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Imaginary Magnitude Paperback – October 28, 1985

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Editorial Reviews

Review

In A Perfect Vacuum (1979), Leto offered a collection of reviews of nonexistent books. Here, in a companion book of sorts, he concocts introductions to nonexistent books, complete with sample pages, plus an introduction to introductions in general. (It first appeared in Polish in 1973.) And each entry displays a different facet of the formidable Lem talent. The first introduction concerns a bizarre volume of pornographic soft-focus X-ray plates. Next, with deadpan glee, Lem presents a scientist breeding bacteria that communicate in Morse code and foretell the future. A treatise on computer-generated literature includes machine-neologisms like "horseman" (centaur) and "piglet" (a filthy rooming house). There's a wildly funny sales pitch for Vestrand's Extelopedia in 44 Magnetomes: a "Prognostic-Aim Encyclopedia with Maximal Forereach in Time" which "contains information on History as it is going to happen"; not only that, but "at the sound of your voice, the appropriate Magnetome slips off the shelf, TURNS its own pages, and STOPS at the desired entry." Lastly, at his most challenging, Lem describes Golem XIV, a super-computer commissioned by the Pentagon to handle all military matters. Golem decides it doesn't want the job ("the best guarantee of peace is universal disarmament"), and instead settles down at MIT to deliver a set of devastating lectures on humanity's shortcomings; finally, then, its intelligence having progressed beyond human comprehension, Golem destroys itself. Don't look for stories, here, or fiction in any orthodox sense - but this is weirdly satisfying entertainment, with the remarkable Lem variously at his profound, provocative, or comic best. (Kirkus Reviews)

Language Notes

Text: English, Polish (translation) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (October 28, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156441802
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156441803
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #473,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stanislaw Lem is the most widely translated and best known science fiction author writing outside of the English language. Winner of the Kafka Prize, he is a contributor to many magazines, including the New Yorker, and he is the author of numerous works, including Solaris.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey S. Bennion on September 4, 1998
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was my introduction to Stanislaw Lem, which is ironic, because this is a book consisting only of introductions of other (imaginary) books. I found it completely by accident on the bargain rack, and I don't know why I bought it. But I did, and I'm certainly glad. When I started reading him, I said to myself, "What *is* this?" and found it all very bizarre. But Lem is one of those rare writers who makes you feel smarter just for having read him. For all that, this book is not only fascinating, but surprisingly funny at times. (How do you write an introduction to a book of introductions?) And for being so fanciful, Lem's discussions are surprisingly relevant.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Alex Kroll on March 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"Imaginary Magnitudes" is a forceful, blackly humorous introduction to the irreducible mystery that powers Stanislaw Lem's work. Composed of introductions to works of non-fiction and literature to appear sometime in the coming century, one can only marvel at the breadth of imagination involved as well as the smoothness and cleverness of the translation from the Polish. The lectures of GOLEM XIV are the diadem of this collection, adumbrating most of the earlier prefaces in one vast, misanthropic razz of humankind by a very advanced (but still very humanlike), very disillusioned defense-management computer -- sort of a HAL9000 without the homicidal (or genocidal) impulse. I never have a copy of this book because I always give it away to people -- it is that good. Like most of Lem's work, it is where literature and SF become indistinguishable. Lem ranks with Clarke, Asimov, Herbert and Dick in the SF pantheon.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
Though it wasn't the most entertaining book of Lem's, it definitely gives the best span of his talents of any that I've yet read. We get the simply goofy in the first couple bits, and the hard-core philosophical in the GOLEM lectures. This is an excellent survey of Lem's talent, but the individual parts are not his best. The humorous bits are certainly not "Cyberiad" or "Star Diaries" quality, but they are good nonetheless. The GOLEM stuff is a bit dry, but very intruiging. Overall quite good stuff, so it gets 4 stars. Mediocre Lem though.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 24, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Most previous reviewers didn't appreciate the longest story of this extraordinary collection, Golem XIV. They are wrong. Consider this. 1. A thinking computer decides that existential questions are more urgent than geopolitical quizzes and becomes a skeptical philosopher who muses, in a series of lectures, about the human condition. 2. Golem XIV points out the opportunistic, careless essence of biological evolution. 3. He is not kind, but has a lot to say. Life is senseless. We are the contingent transmission of a code that has only one goal: making copies of itself. The human brain created a void that has been filled throughout history (and prehistory) with irrational stories. Sadly we have tried to make sense of a senseless condition. 4. But perhaps we humans are just one step in the evolution of intelligence. 5. Intelligence could become independent, nonlocal, disembodied, in which case, sooner or later, it would conflate with the universe. 6. Be what it may we are just bacteria inside a (intelligent) body that we will never be able to understand.

Enough existential stuff to keep one thinking for a while. Lem (as Golem XIV) is above us. We are barely able to understand his thoughts. It is our fault, not his.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael Wendt on February 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Whereas with "A Perfect Vacuum" Lem wrote reviews of fictional books, here he writes introductions to different fictional books. You get some of his more straightforward philosophy with "Golem XIV," typical Lem cleverness with "Necrobes" and sheer, amazing, mind-blowing virtuosity with "Eruntics," probably his single most impressive piece of short fiction. This "story" alone is worth the price of admission. Ranking near the Tichy stories, with plenty of distance between "The Cyberiad" on one side and "Solaris" on the other, on the fun and ponderousnness scales. Among his best.
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Format: Paperback
I find this one of Lem's more philosophical works, lacking in the frnezied bafflement that drives so many of his more amusing works. Instead, this presents itself as a set of introductions to books that were never written, abstracting writing-about-writing almost wholly away from the writing itself. (To complete the delightful illogic of his approach, Lem includes an introduction to these introductions.)

The first two pieces describe a book of X-ray pornography and another about bacteria trained not only in language, but in foretelling future events. These apply Lem's straight-faced humor to the entire genre of over-intellectual intros, which sometimes seem almost parodies in themselves. The next pseudo-intro welcomes the reader to a study of writings by computer intelligences. Lem uses this vehicle to speculate on the ways that machine minds might differ from our own, and on the gaps that seem sure to arise between our differing kinds of thought processes.

That chapter turns out to be a bridge toward a series of lectures delivered by one of those electronic thinkers. As this second half of the book progresses the dry humor dries up, replaced with a genuine sense of wonder. What would constitute growth or personal (if I may use the word) development for such beings? Would any points of intersection with human experience even remain?

I suspect that Lem put more into this book than his translator was able to extract. Golem's discussion of thinking about thinking echoes Goedel's famous theorem on the limits to the knowable, something I'm sure lay within Lem's range but possibly not in the translator's. I can't complain though. The translation, on the whole, comes across as lively and engaging, and seems to preserve a lot of the wordplay that the original must have contained. The original Polish is a closed book to me, so I'm grateful to see Lem's work in English at all.

-- wiredweird
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