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The Futurological Congress 82

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
eldavojohn writes "Stanislaw Lem was arguably the greatest non-English science fiction writer before his death three years ago and left behind many science fiction novels with messages of satire and intrigue. The Futurological Congress is no different. The book has several motifs throughout it but I found the most prominent to be that we are living in an increasingly medicated society whereby the future may be wonderfully dystopian — in that the horrors of our existence are simply hidden by drugs on top of drugs on top of drugs. With a movie due out shortly by director Ari Folman, it seems like a good time to revisit this often overlooked short classic sci-fi work." Read on for the rest of eldavojohn's review
The Futurological Congress
author Stanislay Lem, Translation by Michael Kandel
pages 156
publisher American Publisher: Harcourt Brace & Company
rating 9/10
reviewer eldavojohn
ISBN 0156340402
summary A dark sci-fi comedy lampooning a future of an overmedicated society detached from reality.
Our hero and narrator, Ijon Tichy, should be a familiar name to Lem fans or anyone familiar with Lem's Space Diaries in either English or Polish. Tichy acts as a mechanism of sanity in many of Lem's novels just trying to figure out what the devil is up with a messed up planet he lands on or a particular device/person. By this manner, Lem allows himself much discovery on the reader's behalf and by these means can relay the current state of events to the reader without jarringly interrupting the natural flow of things too much. Through this novel's course of Tichy's discoveries, I was suspended from being disturbed by spoon-fed explanations most of the time, but the word play that occurred in this particular story got to be a bit much and tedious for a sub-150-page paperback hence a missing point in its score.

Tichy is now a member of the Futurological Association and is invited to attend the Eighth Futurological Congress in Nounas, Costa Rica. From the get go, Lem is full of satire with the immediate lampooning of such self-appointed associations (and maybe even academia) by pointing out that there are two kinds of individuals in these associations: the ones that attend every single meeting/conference and those that don't leave their offices, period.

One of the themes throughout the book is a borderline anti-American sentiment about the development of munitions and bombs. I'm familiar with Lem's ability to criticize both sides of the Cold War in a single paragraph although The Futurological Congress seems to focus more heavily on American military and pharmaceutical faults. Lem must have been well aware of kidnappings in Latin America when he wrote this book because that's one aspect he got right about the future of that area. Due to heavy activist presence in Costa Rica trying to capture and ransom Americans, a military attache is accompanying the U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica to speak at the congress but in the middle of his speech an unfortunate delegate from India reaches into his breast pocket to grab a handkerchief to wipe his nose. This delegate standing next to Tichy is immediately dispensed with by the bodyguards of the ambassador and, thanks to 'humanitarian ballistics,' Tichy only gets a spattering of blood on him instead of the bullet passing through the target and injuring more people.

Some background on Lem may help you understand this satire. He was born a Catholic Pole with Jewish ancestry and seemed to run the gauntlet of oppression. He survived World War II with fake papers as a mechanic/welder and due to his "bourgeois origin" could not study at the Polytechnic during Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland after the end of the war. He became an Atheist stating, "for moral reasons ... the world appears to me to be put together in such a painful way that I prefer to believe that it was not created ... intentionally." Knowing this, his satire and bitter critique of all things may not surprise you. On his way to the conference--aside from meeting an orgy of liberated publishers--he encounters an 'anti-papist' who is a Catholic on his way to kill the Pope with a gun of a massive caliber. The anti-papist's surprising motive is none other than The Holy Bible where Abraham is ordered to kill his son Isaac by God. Except that the anti-papist would be killing a father, the most holiest father. And this would be a great personal sacrifice and the "utmost of martyrdom" as the anti-papist "would suffer terrible torment and his soul eternal damnation." Again, Lem predicts today's world, we have no limit of people eager to misinterpret scriptures of any religion.

