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The Futurological Congress: From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy Paperback – October 28, 1985
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The reason why I believe that some of the best sci-fi since WW2 came from Eastern Europe (Lem from Poland and Boris and Arkady Strugatsky from Russia) is that the mind set of communism was conducive toward what is referred to as "aesopic writing" (The term comes from Solzhenitsyn.) If you protested anything, you were regarded as a traitor to the state; but if you wrote fables as the Greek writer Aesop did which were not set in a particular unnamed repressive regime at a particular time, you might be able to get away with it scot free.
Lem had a field day by speculating on a congress who members are drugged into thinking they are drugged into acting as if they were drugged ... it goes on and on. The more or less classical beginning descends into multiple levels of questioning every level into reality, until even the most utterly solipsistic stance is questioned. By that time, you are either confused or, if you're like me, laughing your head off. As they say in another context, unreal!
Unlike most pieces of dystopian fiction, Lem's novel is funny and brainy rather than depressing and catastrophic, but it is still scarily prophetic. At times, though, the prose threatens to collapse into a pun-laden Physician's Desk Reference for the Year 2039: "they give the children throttlepops, then develop their character with opinionates, uncompromil, rebellium, allaying their passions with sordidan and practicol; no police, and who needs them when you have constabuline. . . ?" (These passages must have been a nightmare to translate and, remarkably, they never lose their fluency.) But Lem keeps the reader's interest by alternating his pharmocological laundry lists with clever plot twists and bizarre visions, and the novel's pace continuously accelerates until its frenzied, over-the-top climax.
Lately, I've been asking friends to loan me books that changed their lives or that have found particularly noteworthy. I asked this in an attempt to broaden my reading background and also to learn more about my friends. I've always considered myself a science/speculative fiction fan but had never heard of Stanislaw Lem until this book was loaned to me. After this wonderful first experience, I will certainly be tracking down a few more copies of some of his other titles.
This book embodies everything that good science fiction should be - using the future to teach us more about our present. "The Futurological Congress" is a heavily layered book that relies on the reader to engage the storyline and draw parallels to the present day. The text (in translation) is spare enough to be clear and move the plot along rapidly, while also being satirical and comical at the same time.
I don't want to go into the plot in too much depth since folks before me have already done an admirable job in that regard, but suffice it to say that reality becomes almost immediately problematized and you will not be able to figure out what is fact or fiction within the world of the book (not that it matters). Ijon Tichy, the main character, goes to attend a conference called the "Futurological Congress", where all sorts of folks discuss the future directions of humanity. During the conference, a popular revolution places the scientists in danger. Drugged by the hotel water supply, hallucinating hotel guests hide out in the sewer. It gets more insane from there...
If you like Philip K. Dick's more mindbending works like "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch" or "Ubik," you will love this one by Lem. At a scant 150 pages, you'll truck right on through it and then wonder whether you actually read it.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I am a huge Lem fan. However, this is just a gobbledy-gook of verbosity. Some things are cleverly written, after all this is Lem, but it was almost impossible to read and did not... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Rick Alexander
While the book may be a tad old, this is definitely the best science fiction novel I've read all year! Read morePublished 3 months ago by Rich M.
This satire has a particular patter, very fast, and once you go with it, the ribald 'ride' becomes immensely enjoyable.Published 3 months ago by James Igoe
Good book, worth the read. Especially if you are a conspiracy nut.Published 5 months ago by Muleears
Superb... One of the best novels I ever read. Definitely recommend it, specially to those who like distopic future stories.Published 6 months ago by Amazon Customer
A disturbing vision of the future (present?) of mankind, revealing the low tolerance to frustration of society. Read morePublished 6 months ago by JORGE A TORREAO DAU
I almost put this book down several times. It barely kept me engaged by wondering what crazy thing would happen next but I really didn't enjoy the writing or the perspective.Published 8 months ago by Kyle Schroeckenthaler
Think of part Candide by Moliere, part anything by Kafka and part End Game or Waiting for Godot. This touches the fringe of dystopia presented by Stanislaw Lem's biting look into... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Michael J. Wilson
What more is there to say? Long before the Wackowskis, there was another Polish author with more intelligence, more talent, and a flair for puns. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Nicole C. Tedesco