Friday Atheist Friendly Fiction (3)

Posted: October 30, 2009 in atheism, atheist friendly fiction, books
Tags: , , ,

Today’s recommendation is anything by Stanisław Lem!

(But mostly Cyberiad and Star Diaries and Mortal Engines)

Guys, let’s face it. My review-writing skills are nonexistent. I suck. It’s so evident to me that stuff I like is absolutely cool that I find it next to impossible to list the reasons why it is so with any semblance of coherence. Also, I get excited and hyper and just keep browsing my favourite quotes.

And there are lots of them.

It takes hours.

So, this time, let’s just link to other people’s reviews, which are way better than anything I would write anyway.

(Also, I have 9 minutes now before Friday is over)

The Cyberiad

Star Diaries

Mortal Engines

(You will understand why I’m reccing this as an atheist-friendly stuff when you read Lem’s account of creation *snorts*. My memories are very fond even after all those years)


Wikipedia’s delightful summary:

A typical example is the fairy tale O królewiczu Ferrycym i królewnie Krystali) (“Prince Ferrix and the Princess Crystal”). A princely (robotic) knight falls in love with a beautiful (robotic) princess. Unfortunately, the princess is somewhat eccentric, and is captivated by stories of an alien non-robotic, “paleface” civilization (the humans). She declares that she will only marry a “paleface”. Therefore, the knight decides to masquerade as a paleface. He covers himself with mud, starting to resemble one, and then comes to woo her. Meanwhile, a real “paleface” captive arrives, given as a gift to the king. It immediately becomes obvious to the princess who is the “muddier” one, but the “paleface” turns out to be too squishy and overall disgusting. Not wanting to back down at the last minute, however, the princess declares a joust between the two suitors to select the worthier one. When the “paleface” charges at the robot, he splatters himself on the latter’s metal chest, revealing the metallic body to all. The princess, beholding the beauty of the exposed robot (compared with the ugliness of the “paleface”), changes her mind. The knight and the princess live happily ever after.



  1. Ausir says:

    Yeah, I’ve been buying the Lem collection that Gazeta Wyborcza is releasing. It comes with some cool bonus content!

    • ZOMG THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU’RE AN EXPAT O.O I didn’t even know about that. ZOMG, will the parental units complain if ^sendai phones them now to ascertain the whereabouts of extra content?
      I mean, WANT!

      • Ausir says:

        For example, the extra content in “Doskonała próżnia”, Lem’s collection of reviews of fictional books, is a review by Jacek Dukaj of a book detailing the history and works of AIs simulating Stanisław Lem.

  2. Ausir :

    For example, the extra content in “Doskonała próżnia”, Lem’s collection of reviews of fictional books, is a review by Jacek Dukaj of a book detailing the history and works of AIs simulating Stanisław Lem.

    I…I want it so much I actually seriously thought about calling the parental units right now ;___;
    ZOMD, if male parental unit is not buying this stuff, I’m not going home for Xmas DDDDDDDDD:

  3. Ausir says:

    Only the first 16 volumes had bonus content, by the way. The next 17 don’t. The latest one is volume 22, and they’re released monthly (the first 16 were being released weekly).

    *And the 16th one is only bonus content, with Lem’s unfinished “Sknocony kryminał”, his short satirical play about Stalin that was presumed lost.**

    **He hid it so well in fear of repercussions that he couldn’t find it for the rest of his life, it was found posthumously.

  4. Ausir :

    Ever read anything by Dukaj?

    Don’t think so. I’m sort of allergic to Polish sci-fi writers; the majority seems to be crazy wingnuts. For some reason. Lol, Ziemkiewicz? And the guy who used to write politically involved porn with 15-year-old pseudo-Roman virgins in Nowa Fantastyka when I still read it? And the other one who wrote Catholic misogynist BDSM? Also, Jacek Piekara is sexist and insane. And don’t even get me started on Andrzej Pilipiuk, because, wow, that guy’s command of Polish is worse than my command of, say, Swahili.
    And I don’t speak Swahili, so there.
    Well, I mostly repressed their names.

    Is Dukaj any good?

    • Ausir says:

      Dukaj is the best thing to happen to Polish sf since Lem. It’s a great shame none of his books has been translated into English yet – he’s having a hard time finding a publisher. There’s no point in even comparing Dukaj to guys like Ziemkiewicz, Piekara or Pilipiuk. And he’s definitely no crazy wingnut.

      You can find samples of his work on his official site:

  5. sporothrix says:

    I think Lem might well be the only decent Polish writer ever.
    Lem – “decent”? Well…, take a look: : (and you think Piekara is sexist.)
    I know, I know, Lem is (was) great, intelligent and funny. Incredible writer. And I’m a big fan. But he is also soooo annoying…


    Well, Lem was only decent quality-wise. And also sort of a complete douche.

