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  1. #1
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Dec '05 BOTM: The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem

    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. #2
    BookWyrm Archren's Avatar
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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. #3
    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. #4
    Knight, .. extraordinaire Paladin's Avatar
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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. #5
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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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. #6
    Member of the Month™ Ropie's Avatar
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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. #7
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    Yeah, I know I owe everyone some comments on this one. I too am awaiting my copy from amazon.

  8. #8
    the puppet master ArthurFrayn's Avatar
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    Red face 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? ), 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 by ArthurFrayn; December 12th, 2005 at 12:14 PM.

  9. #9
    Registered User odo's Avatar
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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. #10
    BookWyrm Archren's Avatar
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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.

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

  11. #11
    Registered User odo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Archren
    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.
    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. #12
    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. #13
    Lemurs!!! Moderator Erfael's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zeratul
    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.
    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. #14
    the puppet master ArthurFrayn's Avatar
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    Question 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:
    Aye! So he comes to us, yer Grace, partakes of our 'umble fare, polite as you please an' I'll not gainsay it, nay a parfit gentlemean true, pays hondsomely, inquires after the missus don't y'know, aye an' then he sits 'isself down, spreads out a' them contraptions an' thin's with clocks in 'em, y'see, and scribbles furious-like, numbers the are, one after t'other in this wee book he keep in 'is breast pocket, then takes out a -whad'yacallit-therbobbiter thingamabob..."
    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.
    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 by ArthurFrayn; December 16th, 2005 at 10:25 PM.

  15. #15
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    amazon has still not even shipped my copy. I guess if you want a book shipped in a timely matter near Christmas you pass on the "free shipping" option.

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