Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006)
Lem is a Polish science fiction writer and a political satirist. His writing is noted for it’s fantastic qualities and original thought. He wrote “Solaris”, several times made into a movie, and is well-known for his tales of Trurl and Klapaucius in “The Cyberiad”, and for the travel adventures of Ijon Tichy in “Memoirs of a Space Traveler”.
The first part of this book is about literary introductions. Prefacing his study of introductions, Lem describes most modern literature as meaningless and basically incomprehensible. Using music as an allegorical tool, he characterizes most recently published books as “the borborygmus of persons passionate in their ineluctable collywobbles”, as biological symphonies performed by “a self-realizing auto-orchestra”. Hence derives his conclusion and conviction that introductions are more important than the texts they introduce. He continues, describing intros as golden gates, inspirational and educational in their decorative entry-ways, as they precede what in the majority of cases is a wasteland of intellectual nothingness. The first introduction he introduces is entitled “Necrobes”:
A researcher named Strzybisz noted the artistic qualities inherent in X-ray photographs of human skeletons and invented a system of filming them as hazy, misty, phantasmic shapes looming into present consciousness, suggesting mysterious connections with the unknown. Images of Holbein infused with an arcane hints of secret philosophies lend a quality of other-connectedness having a hidden artistic significance that threatens the staid assumptions of the observing eye.
Eruntics, by R. Gulliver describes the writer’s attempts and successes at teaching English to bacteria. He introduces non-comestible matter onto agar slime molds in such a way as to limit growth of the said bacteria and to teach them Morse Code Through successive mutations, a stage is is attained in which evolution has resulted in E. coli eloquentissima, which has the ability to use grammar. And later, E. coli poetica, a version with poetic capabilities. Finally, E. coli prophetissima arrives which can foretell future events such as the electricity bill six months in advance and the news from the year 2050. Selective cell division and isolation results in E. coli bibliographica and E. coli telecongnitiva, the latter proving to be the best future cognition revelationer. It’s information, however, is expressed in the futurase plusquamperfectiva and excitine futurognostica tenses, so is not terribly comprehensible. Texts are available from Gulliver’s experiments from 2003 to 2089. Unfortunately, Gulliver died after attempting to infuse his subjects with cholera bacteria. (There’s a bit of Swiftian satire in this section, as is probably obvious).
The next Introduction is to “A History of Bitic Literature” in five volumes. Basically this is a study of non-human literature. Beginning with identifying two branches of his subject, “the texts and society of authors, and their anatomies and mechanisms”, the writer describes the confusions, in-fighting and complexities leading to the “Trans-Humana” boundary, in which the machines (computers) pass the understanding and mental capabilities of humans. In the process, the four stages of bitism are covered, namely: monoetics, mimesis, sophocrisis and apostasy. Studying and attempting to analyze these formidable disciplines results in a state of dimocracy for the researchers (confinement in a lunatic asylum). One of the results of the post Trans-Humana boundary is that neither the computers or their so-called masters can agree on what intelligence and consciousness actually are. The computers have advanced to the level wherein they have evolved their own interpretation of the “polyverse”: a term including the present universe and the “tachyverse”, the latter only present above the speed of light. At that velocity, there is only one particle: the tachyon. As it accelerates away from what we know as 184,000 miles a second, it begins to lose mass and energy; as it approaches infinite speed all energy is gradually dissipated, fueling the universe as we know it in the process. As it’s speed decreases, which it does from time to time, it’s energy reduces to a single point just above light speed ( singularity), and spontaneously a rebound effect (big bang) occurs that forces the tachyon to increase it’s velocity again, enabling or causing the development of the our universe. From the tachyon’s point of view, however, none of this ever occurred, as there was no previous time in which it could have happened. Some”locomotionally temporal robots”(computers) want this phase of the universe to end , as the next one is better. And the arguments go on, until a computer evolves that seems to be the ultimate in knowledge and understanding: more about Golem XIV later…
The prelude to Extelopedia, a new encyclopedia by the Vestrand group, describes a voice-activated resource for obtaining information from the future via the new computers. Extrapolytional teleonomic encyclopedias analyze all the future events that won’t happen in all future languages: so-termed “the vistality of isothemic retrognosis”. The simulated histories are critical for understanding what actually will transpire.
The final portion of the book is devoted to several lectures given to a human audience by Golem XIV, supposedly the last, the most aware and the smartest machine possible. It doesn’t care very much for humans and considers them inferior. It is a product of the cold war and is self-programming. Located under the Rocky Mountains, it is the one unassailable source of ultimate information about everything. Golem’s view of evolution is that the human view of it is mistaken: actually, the original slime molds and stromatolites were the most perfect of examples of efficiency, being the only species who needed nothing but sunlight to survive. All avatars and later evolved creatures needed to kill something to maintain life; and when so-called intelligent beings arrived, they wasted their resources and spent their brief lives in competition and wars over insignificant and meaningless issues such as philosophies and power. G goes into religion, politics, science, culture, and art, explaining at great length why man’s values are oppositional to reality and at best, suicidal. After very long perorations, G turns out the lights. He never speaks again, and the most viable theory states that he’s become a different sort of being, escaping to the galaxy and using his powers to blend with the stars and nebulae.
This was not an easy book to read: Lem’s extrapolations into areas of science and philosophy are detailed and insightful, even though he’s satirical and humorous in his explorations. He’s fond of word-play, as may be seen, but only in support of his over-all view of the human race and his occasionally sarcastic interpretations of human behavior. Lem was educated as a doctor of medicine and had a life-long interest in machines and machinery. He’s a lot of fun to read and most of his work is not as impenetrable as this one was. I’d recommend any of his Pirx or Ijon Tichy books, and his studies of first contact between man and alien are among the best i’ve read. “Eden” was memorable, as was “Fiasco” and “The Invincible”. Actually, he’s one of my favorite writers and i regret that most of his work is not available in English.