Back to the conference--since there's 168 attendees from 64 different countries, each person gets four minutes to present their paper. And everyone is only really interested in their own work and telling everyone else about it in a bit of a narcissistic way. This leads the first member to spend his four minutes thusly: "Stan Hazelton from the U.S. Delegation immediately threw the hall into a frenzy by emphatically repeating: 4, 6, 11, and therefore 22; 5, 9 hence 22; 3, 7, 2, 11, from which it followed that 22 and only 22!! Someone jumped up, saying yes but 5, and what about 6, 18, or 4 for that matter; Hazelton countered this objection with the crushing retort that, either way, 22. I turned to the number key in his paper and discovered that 22 meant the end of the world." The Futurologists in this novel are probably best described as each one being a less optimistic Ray Kurzweil in that they all seem to be spouting their own version of obstacles humanity is soon to face and consequently their ideas to remedy it. For instance the second delegate from Japan unveils a 10,000:1 model of a housing complex some 800 stories tall with self sustaining everything and mobile in the ocean! It's the future! In fact, everything is recycled! Even the food is recycled waste and excrement from the people. The sausage left out in the hall is actually reconstituted human waste (at which point everyone in the audience stops eating and shuffles the food underneath their seats). This sets the tone for a few of the minor themes of the novel and gives you an idea of how Lem takes subtle jabs at everyone. For example another United States delegate takes the floor to talk about population problems that are rapidly developing. He outlines seven solutions: "mass media and mass arrests, compulsory celibacy, full-sale deeroticization, onanization, sodomization, and for repeated offenders--castration." The book makes other references to population control and one character notes that continuing trends of population would eventually result in human beings exploding outward at the speed of light. Nature is addressed in an equally hilarious means as later in the book all animals have been extinct and replaced with what appear to be better controlled robots.

While in his room, Tichy makes the mistake of drinking the water and discovers that the water is spiked with a powerful hallucinogenic drug. He assumes it's the work of the revolutionaries and decides not to tell anyone but as the violence outside escalates and he mentions it to a fellow futurologist, he discovers that it is the rise of chryptochemocracy! With the hotel's staff, he quickly equips a gas mask as it becomes clear that chemical warfare is afoot ... of a psychedelic nature. Planes are called in equipped with LTN bombs. LTN stands for "Love Thy Neighbor" which is pretty indicative of today's munitions and their goals with surgical strikes. Hilariously enough, the very hotel in which the congress is convening is immediately bombed by mistake.

After pages of chemical warfare that affect the crowd's temperament and counter chemicals that affect the crowd's temperament, Tichy and a friend find oxygen tanks and masks and descend to the sewers where the hotel staff is relaxing comfortably with their own oxygen tanks and masks.

Unfortunately, Tichy and his companion do not have enough oxygen to last the night and therefore must take shifts suffering hallucinations. What follows from this point is a series of hallucinations that Tichy has ending in him coming to in the sewer. Tichy has several of these bizarre hallucinations ending in him being shot by revolutionaries in the sewer. He comes to certain that he is still hallucinating and refuses to believe anyone he is not. As a result, they freeze him until they can find a cure for his mental illness and he is unthawed many years later in a reality where 'psychemicals' keep everyone happy. This overmedicated society disgusts and frightens Tichy at times. It has gotten so bad that a company now exists where you can order a psychem that allows you the satisfaction of doing evil upon another person. Murder's no longer a problem, you just get reanimated. The worst possible offense is using psychems on an individual without their consent.

Tichy attempts to adapt and I couldn't help but be reminded of Fry in Futurama with similar humor employed nearly thirty years before it. As Tichy reconnects with his futurologist friend (people stopped dying as technology caught up a la Kurzweil), he discovers something unsettling about the drugs everyone is taking. He discovers that there's mascons that act as blockers to your senses and replace it with a superficial reality. And we start to understand why everything is so mysteriously idyllic while at the same times animals have been extinct for many years and the planet is at an overburdening 26 billion people. Tichy's friend hands him two vials that will unblock the layers of mascons. You see, the 'architects' of this current psychem reality have patched and repatched side effects of psychems and mascons with more psychems and mascons in the air and water supply! I'll leave The Matrix-like vials and harsh transition from utopia to dystopia for people interested in reading the book.

This book was a joy to read and although the very end is a bit dissatisfying to me, the satire and pessimism inherent to Lem's writings have influenced me and continue to influence me heavily. I like to think that Lem borrowed from sci-fi writers like Philip K. Dick and that other science fiction authors like Douglas Adams have borrowed from Lem despite the language barrier and difference in culture. While Lem may not be the icon that Lovecraft, Clarke and Asimov have become, I certainly hope that people recognize his large corpus of works for more than just Solaris as I've enjoyed many novels by him. Lem offers a rare dark comedy in science fiction with The Futurological Congress.

