Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, January 27, 2014

1976: The Star Diaries (Lem, Stanislaw)

Absurdity, satire, philosophy, time-travel, blah blah blah (3/5)

I would never have guessed that the Stanislaw Lem who wrote Solaris (1961) would be the very same Stanislaw Lem who wrote The Cyberiad (1965). Picking up The Star Diaries, my expectations were as nebulous as… a gaseous nebula (?). The book’s own synopsis sounded like a mixture of themes: zany jaunts of a deranged voyager and the literary reflections of a thoughtful scholar. With no recourse, I openly agreed to the book’s adjectives: bizarre, unpredictable, frantic.

Rear cover synopsis:
“Cosmonaut, time-traveller and battered hero of The Futurological Congress, Ijon Tichy makes his triumphant return, recording a dazzling array of voyages in time and space. Caught in a time-warp, pleading a shakiy case for humanity as the intergalactic United Nations, spying ineptly on a planet whose robot inhabitants speak a grubby version of Chaucerian English, Tichy’s diaries are bizarre, unpredictable, frantic and sometime deeply disturbing.”

The reader should be aware of Michael Kadel’s Translator’s Note (274-275) which declares:

[T]he numbering of the Voyages conceals their true chronology: the Seventh appeared in 1964, the Fourteenth in 1957, the Eighteenth in 1971, the Twenty-second in 1954, and so on. Lem does not intend these adventures of Ijon Richy to be read in the order in which they were written. That order however—22, 23, 25, 11, 12, 13, 14, 7, 8, 28, 20, 21does reflect his development as a writer. (274)

The reader should not mind the gaps in the Voyages. These Voyages either never took place (never written), never could have taken place (due to Ijon’s strange timeline), or were entirely edited out of this edition (as is the “Twenty-Sixth Voyage” [1956], “a cold war satire, which the author later discarded, more for esthetic reasons than political reasons” [275] and in which “Tichy lands in a big American city in the early 1950s - the apogeum of the Cold War” [citation]).


The Seventh Voyage (1964, shortstory) – 5/5 – On a solo voyage “cruising in the vicinity of Betelgeuse” (1), Ijon Tichy develops a rudder problem which takes two men to fix. Unable to functionally navigate, he heads into an area of space infested with 147 temporal vortices. The future and past versions of himself seem unable to cooperate; he argues with his selves, assaults his selves, and eventually relies on his distant future selves to organize. 18 pages ------ Dysfunctionally brilliant! Serving as an introduction to the mannerisms of Ijon, the reader is exposed to the maladaptive attitudes which motivate Ijon through his career as a journeyman of the stars. With a smile plastered on your face, laud in the ill-logic of meeting temporally different versions of yourself: having the knowledge of what your future self will experience with its earlier selves, yet being so stubborn that you ignore all intuitions; having a serious dilemma ignored by your inability to cooperate with your numerous selves. One can’t help but shake one’s head and feel sorry for Ijon yet aso laugh at his bumbling conundrum.

The Eighth Voyage (1966, shortstory) – 4/5 – Ijon has the honor of representing all of mankind in its bid to become part of the United Planets; however, with the patronage of the robotic Rhohch race, this honor soon becomes an unforeseen annoyance and hazard. The delegation of the United Planets, when hearing the case for humanity, remarks upon their disdain for the Neanderthals, their craving for flesh, and their curious primordial origins. 19 pages ------ You should not be proud of who you represent, but also be impeccably prepared to defend who you represent… this is not the case of Ijon, who was thrust into the scenario with all abandon to represent humanity with an idiot as equally as bumbling as he. When the accusations begin to fly, Ijon half understands each argument and meekly agrees to each thrust of denouncement. The meeting turns ugly for Ijon, and humanity, when a long held truth is exposed that frames humanity in an unappealing light—our origins.

