Saturday, November 27, 2010

Aimless Reading: The L's, Part 10.1 (Stanislaw Lem)

The Cyberiad
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Lem, Stanislaw
The Cyberiad:
Fables for the Cybernetic Age

I bought this over the summer, but I can't remember if I bought it at Talking Leaves or online. I think the former, but on the other hand, it doesn't have the extra TL price sticker on it, which might argue for the latter.

I read the first few fables, then got distracted. My memory is that each one concerns the ongoing rivalry between two mad scientists. Each tries to outdo the other with some new cybernetic invention, all of which attempt to solve some kind of philosophical problem or riddle. The machines themselves create problems because they are literal minded and then the rival inventor creates more problems by posing riddles to the machine or by inventing something even more fantastical to top it.

It's sort of like a sci-fi "Spy vs. Spy." It's remarkable how different in content, form and tone it is from Solaris. It might as well have been written by a different author.

from The Cyberiad

One day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create anything starting with n. When it was ready, he tried it out, ordering it to make needles, then nankeens and negligees, which it did, then nail the lot to narghiles filled with nepenthe and numerous other narcotics. The machine carried out his instructions to the letter. Still not completely sure of its ability, he had it produce, one after the other, nimbuses, noodles, nuclei, neutrons, naptha, noses, nymphs, naiads and natrium. This last it could not do, and Trurl, considerable irritated, demanded an explanation.

"Never heard of it," said the machine.

"What? But it's only sodium. You know, the metal, the element..."

"Sodium starts with an s, and I only work in n."

"But in Latin it's natrium."

"Look, old boy," said the machine, "if I could do everything starting with n in every possible language, I'd be a Machine Who Could Do Everything in the Whole Alphabet, since any item you care to mention undoubtedly starts with n in one foreign language or another. It's not so easy. I can't go beyond what you programmed. So no sodium."

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