You can pick up the English version of The Futurological Congress at Amazon . And catch the Ari Folman movie where the present day will be live action while the unfathomable future will be animated to adapt to the stark impossibilities the book portrays.

Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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The Futurological Congress

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  • the book lacks Lem's entertainement factor, reporting exactly how congresse usually are:

    boring boring boring

    no wonder Tichy made some excursions

  • The great Lem (Score:5, Informative)

    by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday June 08, 2009 @02:43PM (#28254067) Homepage

    Why Stanislaw Lem doesn't get more attention on this News for Nerds site I just don't understand. Maybe it's just a general adversion to works in translation. But look beyond works like Solaris which is a clever book, though not so great, and of the film adaptations one was dull and the other cheesy. But for everyone here I'd recommend strongly the Cyberiad [amazon.com] , about capable engineers roaming the galaxy when technology allows them to realize whatever crazy schemes they want. The chapter where they design a computer capable of generating poetry, and its first production is a splendid love poem in the language of tensor algebra will have the mathematically minded folks here falling off their chairs laughing.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991)
      He gets about as much attention as most other novelists here. Slashdot has never been a bookish site.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eldavojohn (898314) *

      Why Stanislaw Lem doesn't get more attention on this News for Nerds site I just don't understand... But for everyone here I'd recommend strongly the Cyberiad [amazon.com]

      As someone who took twenty minutes to write up a review on The Futurological Congress, I may point out that it's very easy to write a review and submit it. You could do that for Cyberiad if you'd like. I agree that it is also a great book.

      Maybe it's just a general adversion [sic] to works in translation.

      One thing that's confused me about Lem's books is the wordplay he does and how the hell anyone can translate that from Polish to English so flawlessly that the alliteration and prefix/suffix work moves from one language to another. Perhaps these two languages are more c

      • Re:The great Lem (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rary (566291) on Monday June 08, 2009 @03:05PM (#28254373)

        One thing that's confused me about Lem's books is the wordplay he does and how the hell anyone can translate that from Polish to English so flawlessly that the alliteration and prefix/suffix work moves from one language to another. Perhaps these two languages are more closely related than I know but I am always impressed with the translations.

        As I understand it, most translators will not simply translate the book word for word, but instead will try to recreate the spirit of the writing, while staying as faithful as possible to the literal story. So, in the case where there is some sort of wordplay, they may translate it in a way that's actually literally quite different, but communicates the same sort of imagery. If alliteration is used in the source language, they may change the wording entirely in order to use alliteration in the target language.

        Translating books is a creative process. It's not simply translation of the work, but rather creation of a complementary work in a different language.

        • by grogo (861262)
          I'm a Polish-American, having come to the US at the age of 12. Lem was my favorite author even before we left Poland.

          I've read almost all of his books in the original Polish and in English. Both good and bad translations. For example, the only English translation of Solaris was translated from French, making it a dull read in English, though it's much better in Polish.

          The majority of his books, esp. those translated by Kandel, are very faithful to the original. Not the details, of course, but in the s

          • by grogo (861262)
            Oops, forgot the point of that previous story: the first thing that Klapaucjusz (Klapaucius) has the machine make is Nature: and instead the machine makes what sounds like Science. In this case, the joke doesn't work so well: in Polish, the word for Science is Nauka, but the translator, to keep some of the original joke, had to change it to Nature, which doesn't come off so well. The machine makes a perfect replica of academic science, which is a clear joke in Polish, but a little clumsy in the English tr
            • by Rary (566291)

              That's quite interesting. I clicked your link and read the story before I read this last response with your explanation of the Nature/Science joke. As I was reading it, I wondered if Nature was the actual n-word used in the original. It seemed to me that what the machine was creating wasn't really Nature, although arguably it was creating a demonstration of "human nature". I thought that maybe that was the joke. Perhaps the translator was attempting to make that association, in which case it worked, only it

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TeknoHog (164938)

        One thing that's confused me about Lem's books is the wordplay he does and how the hell anyone can translate that from Polish to English so flawlessly that the alliteration and prefix/suffix work moves from one language to another. Perhaps these two languages are more closely related than I know but I am always impressed with the translations.

