Dec '05 BOTM: The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem

Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Erfael, Dec 1, 2005.

  1. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    It's December, so time to open discussion on The Cyberiad. What was your favorite story? Did you like the collection overall? Were there any ideas you thought were the greatest thing since sliced bread, the corniest since candy corn? Tell all.
     
  2. Archren

    Archren BookWyrm

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    I finished reading this last night. I don't know how it will strike others, but I quite liked it. It had a sense of whimsy that really charmed me. I can't quite put my finger on why, but sometimes it reminded me of the middle OZ books by L. Frank Baum. It could simply be that my edition had illustrations in a similar style to my editions of the OZ books, but I think it also had to do with that whimsy.

    I liked the fact that the characters are all robots, but that that wasn't belabored. I liked how it showed all sorts of decisions going quite wrong. The last few stories were a little heavy-handed in their morals (can't force everyone to be happy, etc.), but were still inventive.

    I liked the strongly secular viewpoints, but that is probably simply because it synchs up with my own personal philosophy so well.

    The early stories were funnier, and must have given the translator absolute migraines trying to capture the rhythm and jokes with all the scientific language. He does know his stuff: sometimes he uses science and math words just because of the sound, but often he uses them in a correct but twisted application.

    Mostly I really appreciated the Golden Age feel of "Presenting the Amazing Adventures of These Engineers and the Scrapes They Get Into and Out Of!" And I appreciated how they also felt a bit like fairy tales and Arabian Nights-style stories. (Espcially the one with the story-telling machines. Also, it has some Meta-fictional elements way before that came into vogue, it seems.)
     
  3. Zeratul

    Zeratul Registered User

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    I absolutely love this book. It has everything I am looking for in Sci-Fi: it's chock-full of original and interesting ideas, some of them profound, some of them mostly entertaining. It shows the amazing creative talent of Lem in his approach to the language - he must've made up like 500 new words for this book alone, and even when translated most of them sound impressive and just right. And of course, some of the short stories are just hillarious, especially the one about the quantum dragons. It's also a great satire of opressive political regimes at times ( I wonder how Lem managed to publish a few of the stories given that they were written in communist Poland..).

    The stories aren't just funny though. There's an awful lot to think about while reading them, especially the later ones (which I am not sure of the names, because i would guess they are much different in the English translation), the ones about how to make everyone happy using miraculous technology and how to make the most happy being in the Universe.

    My favourite story is probably "Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius", it's so full of amazing ideas, it has a very clever and imaginative use of narrative folding and it's just excellently written.

    All in all, I just love this book.
     
  4. Paladin

    Paladin Knight, .. extraordinaire

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    I was a little disappointed to say the least. One thing I liked about these stories is that they use a lot of vivid imagination to them, almost to a child-like quality. There is also a sort of a no-limits feeling to them, where there are no physical limitations. The writing quality and style is pretty straightforward. The stories are almost always, short in length and straight and to the point. The characters of Trurl and Klaupacius are developed throughout the stories. Lem gives the characters depth from their constant feuding. Although at times though, some of these stories tend to be pointless and can be a little boring. I did find some of the book tedious. Overall the reading was good and it offered a fresh and unique look into different situations. I have never read any of his other work so I can not base this on anything else. I have heard that some of his other works are good such as Solaris or Fiasco. I am willing to give it a chance and read some of his other work though.
     
  5. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    Well, we're a little slow this month so far. I was going to wait until a few more people chimed in before I did, but I've grown impatient.

    I haven't finished this book. What Archren describes as whimsical I only saw as goofy. Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the book. I think if I had read it in the summer when I have a lot of free time I would probably like it. And there wasn't anything that I didn't like about it, but I just kept getting bored in the stories. I'd think they were interesting ideas, but then the sustained goofiness would get to me a little bit and I would just be bored by the end. There were spots that had me laughing and spots that I thought had very interesting ideas, but there wasn't one story (I've only read the first third so far) that kept my interest all the way through.