    But, zomd, Piekara, the arsehole. OTOH, he has no excuse, ’cause he’s younger. OTOH, he has an excuse, ’cause his dumber. I’m a bit torn. But seriously, he’s the guy who had to write in an entire alternative universe in one of his short stories, in which women could be not inferior to men. Because the regular universe “just wasn’t made that way”. I don’t think you even can get more sexist than that.

    And while we’re at it, I’ve also got an ax to grind with Eco. I mean, he must be a record-breaker when it comes to no female characters in books ever. And while you can sort of understand it in The Name of the Rose – only not, because of the mysterious peasant girl, who is mysteriously female and mysteriously sexual, and women are such mysteries, and also you can have sex with them, yay (NO) – it’s completely incomprehensible in Foucault’s Pendulum. I think there’s only one woman in Foucault’s Pendulum, and it’s the one the hero gets to have sex with.
    And let’s not even talk about the complete lack of female professors ever.
    It’s like there are no women ever, until your penis tells you you need to put it into something, at which point a mysteriously female mysteriously sexual person magically (and mysteriously) appears. Blargh.

  7. Ausir :

    For example, the extra content in “Doskonała próżnia”, Lem’s collection of reviews of fictional books, is a review by Jacek Dukaj of a book detailing the history and works of AIs simulating Stanisław Lem.


    Afryko, Afryko, uwodzisz mnie, by zniszczyć. Twój śmiertelny urok drapieżnika zniewolił mnie. Konasz, ale mimo to – wciąż jesteś piękna. Zadurzyłem się w tobie od pierwszej nocy na pustyni, pierwszego świtu na sawannie. I tak jak dostrzeżona u ukochanej raz i drugi jakaś skaza, wada, skryty cień przyszłej szpetoty – jedynie podkreśla nieskończone piękno kobiety; tak i ta druga strona twego oblicza, mroczna, cuchnąca śmiercią i cierpieniem, tylko wzmaga moc pajęczego czaru, jakim mnie oplotłaś. Chora miłość do ciebie jest jedyną przyczyną mego wygnania. Kara mnie spotkała w nagrodę. A może nagroda za karę. Czyż nie śniłem o przedwiecznej samotności w sercu twej dziczy? Czyż zmrocznie nie roiłem sobie rozpustnie ascetycznego życia na twojej rozpalonej malaryczną gorączką ziemi? Ty znasz noc mego serca. Ach, okrutna, po stokroć okrutna.

    Q: Is Dukaj secretly a 13-yr-old girl?
    A: Maybe.

    (No, I really want the rest to be better ;__; )

    • Ausir says:

      Never read this one. Sounds like some early Dukaj stuff. I very much recommend “Inne pieśni” and “Lód” first and foremost. And yes, he is getting better and better with every book.

      Lem was also a homophobe, btw, as in “bleh, gay men are disgusting but lesbians are nice to look at”.

      • OK, that’s good to hear. I checked out his other stuff later, and it was much better. Phew.

        Great, now I will feel unclean for liking Lem’s books forever D: And I felt so proud for not reading OSC and pointing and laughing at Terry Goodkind (EVIL CHICKEN PLZ).

        Is there anyone else we should know about? Cracked should do a list of douchebad sci-fi/fantasy writers, so we could know which ones to avoid.

        Actually, this is a good idea!

      • Ausir says:

        Well, his homophobia still wasn’t nearly on OSC’s level. And he was good enough of a writer for me to overlook it. Hell, I’d even overlook it in OSC if not for the fact that his latest books are crap anyway.

  8. sporothrix says:

    Well, Lem was only decent quality-wise.
    I agree. Almost wholeheartedly, but… do you know this blog?: ;-)
    I think there’s only one woman in Foucault’s Pendulum, and it’s the one the hero gets to have sex with.
    There are three important female characters in “Foucault’s Pendulum”: Amparo, Lia and Lorenza. By “important” I mean they are not only for heroes’ sexual pleasure. Not to mention many other women in this novel such as e.g. druidesses and Madame Olcott. It is much more than in most of Lem’s books.

    Lem was also a homophobe,
    Which book are you talking about?

    • Ausir says:

      Which book are you talking about?

      Sex Wars. Here’s an excerpt:

      Nie jestem żadnym jaroszem, mam nawet futrzany kołnierz, nie cierpię pederastii (dziwne, że akty lesbijek jakoś mniej mi dolegają), widok całujących się namiętnie brodaczy wywołuje we mnie obrzydzenie

    • Yup, I know the blog. The problem is; I’m a linguist. So, obviously, I don’t understand what he’s talking about half of the time. Basically, anything above high school level is out =_=

      I don’t really know how to explain it. Both Amparo and Lia are important in the plot, and aren’t treated with contempt by the author or anything. Yet we see them through the heros eyes, and I had the impression he treats them like mysteriously feminine sex objects, with whom one can have sex, mysteriously.
      This is of course nowhere near Lem’s level, oh no.