        I read the Cyberiad as a Polish -> English -> Finnish translation, and nearly killed myself laughing. If the saying that a translation always loses half of the book, is true, then I better not learn Polish.

        • Learn Russian - more useful in the long term and you can still enjoy the books as Polish and Russian languages are so close that the Polish-Russian translation is mostly trivial and looses nothing in the process.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by bolek_b (246528)
      To continue with recommendations, Lem's final work, Fiasco is a superb book. And for more advanced readers (such as those, who read and liked Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco), there are great novels His Master's Voice and Golem XIV.
    • Seconded (Score:5, Informative)

      by professorguy (1108737) on Monday June 08, 2009 @03:02PM (#28254317)
      I always recommend Cyberiad for new readers of Lem. But for the geeks that are sure to lurk here let me throw out a few more. I've read pretty much everything that's been translated (including a lot of his literaturary criticism), so I know the gems.

      Read Memoirs Found In A Bathtub if you liked Futurological Congress. It has the same paranoid glimpses of a distopian, yet familiar, future.
      Read Mortal Engines if you liked Cyberiad. Funny stuff.
      Read Fiasco for great hard Sci-fi. Greatest density of cool ideas per page.
      Read Imaginary Magnitude if you're a geek and want to read about the famous Golem XIV (which has its own wikipedia article).
      Read The Chain of Chance and you'll never read another mystery novel again--he pretty much unravels the entire genre with this book.
      Read His Master's Voice for dense philosophy presented as a science mystery. This is his masterpiece.

      This is just the tip of the iceberg--there's plenty more where that came from.
      • by melikamp (631205)

        Why are the name translations so screwed up sometimes? Mortal engines is literally Robots' Fables and The Chain of Chance is Katar. I cannot even establish what it means in Polish, but in Russian this one is mysteriously named Runny Nose.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by radtea (464814)

        Read His Master's Voice for dense philosophy presented as a science mystery. This is his masterpiece.

        Second that. It is one of the very few science fiction stories that gets the process of how scientists actually think basically correct.

        Amongst his more accessible books--after you get through the lengthy wandering through the spaceport stuff at the beginning--is "Return From the Stars", which is more optimistic than most. It's the story of a returning starfarer trying to adapt to a society that has chang

        • Lem is not the just "arguably the greatest non-English SF writer" he is arguably the greatest SF writer of the 20th century, in any language.

          Seconded.

      • by psiekl (310217)

        And read The Invincible for Lem's take at evolution (and a great action story as well - in fact, I'm surprised no-one did a movie based on it yet).

        • by Sique (173459)

          The Invincible (I read it at the age of 11) was the only book ever I got nightmares after reading it.

      • Summa Technologiae (Score:2, Informative)

        by robi5 (1261542)
        Read Summa Technologiae (non-fiction) if you want to read about futurology forecasts that are very competitive with those of the current thought leaders - Ray Kurzweil, Hans Moravec, de Grey, Vinge, Vita-More, Gibson, Dennett, Hofstadter etc. - only making these in 1963 when the exponential growth and Moore's law (or the transistor!) were not common sense. I would be interested in what topics other readers found interesting in this book.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by hguorbray (967940)

        Memoirs found in a bathtub is also my favorite

        One of his most unusual ones however was:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Perfect_Vacuum [wikipedia.org]

        which was a (Sometimes) hilarious reviews of non-existent (and ridiculous) books -it was a sort of dig at post-modernism -almost 40 years ago....

        I also liked return from the stars, and pirx the pilot was fun, lighter fare.

        -I'm just sayin'

      • Thirded... (Score:2, Informative)

        by Dusty101 (765661)

        Another shout out from this corner for Lem as arguably the greatest SF author of the 20th century. I fairly recently went back and read Arthur C. Clarke's classic "Childhood's End", and I've got to say that, while it's got some interesting ideas (some of which are a bit dated nowadays, but novel for the time), I found it overly depressing and definitely wanting in comparison to almost everything I've read by Lem, of which the above list given in the parent is a subset. While a lot of Lem's stuff is pretty p

        • by Sique (173459)

          I always thought it a bit of a shame that, given the amount of time and money spent on the Soderbergh/Clooney film adaptation, no-one kicked back enough for a straight Polish-English translation of the original novel.

          On the other hand I was laughing when I read Stanislaw Lem's comment on this movie: "My book was not about the sexual problems of humans in space."