    I honestly wasn't sure how people would take this one. So even if you're not sure you liked it, be sure to chime in. I'm really curious to hear from everybody (especially those who were keen on it from the beginning -- Ropie, clong).
     
  6. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Monthâ„¢

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    I am still waiting for my copy to arrive from the US (the one with the right cover!) - sorry. I can predict that I will rave about it though - I loved Eden and The Investigation.

    I agree with Zeratul's comments about Lem's use of language. He is a real inventor.
     
  7. clong

    clong Registered User

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    Yeah, I know I owe everyone some comments on this one. I too am awaiting my copy from amazon.
     
  8. ArthurFrayn

    ArthurFrayn the puppet master

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    I've read it

    I liked it, didn't love it,I respect it, he's a big talent, but I was doing what Erf did (is it OK to call you Erf?:confused: ), hang back and let someone else lead in. Now of course I'm too ******* busy with work to write something considered.


    "I shall return..." *echoes into the distance*
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2005
  9. odo

    odo Registered User

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    I'm beginning to think I have a problem with Lem. In the last months I've read "The futurological congress", "Return from the stars" and "The cyberiad" and I didn't like any of them. In fact, I only forced myself to finishing them because they were all for reading clubs... I should read "Fiasco" also for another reading club, but I don't dare...

    I agree with Erfael about the goofiness of the stories. Most situations seemed ridiculous to me. And I couldn't stand those endless lists of invented words. I just couldn't see the point of it.

    There were some interesting ideas scattered all around the book, and I was certainly surprised by some very accurate uses of deep mathematical concepts. But the general tone was of absurdness and it ruined the reading experience for me.

    It will take a while till I give Lem another try :(
     
  10. Archren

    Archren BookWyrm

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    But most of the words weren't invented! Most of them were scientific/mathematical terms being used in <whimsical/silly/stupid> ways, but almost always in the correct context.

    For instance, he was talking about a statistical process and started listing lots of statistics-specific words, such as "Markov chained". Now, you'd never use that as a verb, but Markov chains are a standard statistical tool (that I'm learning about this semester). I found it clever. :eek:

    I just liked that Golden Age feel where engineers were the center of everything. It's fun to be loved. :D
     
  11. odo

    odo Registered User

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    Sure. I know about Markov chains and I was also suprised that somewhere he was talking about recursive functions in a very appropriate context (recursive functions have a lot to do with my work). But most of the times all these words were not used correctly, just ridiculously. I found it funny the first time, maybe the second, but the 100th was absolutely too much for me.

    While I was reading I thought that maybe in the original it made more sense. I don't know, maybe it has some "rithm" or "rhyme" or something. But, at least in the Spanish translation, it is just a bunch of pseudoscientific jargon repeated ad nauseam...
     
  12. Zeratul

    Zeratul Registered User

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    In the Bulgarian translation I've read, the language in most of the stories have great rhythm, it's a pleasure to read. It takes some time to get used to it, but once you do, you get addicted. Or at least that happened to me, I must've reread some of the stories like 20 times over two years. But of course, it must've been way easier for the translators here than for those of the English or Spanish versions, because Bulgarian is much closer to the Polish language. From the bits I've seen of the English translation, Kandell seems to have done an amazing job of keeping up the spirit of the original.

    I just can't see why the fell of absurdness and goofyness is such a problem for many of you. By getting rid of scientific plausability of any kind Lem was able to make the stories much more creative and original in every sense. And yet in many of them there are profound ideas, explored in depth, but the stories are still funny.
     
  13. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

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    For me a book has to take itself at least somewhat seriously. That's not to say it can't be funny. I love funny books, but they internally have to take themselves seriously. Gaiman's books come to mind in this respect. Some of them I find hilariously funny, but they take the story they're telling very seriously, as do the characters within the story. Someone whose books I have never been able to get though are Terry Prachett's. I've tried about four of his book and have only been able to finish one. And it's not that I get disgusted or hate the books or anything. I find them interesting and funny, but since the books don't generally take themselves seriously, I just never feel compelled to go back to them.

