The Cyberiad – Stanisław Lem (1965)


“Last year, a friend of mine dropped this quite unusual collection of short stories in my lap, and I am grateful that they did: Stanisław Lem’s 1965 collection of bizarre, funny and thoughtful tales was a greatly enjoyable read. Lem’s short stories, translated from the Polish by Michael Kandel, run counter to the general stereotypes of literature from beyond the ‘Iron Curtain’. Certainly, there are no overt declarations of the superiority of the Soviet system or eulogies to Marx and Engels. The political allegories in the stories are subtle and playful. Although The Cyberiad was published in a less dangerous environment than Lem’s first works, which date from the 1940s and early 1950s – when Stalin was still alive, and Communist states still murderously repressed unorthodox literature – it  still has to cloak some of its meanings in fantastical tales. While many of the collection’s mad kings can be seen as parodies of monarchy, they could equally well refer to the excesses of any dictatorial rule, including that of Communist parties. That being said, some of Lem’s tales seem to fit very well with Communist theories and ideas. In ‘The First Sally of Trurl and Klapaucius’, two inventors avert a war by causing the soldiers of the armies to enter a collective consciousness and explore the many problems of philosophy. This solution mirrors the idea that a future Communist society, considered to be based on reason and philosophy, would solve the world’s problems. … Interestingly, almost all of the characters in the stories are robots, creatures of steel and circuitry. This seems to be more a method of distancing the tales from political reality than an investigation into ideas of transhumanism, or a warning that technology will rob us of our humanity. It is telling that the stories are never presented as being set in Earth’s future, unlike much English-language science fiction literature of the period, thus further distancing the setting from ‘real-world’ concerns – in appearance at least. Lem’s writing is also very funny. This humour comes in a huge variety, from puns, parodies of scientific language and method, to absurd situations and sly social commentary. … The Cyberiad is charming, engaging, often very funny and very thought-provoking. It provides a very different perspective on what might be seen as the traditional tropes of science fiction and adventure stories. As someone who grew up reading my Dad’s copies of Isaac Asimov and John Wyndham, to find these stories, similar in some ways, but very distinct and individual, was a glorious and fascinating feeling.”
Found in Translation: ‘The Cyberiad, Fables for the Cybernetic Age’ by Stanisław Lem
W – The Cyberiad
Review of The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem
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