    • by melikamp (631205)
      Yup. Another great book is Peace on Earth [wikipedia.org]. It is about Ijon Tichy getting neck-deep into the intrigue involving remote-controlled dolls, cyborgs, automated warfare and strong AI, a bit reminiscent of GITS but even more philosophical. Love it.
    • by glwtta (532858)
      Fuck me, Tarkovsky's Solaris was "dull"? What, not enough car chases for you?
      • A car chase does not an interesting movie make. The story, plot, characters, development of the characters, camera work, suspense, depth of meaning unsaid, but hinted upon, that is what makes a good movie. That is what you think about later, that is what you discuss with you friends and even strangers. If a movie makes you think, it is a good movie. A movie that permanently changes your view on life is a great movie.

        This Solaris was a bit dull and plain. Read the book. Or better yet - another of Lem's books

    • Why Stanislaw Lem doesn't get more attention on this News for Nerds site I just don't understand. Maybe it's just a general adversion to works in translation. But look beyond works like Solaris which is a clever book, though not so great, and of the film adaptations one was dull and the other cheesy.

      Translation -
      I'm American. I don't like to think. I am incapable of understanding the work of a genius like Andrei Tarkovsky. Even the remake with Clooney didn't work for me because despite being shorter, I still had to think about it. And there wasn't enough stuff being blown up.

      By the way, I'm American so I'm allowed to say that.

      • by nusuth (520833)
        I love the book, but neither film worked for me. I couldn't even stand to watch to the end. Lem didn't like them either, so that is good enough for me.
      • by CRCulver (715279)

        FWIW, I am a fan of Tarkovsky. I count Andrei Rublev and Offret among my favourite films. But I don't think Solaris was one of his better efforts.

        • FWIW, I am a fan of Tarkovsky. I count Andrei Rublev and Offret among my favourite films. But I don't think Solaris was one of his better efforts.

          FWIW, I am also an American and a fan of Tarkovksy's films. However, GP's criticism is not wholly without merit. Absolutely none of my American friends can sit through a Tarkovsky film without getting bored. I got a couple of them to watch Offret and at the end of the movie their basic reaction was "What the hell was that???" So, while GP is harsh and maybe ev

      • by tenco (773732)
        I read the book first (which is IMHO the best novel from Lem i read so far) and only watched the film with Clooney. And this film just sucks. The whole main theme of the book - a philosophical take on human cognition - was left out completely. But maybe I'm a bit special. I think Abrams version of Star Trek sucks, too, because everything Star Trek stood for was thrown away by Abrams and replaced by action sequences composed of shiny CGIs.
    • I was recently asked to do a reading for a wedding which had a strong geek audience in attendance, and I very much considered reading Lem's love poem. This was a book that deeply influenced my decision to spend a life in pursuing hackerdom, and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Lem by a former Bell Labs employee who also introduced me to a variety of other cool geeky things (telnet, for instance). In the end, I decided not to go with the poem, because it doesn't really fit the couple actually get
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        On the subject of Solaris, though-- I think it is a masterpiece of psychologial terror, totally gripping-- but that the film adaptations (Tarkovsky's less so) are somewhat weak. Too bad Kubrick didn't take a stab at it.

        Well, Tarkovsky wasn't trying to do a faithful interpretation of Lem's book. Tarkovsky had his own ideas about life, the universe, and everything which were often at odds with Lem's. I imagine Kubrick would also have gone out on his own way if he made a movie of Solaris. Like Tarkovsky, h

        • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

          by raddan (519638)
          That's true, and in general, I'm OK with a filmmaker taking liberties with a story. E.g., David Lynch's version of Dune is in many ways different than Frank Herbert's story. But the gist is still there. For me, I feel like when someone like Soderbergh feels that they can improve on a "masterpiece" by de-emphasizing the main themes of the work, they're missing the point. The love theme in Solaris was there only to heighten the fact that Solaris was tormenting this poor guy-- it wasn't love, it was tortur
    • The Cosmic Carnival of Stanislaw Lem : An Anthology of Entertaining Stories by the Modern Master of Science Fiction
      This was also translated by Kandel and is a great intro to Lem.