    I find myself getting bored, no matter how interesting I find them. That's pretty much what happened with this book. That's not to say that every scientific principle had to be followed or anything of that sort, but the general tone of the stories said to me "this is all just silliness." And when the tone does that to me, the weight of any work is lost.

    In November I tried to put myself on a schedule for this one, read at least a story a day, but I was pretty busy in November and by the time I got some time to read in a day I couldn't bring myself to pick up Lem. I liked the ideas they were presenting, but I didn't want to wade through their tone to get to them. It's still sitting by the bed waiting to be finished, and I keep picking up whatever other book it is that I'm working on instead.

    And ArthurFrayn, Erf is fine, though Luke B prefers ErfDawg.
     
  14. ArthurFrayn

    ArthurFrayn the puppet master

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    What IS the Number of Hairs on the Brass Knuckle of the Skewbeezered Flummox?

    Inquiring minds want to know.;)

    I see this book just got everyone dancing in the aisles.;)
    Actually I understand-when I picked it up and started to read it, my first reaction was "oh, I'm not into anything like this right now". Still, I forged ahead. Once I accepted it on it's own terms it was amusing. It didn't read fast; one story usually was enough for the night. Consequently, even though it was a fairly light read, it took me forever to finish. I only read 2 books in November and the other Agent of Chaos by Norman Spinrad, I went through in a day.
    The first thing that went through my mind while reading was the comparison to Swift I'd see in reviews. I didn't really see that till the final installment which has some of Swift's revulsion for human flesh. I was thinking more of Voltaire (much of the philosophic musing of Trurl and Klapuacius reminded me of Professor Pangloss in Candide ) or even Lewis Carrol as more accurate comparisons than Swift, for most of the book.
    The other thing that went through my mind was: what does this book read like in Polish? So much of it in english relied heavily on wordplay -how much of what we are reading is Lem and how much of it is the translator Michael Kandel? In the story the Dragon's of Probability (one of the more entertaining sequences IMO), Klapaucius comes along a group of natives who speak like this:
    How could this dialect ridden material be a direct translation from the Polish??

    So I had to accept the idea that this was not the most easily translated text, and that the english translator had come up with this parallel text that expressed the tone of the first...which might be all any translator does anyway. But I knew that the "skewbeezered flummox" must be quite something else in Polish.I confess, I'm intrigued to know what. :D
    Some stories are more entertaining than others.Some I found tedious.I found the later installments had a little more meat than the earlier, but some of them reach a metafictional state of tail chasing, that didn't delight me as much as they presumed to.

    I liked: The Dragons of Probablity, How Furl and Klapaucius Created a Demon of the Second Kind to Defeat the Pirate Pugg, How Trurl's Own Perfection Led to No Good.

    I ran into trouble with the sequence about the dream cabinets in Tale of The Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius.That almost made me put the book down "to be finished next year", but the next story, ah the next story...The sad little story of Mymosh the accidental sentient who creates the universe-the Gozmos in his head, is like Beckett rewriting the Borge's short story The Circular Ruins as a SF children's fable. This one's a keeper and made the whole book worth while. It sums up in a few pages a lot of the epistomological concerns I encountered in Solaris,which is the only other book I've read by Lem to date. Mymosh reminded me of the sentient dreaming ocean in that novel. My favorite sequence in the book. I did go on to enjoy the rest of the book from that point on though- Chlorian Theoreticus the Proph scribbling bitterly in anonymity and Caderous Malignus who arrived at the same scholarly conclusions three hundred thousand years earlier is pretty funny, and Trurls' visit to the planet of HPLD, is as nuts as the Warner Brothers cartoon Porky in Wackyland.
    Actually a great deal of the imagery reminded me of what you might see in animated cartoons-I don't know how many here have seen eastern bloc animation, but things like the baby cannon in one of the earlier stories feel like something straight out of a Polish cartoon from the 60s.