The Eleventh Voyage (1961, novelette) – 4/5 – Lost for decades, a ship is eventually found orbiting a planet but the computer which ran the ship had gone haywire and subsumed two databanks into its personage: psychopathology and archaic lexiology. The sad case of the planet, its robotic denizens, and its wicked/insane computer despot comes to the attention of Ijon, who personally takes the assignment with the human hating robots and psychopathic computer, all. 35 pages ------ Not many personalities can eclipse Ijon in uniqueness or absurdity, but the computer which abandoned its craft (inflicted with dichotomia profundia psychogenes electorcutiva alternans) and established its reputed robot colony takes the idiomatic cake. Suffused with random, bizarre data, the information it holds molds its colony into a strange, strange anti-wonderland of olde English and a prevalent hatred for Earth humans. Ijon mission into this very world shows the reader a craftier, more logic-oriented person aside from his normal bumbling self… but also exposes mankind’s sense of fear and ability to follow the herd.

The Twelfth Voyage (1957, shortstory) – 5/5 – Professor Tarantoga invents a dilator or retarder of time yet our eager explorer Ijon finds very little use for it until the same professor has data concerning the Gypsonians on the planet Amauropia. The device, also a time accelerator, allows Ijon to track the progressing civilization of the Gypsonians while fumbling into their mythology and religion. A broken knob has our hero scrambling for relief. 10 pages ------ Ijon has the prime opportunity to witness a civilizations fluctuation of rise and fall; instead, he predictably stumbles into the same civilization’s path of destiny, skewing its innate cultural direction with his influence. Ijon becomes honored, well respected, idolized, and immortalized before his own ineptness causes him to grown younger and younger. Scrambling for his ship, the knee-high Ijon reaches a precarious state.

The Thirteenth Voyage (1957, shortstory) – 5/5 – An individual known as Master Oh is renowned for his wisdom and knack for resolving social issues on a planetary scale. Ijon endeavors to meet the myth but, on the way to Fatamiasma, is held by the state of the Free Aquatica of Pinta who blindly follow their king’s decreed of aquatic evolution. Once free of those bonds, Ijon is then held prisoner by Free Angelica of Panta, a uniform yet interesting place. 19 pages ------ While Ijon is banally unique, Master Oh is exultingly unique and his presence would only be tainted by the bumbling likes of Ijon. Ijon’s ham-fisted extrasolar jaunting lands him, first, on Pinta which is at a mental battle with itself, straining between accepting the obvious and accepting a hierarchical edict: the man-made floods are an indicator of our future aquatic destiny. Then, the scenario on the monotonous planet Panta shucks off Ijon’s ignorance in favor of his philosophical side, debating individuality with personal function in society.

The Fourteenth Voyage (1957, novelette) – 3/5 – Ijon has wanderlust but his ship’s brain, cracking jokes the whole way to Enteropia, drives him a bit batty prior to his entry to the planet; unfortunately, he only brought along the encyclopedia for Enteroptica. Without his referential reassurance, Ijon has no concrete ideas about the planet’s machets, squamps, whackers, the obligatory body doubles or the most important cultural item—the prevalent yet unspeakable scrupt. 23 pages ------ A victim of his own ignorance and suffering a bout of accidental ignorance, Ijon attempts to explore the habits and customs of the people inhabiting Enteropia but lacks any direction on what each culturally important item actually is. Haphazardly, he involves himself in a series of extravagant feats and perplexing dead-ends; some experiences prove worthy of the trip, yet others grate his sense of comfort and logic.

The Twentieth Voyage (1971, novelette) – 4/5 – Ijon is contacted by this future 27th century self so that he may accept a position which regulates the past. The position, General Director of the Project, heads the vast temporal organization known as the Teleotelechronistic Historical Engineering to Optimize the Hyperputerized Implementation of Paleological Programming and Interplanetary Planning (THEOHIPPIP). When accepted the world’s social, evolutional, and solar troubles plague him. 41 pages ------ Another one of those chronologically counter-intuitive experiences of Ijon; his future self needs to convince to take a post from which his future self comes from. Eventually succumbing to inevitability, Ijon then gets to work making the past more uniform, only to find his entire more as inept as he is, thereby wreaking havoc  across time and space, the result of which we see ourselves today.