    • Actually what you would call dull, is acknowledged one of the greatest masterpieces of cinema, Andreij Tarkovskisj Solaris adaption!
      The main problem is that Tarkovskij basically made a 3 hour epos about guilt religion and believe out of the book. Hard to swallow for the american action movie audience!

  • A great book (Score:2, Interesting)

    by john57 (988099)
    It probably was the only book which made me laugh while I read it, and made me scared when I finished reading it. Really worth checking it out.
  • I feel fantastic! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rei (128717) on Monday June 08, 2009 @02:47PM (#28254123) Homepage

    I get up early when the sleeping pill wakes me
    I take a wake up pill and fill with energy
    I power on hard and I check my messages
    But I don't have any messages
    I take a driving pill and head to my car
    I drive around a bit cuz work isn't very far
    I call my phone and I check my messages
    But I don't have any messages

    All I know is driving on drugs feels better when they're prescription
    All I know is the world looks beautiful, the world looks so damn beautiful

    I feel fantastic
    And I never felt as good as how I do right now
    Except for maybe when I think of how I felt that day
    When I felt the way that I do right now, right now.
    I feel fantastic
    And I never felt as good as how I do right now
    Except for maybe when I think of how I felt that day
    When I felt the way that I do right now, right now, right now.

    Work is anything but quiet these days
    I try to medicate my concentration haze
    I can feel/see the day unfold in front of me
    So I take the stairs and hit the gym
    The phone is ringing when I get to my desk
    What was a stinging's now a sharp pain in my chest
    So I take a Calminex and just chill
    And then it's time for lunch again

    All I know is work is easy when you don't stress out about deadlines
    All I know is I take my medicine I always take my medicine.

    And I feel fantastic
    And I never felt as good as how I do right now
    Except for maybe when I think of how I felt that day
    When I felt the way that I do right now, right now, right now.
    I feel fantastic
    And I never felt as good as how I do right now
    Except for maybe when I think of how I felt that day
    When I felt the way that I do right now, right now, right now. (6 right now's that fade out)

    Sometimes I'd like to slow things down
    Enjoy the moment
    But when I look the moment's gone

    Work is over but I can't stay to work late
    Got to leave and get ready for my second date
    With a pretty girl that I met at the pharmacy
    Right in the prescription line
    I take a pill for my social anxiety
    I get a table and a nice bottle of chablis
    Now it's getting late and there's still no sign of her
    I have another glass of wine

    All I know is the wine lasts longer when you don't gotta share it with someone
    All I know is the steak tastes better when I take my steak tastes better pill

    And I feel fantastic
    And I never felt as good as how I do right now
    Except for maybe when I think of how I felt that day
    When I felt the way that I do right now, right now.
    And I feel fantastic
    And I never felt as good as how I do right now
    Except for maybe when I think of how I felt that day
    When I felt the way that I do right now, right now, right now.

    (Live) [youtube.com] (JoCopedia) [jonathancoulton.com] (Store) [jonathancoulton.com]

    • I wonder if the financial meltdown... large part triggered by banks writing bad mortgages and selling them to each other, wasn't in part due to many people in the financial industry being on high end happy pills.
    • Well, reading that gave me my daily dose of squick [tvtropes.org].

  • The continuous medicating of society is a common theme in books such as A Brave New World. It was a common trend in writing of future Utopias which have become numb to emotion and expression. I look forward to this movie, but it you want a movie that has this them I recommend Equilibrium starring Christen Bale. It was only released on DVD in the United States, but was released in the UK in theaters where where it did well.
  • by gnetwerker (526997) on Monday June 08, 2009 @03:06PM (#28254377) Journal
    Thanks to the OP and Slashdot for this. As an avid reader of Lem since the 1970s, I remember The Futurological Congress well, and if I were at home, I'd grab my copy and re-read it. For those who need a gentler introduction to Lem, try Tales of Pirx the Pilot and its sequels. However, for pure, all-out trippyness, try Memoirs Found in a Bathtub. And don't forget that Lem wrote Solaris, an SF classic, despite the two attempts at movies from it.
    • Actually the Tarkovskij version only is loosely connected to the book. He follows the main storyline but tells his own story, and the movie is a masterpiece, but probably hard to grasp for an american audience!

  • Futurama links (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's funny to note that Lem's humor is reminiscent of that in Futurama. At least one episode ("Fear of a Bot Planet") is based on a short story by Lem (Ijon Tichy's eleventh voyage).

