't try to explain that, but Non Serviam is a profound meditation on artificial consciousnesses, who in this case engage in their own meditations on whether they were created or not and, if so, whether they owe anything to their creator. I won't call it a masterpiece, but only because I want to avoid the need to justify through argument and evidence my use of that much-overused word. The book is worth obtaining simply for Non Serviam, but that isn't the only reward it contains.


  9. Richard Seltzer Richard Seltzer says:

    Stanislaw Lem often portrays men (and other beings) facing the unknown and the unknowable. He sets up these confrontations like a series to experiments designed to reveal fundamental aspects of man's nature.

    His first assumption seems to be that man's mind cannot deal with random meaninglessness. Presented with any set of facts, no matter how unrelated, we see patterns. Give us dots, and we connect them. Coincidence becomes evidence. Even lack of evidence becomes evidence.

    The results are sometimes comic, and often profound.

    My favorites are The Investigation (looking into what might or might not be a crime in present-day England), The Invincible (in which humans in a space ship repeatedly try to make sense out of an unknowable alien world), and A Perfect Vacuum (a collection of little masterpieces about nothing).

    Seinfeld makes humor out of the trivia of modern life by holding up a magnifying glass to details that we typically ignore, by making a big deal over little things.

    Lem often uses trivia as a narrative device. But instead of the trivia of everyday life, he presents invented, imaginary trivia -- quoting imaginary experts and reference books to prove points about imaginary subjects. His characters write reviews of books that were never written. They debate the fine points of theories that no one has ever advanced. They focus on details on the periphery, never daring to look at the center.

    His is a galaxy filled with brilliant stars that orbit around a vast, imponderable, unknowable black hole. His characters focus on those stars, but the energy and urgency of their erudite arguments are fueled by the immense gravitational pull of the nothingness in the middle.

    Many others have dealt with the subject of nothing -- with the realization and the consequences of the realization that the universe probably has no creator, serves no purpose, is simply a collection of random events and matter. Shakespeare's Lear talks of nothing, nothing, nothing, and nothing comes of nothing. Milton's Adam must cope not with the words and acts of God, but rather the fact that God says and does nothing -- his punishment is the absence of God. Many volumes have been written about the literature of nothing, AKA the literature of the absurd.

    But the brilliance and the unique style of Lem come not from his characters waking up to the absurdity and meaninglessness of the universe, but rather their bizarre, creative, and often convincing ways of avoiding that conclusion. They are able to find meaning everywhere in everything.

    The author presents his characters with a perfect vacuum, and they, by some sort of mental quantum physics, spontaneously generate something out of nothing -- beautiful, amusing, and very believable creations of the human imagination, based on nothing, and masking the nothingness they are based on.

    It seems like to Lem the world we live in is an alien world, and the alien presence we constantly face is the nothingness, the meaninglessness, the randomness of all that is around us. This is a close encounter of the zero kind -- the kind we confront every day. But rather than despair, he delights in the imaginative strategies and tricks the human mind can come up with, our compulsion to create meaning. What matters isn't the absurdity, but rather the power and complexity of the human mind and spirit which are unleashed in reaction to that absurdity.

    He focuses on the reader rather than the book, the audience rather than the play, the critic rather than the original work, the observer rather than the observed.

    The gem of the collection A Perfect Vacuum is the final story A New Cosmogony in which a brilliant physicist logically deduces the next great revelation about the nature of the universe from the fact that we have not been contacted by intelligent alien beings. Statistically, in the vastness of the universe over the course of billions of years, intelligent beings must have evolved elsewhere and must have had millions of years in which to advance far further than mankind. They are nowhere to be found? It is only that we do not perceive them, because they are already everywhere... If one considers 'artificial' to be that which is shaped by an active Intelligence, then the entire Universe that surrounds us is already artificial... Where, then are the spacecraft, where the Moloch-machines, where -- in short -- the titanic technologies of these beings who are supposed to surround us and constitute the starry firmament? But this is a mistake caused by the inertia of the mind, since instrumental technologies are required only -- says Acheropoulos -- by a civilization still in the embryonic stage, like Earth's. A billion-year-old civilization employs none. Its tools are what we call the Laws of Nature. Physics itself is the machine of such civilization! It is no 'ready-made machine,' nothing of the sort. That 'machine' (obviously it has nothing in common with mechanical machines) is billions of years in the making, and its structure, though much advanced, has not yet been finished! (pp. 208-209). This physicist imagines not just one but many such intelligent species, which have in the vastness of time deduced the existence of one another and which play a vast game with one another, the rules of which are predicated on the fact that they cannot communicate with one another. ... the thing that determined their subsequent strategies was the fact of the fundamental impossibility of communication, of establishing contact, because one cannot transmit, from the domain of one Physics , any message into the domain of another.

    Others have pondered at the seeming miracle that mathematical concepts conceived in isolation, as the logical unfolding for abstract ideas, later are found to be useful in describing and understanding the physical world -- that the human mind seems fashioned in a way that makes the world knowable to it. Lem mocks that notion, while making use of it again and again. In his stories and novels, the world remains unknowable, meaningless, random, nothing. But the characters, indomitably, heroically, and creatively discover new patterns, new kinds of meaning, derive amazing and credible conclusions based on the random evidence presented them. And always, as we read, there's the glimmering suspicion that this nonsense, this obviously artificial fiction, created by Lem, is actually true, that in his fun antics, he has stumbled upon the meaning behind the seeming nothing...

    Read, enjoy, and wonder.


  10. Hunter Hunter says:

    So if I were to try to tap into my contact MLIS degree, I would probably say that this book is recommended if you liked Pale Fire or I dunno, probably House of Leaves (although it's really not the same thing) or just generally anything involving writing about books that don't exist.

    But yeah if you only read one book of reviews of nonexistent books (and that seems likely), make it this one. Some of the reviews allow Lem to explore some interesting sci-fi ideas that might have made good actual books or short stories, making them sort of a second-hand short short story. Others are a little more playful and/or pomo (like, for example the first review, which naturally is of A Perfect Vacuum (so I guess it's the exception)). One might be inclined to say that this book has everything: crackpots and crackpots who were right, weird Robinson Crusoe pastiche, and that thing where explicitly created beings independently develop real-world arguments for and against the existence of God. I didn't have a good weird name for that, which kinda ruins it, I know. I also think that I'm 2/2 w/r/t using a list with a goofy/unusual final element when discussing a Lem book. So --