  9. miskidomleka says:


    If you judge Lem based on Cyberiad, Star Diaries and Mortal Engines only, you are missing, well almost everything. Cyberiad and most of Mortal Engines are just two, probably not the most important threads of Lem’s oeuvre: Trurl/Klapaucius and “fairy tales for robots”. And even with these two or three short stories in Mortal Engines which do not come from the original Polish “Bajki robotów” (“Fairy tales for robots”), even with very good Star Diaries, you are missing a lot.

    Think of Tales of Pilot Pirx (one seems to be included in Mortal Engines), a set of analyzes of human-machine relationship embedded in interesting, stylistically diverse, sometimes funny short stories.

    The Invincible brings the concept of giant electronic machines which self-construct from tiny simple identical parts; also the contrast between the triumphant tone of the first part of the novella (is it a novella? I’m not sure), and the bitter ending is great. The concept of micromachines returns in somwhat different form in Peace on Earth, which also touches one of other major recurring themes of Lem – what is human identity (remember the story of Termofeles mentioned in Star Diaries?) .

    Then you have novels and novellas about impossibility of contact with aliens. There is Solaris (which is very highly regarded by many, but not by me), there is Eden, there is His Master’s Voice, and Fiasco. Despite the common main theme, each of these is very different, even in dealing with this theme. And each explores a variety of other areas as well. I like Fiasco a lot, the ending is chilling (even if somewhat underdeveloped structurally, Peace on Earth suffers form a similar problem), and His Master’s Voice is just a masterpiece (even though the ending is somewhat kitchy – LEm had some problems with enedings, apparently).

    Then you have Chain of Consequences (Katar), not s-f really, but a great story on chance and statistics.

    And there is more, but I don’t really want tohijack the thread :-)

    Oh, one more thing:I hated Zajdel too, though
    Zajdel had great ideas, but he was a mediocre writer. Pity.

    • Nah, I read most of his books, including Sezam, heh heh, but I really like Cyberiad, Mortal Engines, and Star Diaries best.

      Well, Peace on Earth wasn’t that bad, either, and I loved Pirx when I was a kid, but I strongly suspect I would hate it now.
      I didn’t like Memories Found in a Bathtub too much – as a general rule I tend to dislike political stuff in the books I read. No matter how right the author might be, it just ruins everything (at this point I have to mention Salman Rushdie who simply went to the dogs shortly after Midnight’s Children. I loved Midnight’s Children so much, I thought all Rushdie’s books would be awesome. Not so!)
      Return from the Stars was interesting, but I didn’t like Solaris at all. I don’t remember why, it’s been ages since I last read it.

      Part of the problem is, I read most of those books when I was 12-13 or so. I mostly re-read what I liked most later (obviously, Cyberiad, Star Diaries, Mortal Engines, of course), and you don’t really pick up on sexism or lack of female characters when you’re 13 :\
      The funniest thing ever, in my opinion, is how Lem was proud of his futurological stuff most. Um, no no no no no no no no, and no!

      OSC is Orson Scott Card, recently famous mostly for his being batshit crazy, and for his editorials for Mormon Times (ugh):

      (And you’re absolutely welcome to hijack the threads here anytime :))

  10. miskidomleka says:

    And let’s not even talk about the complete lack of female professors ever

    You really have to read His Master’s Voice. It is set in a something like a secret scientific center set up in an old military base in a desert for the purpose of tackling with a difficult problem. There are probably hundreds or more of male scientists there, and… they have female secretaries…

    And, to avoid writing another “comment” (self-comment?) in a row despite pledging not to hijack the thread, I’ll add three more Lem recommendations here:

    Return from the stars – an astronaut has troubles adjusting to the futuristic world after hundreds of years (hundreds – because of hberrnation and/or relativity effects) spent in space. Interesting thoughts on responsibility and safety, lovely predictions of the future (the noun “real” has actually a meaning opposite to the one it acquired in the context of the Internet), and terribly written female characters.

    Memoirs Found in a Bathtub – a satire on military, secrecy, bureaucracy set probably in the US, but with quite clear allusions to the Soviet Union.

    The Astronauts – something completely different. One of the earliest Lem’s work, a Communist utopia praising peace and scientific reasoning. Basically silly, but lovely nevertheless.

    And a correction: Katar has been translated as The Chain of Chance, not concequences,

  11. Ausir :

    Well, his homophobia still wasn’t nearly on OSC’s level. And he was good enough of a writer for me to overlook it. Hell, I’d even overlook it in OSC if not for the fact that his latest books are crap anyway.

    Overlook OSC? NEVAR. I mean, he’s a fucking Mormon. There’re limits D:

  12. Ausir :

    Sorry for making you hate an author whose books you like.

    Nah, nothing to feel sorry about at all. It’s better to knooooow!

    And I don’t *hate* him. Just think he’s a douche ;)

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