  • Cyberiad (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bcrowell (177657) on Monday June 08, 2009 @04:06PM (#28255445) Homepage
    I've never enjoyed Lem's novels. They tend to be extremely dull, IMO, and often there's virtually no characterization. What I really enjoyed by Lem was the Cyberiad, which is anthology of satirical fairy tales about two robotic inventors. They're funny, but they also have a lot of interesting intellectual content in them. There's a lot of really funny wordplay; I think his translator must have sold his soul to the devil in order to be able to translate the verbal craziness so well from Polish into English.
  • Few people i know are medicated, at any level.

  • I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the translators, "riding between the post-houses", who've brought Lem to those of us less able to read Polish. I see that translation has been hit a bit about the neck and shoulders in replies to this review. Thanks to Lem and Kandel, I don't have (nor do I want) a security clearance, wince while stirring the contents of styrofoam coffee cups, quote Snow more often than is necessary, and see the Phools everywhere.
    On another note: Penguin Classics edition of Calvi [penguinclassics.co.uk]
  • I first read Lem about twenty years ago and thought he was quite the under appreciated gem. I last read 'The Futurological Congress' quite a while ago, perhaps 8 years or more, so my recollection is a little foggy. However I think I recall wondering if 'The Matrix' had some initial inspiration there.
  • When you think about it, all future is dystopian. If you can somehow travel back in time and tell your Puritan founding fathers that porn could be accessed with literally a touch of a button, then they will probably freak out. The same way if you told a native nomadic tribesman that in the future, national borders will prevent him from roaming freely. My point here is that what may seem to be dystopian to us now will be the norm or even desired in the future. There is no way that we can reliably predict how
    • Well said! and this being the case there's people out saying they want "positive" science fiction. bleh!
  • Lem is the best. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Morrkh (1572423)
    My favourite author. Ever. It might intrest you that about 85% of Futurama's plots are directly inspired by Lem (Star Diaries, mostly), and you will find his Ideas present in many other science-fiction. His more philosophical works are worth a look too, especially "Summa Technologicae" and It'S follow up "The Technology-Trap". There's even a Doctor of Philosophy offering "Lemology" for fun in Bochum, Germany...
  • Stanislaw Lem was arguably the greatest non-English science fiction writer

    I think Robert Heinlein was a better writer. Pretty sure he wasn't English.

    Oh, you mean "greatest SF writer who didn't write in English". Oh, do you think I'm nitpicking? Well, if you care that little about what words mean, you probably shouldn't write book reviews.

    • by identity0 (77976)
      If you're going to nitpick, do it right. "English writer" can mean "person who writes in English" just as "English speaker" usually means "person who speaks English".
      • by fm6 (162816)

        "English writer" can mean "person who writes in English"

        If you're going to nitpick nitpicks, get your facts straight. Have you ever heard "English writer" used that way? Understanding language is more than simply applying grammar and logic. There are a huge number of informal conventions. Thus you can say "Time flies like an arrow" and everybody understands that you're talking about the fleetingness of experience and not the affinity of insects with projectiles.

  • by danny (2658) on Monday June 08, 2009 @09:16PM (#28259665) Homepage
    I've written a review of The Futurological Congress [dannyreviews.com], but not of his other books, which include some other gems. Cyberiad is a great piece of fun, and His Master's Voice has dated much better than most of the alien contact stories from the 1960s.
  • In "The Futurological Congress" the Philip K. Dick-type "reality reversals" are brought on by psychoactive chemicals. But Lem obviously considered other forms of cheating subjective reality, long before "The Matrix": In his non-fiction "Summa Technologiae" (1964) -unfortunately never translated to English- he suggested a new technology he called "Phantomatics" which is what we today would call "Virtual Reality"! BTW in the same book Lem also considered the possibilities of micro- and nanotechnology. Bear in
  • was arguably the greatest science fiction writer would be more accurate, IMHO.
  • So I haven't read this book so won't comment on it directly but the review at least brought up a pet peeve of mine: the idea that somehow it would be dystopian to 'hide' how bad life was by making us artificially happy.

    This notion doesn't even really make sense. Evolution has dictated that certain things make us happy and others make us sad but that doesn't mean there is something objectively reasonable about being happy when you have high social status and many mates and sad when you have few material r

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