    I'm not sure if I could or would read this again from cover to cover, but having read it once, I could see going back and reading select segments again, just like I still do with some of my favorite children's antholgies from when I was a kid.
    Overall, it's a little dated, but still fun. You have to be in the mood for this kind of thing. People who like The Hitchikers Guide To the Universe could give it a whirl, but it is a little more cerebral than that book. Both share a Pythonesque sense of the surreal and the absurd.

    ***Three stars for this one. It deserves four, but in terms of my enthusiasm for it, and my thoughts on recommending to others, I'll have to knock it down a point. So I would give a recommendation with reservation.

    The illustrations by Daniel Mroz in my edition were kind of cool. I hope you have those in your version; they did add to the reading.
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2005
  15. clong

    clong Registered User

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    amazon has still not even shipped my copy. :mad: I guess if you want a book shipped in a timely matter near Christmas you pass on the "free shipping" option.
     
  16. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Monthâ„¢

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    I have finally received my illustrated copy of the Cyberiad (took nearly two months!) and will read a story or two and give some initial thoughts later :)
    ....
    Well, I've just had time to read the first story about the machine that only makes things beginning with n. Instantly loved it - I love his style (the translator has done a superb job) and the off-hand way in which big ideas are thrown around with humorous consequences reminded me a lot of a book I've just read, The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien.

    If the rest of the stories are as good I'll be more than happy, though I feel it would be a good book to read now and again, rather than all in one go.

    Happy New Year, everyone.
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2005
  17. clong

    clong Registered User

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    I finally received my copy from amazon.com. My order was held up for nearly two months while they were deciding they couldn't fill a part of the order after all. So I'll get started reading and posting some comments.
     
  18. clong

    clong Registered User

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    I've now read the first ten stories, and I am really enjoying it. Maybe it's because I just read four heavy, dense, dark novels and I was ready for a change of pace. Maybe it's because I thrive on silly nonsense in general, and the mock epic in particular (as demonstrated by the string of silly parodies of famous poems I have contributed to the volleyball writing thread over at iblist). I particularly loved the story about the poetry machine. And I'll admit that a couple have dragged bit. It probably goes without saying that it is completely different in tone from other Lem that I have read (Fiasco, Solaris, His Master's Voice), so I hope those of you who didn't like it won't cross Lem of your list.

    I'll post additional comments after I finish.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2006
  19. Ropie

    Ropie Member of the Monthâ„¢

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    I agree. I've still only read the first five stories but each one has been interesting and amusing, light and yet intelligent, and quite different to the other Lems I've read (Eden & The Investigation). I enjoy reading one every now and again when other books start to drag a little.

    I love his writing and he can really do no wrong as far as I'm concerned!
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2006
  20. LordBalthazar

    LordBalthazar Registered User

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    If Dr. Seuss had a doctorate in physics, astronomy, and mathematics - and dropped a lot of acid - these are the types of stories he would have written.

    After reading the first book in the collection, How the World was Saved, I seriously wondered whether I would be able to suffer through the rest. Despite the fun complexity of the language, I thought the story itself was worthy of a creative writing seminar. However, I pressed on and, despite the two less-than-impressive stories that followed, Trurl's Machine and A Good Shellacking, I began to enjoy the collection and came away very impressed not only with some of Lam's outlandish concepts (that, despite their over-the-top treatments, still contained a grounding in some theoretical truths) but with Michael Kandel's translation in particular. My polish is a little rusty (non-existent) so I'm unable make comparisons to the original, but the language of the narrative - with all of its alliterations - was incredible.

    My favorite stories: The Dragons of Probability, and Prince Ferrix and the Princess Crystal.