October 2003

Jack D. Crispin, Jr.


The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem

What we have here is a collection of short stories by the sci-fi master that brought us Solaris. These stories share several common elements, including mechanics and message.

The main mechanical similarities are the characters, settings and style. All stories are about the adventures of Trurl and Klapaucius, master inventors (or "constructors" as they are called). The style of the stories involes their efforts to impress each other with their genius or produce machines for the bidings of kings of various lands or planets, and getting adequately paid for their efforts. This brings us to the settings, which are various, but always a kingdom, with all the trappings of majesty, royal court intrigue and usually the sufferings of the peasantry.

The message in each is either a moral play or social commentary. These messages are wrapped in a quasi-science fiction medium that, for my tastes, crosses the line (Beware: beyond this point there be Monsters!) into Fantasy (spit on the floor). The inventions pay no taxes to the laws of physics, and unless you invoke the maxim that any sufficiently advanced technology, appears to be magic. I agree to the maxim, but as Trurl and Klapaucius are the only ones privy to that level, it is magic (read fantasy).

After reading the first few stories, I thought the biggest readership might be the 8 to 14 year old group due to the shortness of length, no character or real plot development and a beneficial hidden message. As I read further, I decided on the same group, but for the approach of dealing with absolute authority (substitute parents for kings) by using your wits.

But that all sells short the genius of these writings, the word play. The puns, malaprops and fractured scientificese come fast and furious, spicing the stories and occasionally causing the reader to backup and take another run at a passage. Delightful reading all in all.

The thought does occur, though, at some point, that this type of writing takes a real mastery of the language, before you can successfully abuse it. And this was written in Polish and translated into English by another. How much of the word play is true to the author's original, and how much has been added/transformed/lost by the translator? I suppose this could only be answered by a crash course in Polish and comparing the texts, but I'm not getting paid enough to attempt that, my gentle readers... What? What do you mean, I'm not getting paid ANYTHING?!? Get my daughter on the phone!

Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem
Harvest Books
ISBN: 0156027593
312 Pages