The Twenty-First Voyage (1971, novella) – 2/5 – The Laws of Trash, of Noise, and of Spots apply to all civilizations except that which inhabits the planet Cichotica, which, of course, Ijon simply must visit. Initially confronting a field of flesh furniture, Ijon is kidnapped by an underground enclave of monastic robots. With the robots, Ijon learns the lengthy history, through oral and written traditions, of the planet’s clash of science and religion. 54 pages ------ A quirky start to the story is dragged to a sluggish crawl when the story is bridled and reined in by a heavy dose of detailed world history, ecclesiastical preponderances, and philosophical meanderings. While the intellectual foray is mentally stimulating, the protracted exposure is somnolent, being in great contrast with the playful and intriguing mix of the previous seven stories.

The Twenty-Second Voyage (1954, shortstory) – 4/5 – Recalling mementos at his museum of memories, Ijon relives the tale of his penknife. The sun of Erysipelas has 1,480 bodies orbiting its vicinity, two hundred of which have the generic name of “Satelline”; on one of these orbiting bodies Ijon has lost his favorite penknife and he still himself to find the pub in which he left it, but instead is entertained by a Dominican monk. 11 pages ------ Absent-minded and driven by unseen internal forces, Ijon is, again, the bedazzled oaf among the stars, this time on a quest for an emotionally-attached personal trinket—a penknife. At the end of the story, which follows an odd direction, is a interesting and poignant tale of sacrifice and martyrdom which follows another tale of sheepishly believing what students are taught. The translator, Michael Kandel, admits that “the last few pages” (275) of the story to be omitted but doesn’t specify why the story is truncated as it is (but research suggests it may have been too controversial to the over-sensitive Americans of the “Bible Belt”, in regards to blindly digesting what has been taught versus critically appraising what has been taught, as per the morale of “The Twenty-Second Voyage”).

The Twenty-Third Voyage (1954, shortstory) – 3/5 – The planet of Erpeya is renowned for its small size, a fact which is interesting enough to send Ijon on yet another heedless voyage. Most interesting to Ijon, the Whd of Erpeya atomize themselves to ashes during their sleep time or any time of wait or boredom. He’s not eager to try the atomization but he soon becomes a fan of the process and abuses its convenience. 6 pages ------ Leading idol lives is the sin of the Whd; idle time spent in a pile of atomized ash rather than being lost in a book, absorbed in conversation or amazed at the world around them. Clearly, this idle lifestyle, the epitome of a labor saving device to the extreme, can be addictive and contagious, as Ijon finds out. I know a number of people like the Whd—they exclusively watch TV as a form of “entertainment” and their personality reflects the dull glow of the same television set.

The Twenty-Fifth Voyage (1954, shortstory) – 3/5 – The planet of Tairia exists amid the “primordial chaos and danger” (237) of its solar system’s innumerable rocky elements; not only are the tiny missiles hazardous to passing ships, but a recent attack by a creature has raised further concern. A friend of Ijon was attacked by, what scientists deem to be, potatoes. The declaration is so preposterous that philosophers gather to debate what “is” is and scientists are eager for a live sample. 17 pages ------ This story follows a ragtag series of inanity from potatoes stalking the asteroid belts to an olfactory symphony to an alien race which to have sexes. While each part is interesting, entertaining or captivating, I haven’t been able to link it all together into coherence, thus the 3 or 5 rating. Let me know if your whack at it is more successful.

The Twenty-Eighth Voyage (1966, shortstory) – 3/5 – Ijon, alone in his spaceship in deep space, recollects about his family name, his ancestors and his birth. With plans to jettison the document, he records the family line from Anonymus, who fathered eighteen children and held a number of rather odd jobs, to the star captain named Cosimo Tichy, with his ship hold full of family members cum generation ship and an unnamed boy stuffed in a drawer. 20 pages ------ Ijon’s eccentric personality, idiosyncratic whims and moments of complete stupidity may come from his inbred gene line while aboard his father’s ship. This allegation is inferred, I could be wrong as another reviewer has said that perhaps either Ijon himself or his father was an imaginary figure, insanity stemming from prolonged, isolated space travel, much as Ijon is used to but not yet accustomed to.

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