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Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy Hardcover – January, 1985

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Ten essays, 1971-83: ranging from autobiography through analyses of the underpinnings of sf to examinations of specific authors and works - delivered in thunderous yet calculated tones, and a welter of academic polysyllables. The autobiographical piece is most engaging and revealing - with Lem candidly discussing his upbringing, his Jewish heritage, the German and Russian occupations of Poland, his own sf. Elsewhere, he demonstrates his formidable intellect and his self-imposed conceptual limitations: he finds fiction without intellectual challenge boring (and has no patience with the notion of fiction as entertainment); in his view, sf works in which neither the objects nor the ideas have any basis in reality are merely "empty games." Later, however, Lem cogently discusses sf's various time-travel motifs - notwithstanding his previous denunciation of "empty games" where "impossible time-travel machines are used to point out impossible time-travel paradoxes." "The primary unsolved problem" of sf, he writes, is "the lack of a theoretical typology of its paradigmatic structures" - yet he fails to demonstrate why this lack is so damaging. On the incestuous nature of Western sf, he's devastating: "critiques are not produced independently, but are written by either the authors or the editors of anthologies, who evaluate each other's works." (He also blasts publishers and editors for camouflaging advertising as criticism.) For all these reasons, sf is trashy and apt to remain so. Moving on to specifics, Lem shows himself to be a penetrating but often arbitrary and petulant critic. Just about the only Western sf author he approves of (Ballard and Bradbury rate a maybe) is Philip K. Dick - who "tries to probe the neglected, latent, untouched, as-yet-unrealized potentialities of human existence." A. E. van Vogt's work is condemned as "stupid lies" without a shred of evidence or analysis; Borges, Lem determines, "has suffered from a lack of a free and rich imagination." He criticizes Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon for what Leto thinks Keyes' should have written; the Strugatsky brothers' Roadside Picnic - which Leto not only analyzes brilliantly, but finds enjoyable - comes in for similar treatment. Clearly, there's some ax-grinding going on. In sum: guaranteed to offend and provoke. (Kirkus Reviews) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 285 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (January 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151594805
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151594801
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,650,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
One of the essays in this book got the author's honorary membership of the American SF Association revoked. Or rather, some of it did, in a way. "Science Fiction - A Hopeless Case with Exceptions" was published in the US in a mutilated "translation" under the tactful title "A Scientist's Choice of the World's Worst Writing", and Lem was unceremoniously booted out of the organisation. The essay in question is in fact a harsh, but in its essentials accurate, dissection of the deplorable state of science fiction and science fiction criticism as compared with the rest of literature, and deserves serious attention. (The exception discussed, by the way, is the work of Philip K Dick, and a detailed review of Dick's Ubik, justifying its claim to be taken as serious fiction, also appears in Microworlds.) There is also a fine review of the Strugatsky brothers' extraordinary novella Roadside Picnic, which was the basis for Andrei Tarkovsky's equally extraordinary though somewhat different film Stalker; an interesting essay on Jorge Luis Borges, noting the unique qualities and the limitations apparent in his stories; and, perhaps most valuably, a couple of long essays on what science fiction could be if it could only kick its maleficient Star Wars-style good-guy/bad-guy simplemindedness. Lem is precise, logical, detailed, cantankerous and fascinating. The world's greatest writer of grown-up science fiction and fantasy is once again pointing the way for the rest of us.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book totally by accident, while browsing the sf&f shelves of one of the big bookstores without much hope, and I'm glad I did, because Lem's essay, "Science-fiction : a hopeless case - with exceptions", really crystallised a lot of the things that concerned me about science fiction, and showed that at least one other person thought that sf should at least try to be literature. (Although written in 1970, and from the isolated position of Communist Poland, this essay is still depressingly accurate - although things have improved since his time.)
The guy is a heavy thinker, and come from a European tradition of taking science fiction seriously as a literature of ideas (Lem wrote the classic Solaris, which was made into a Russian movie). He is quite readable, however, and is obviously passionate about his subject. This book is essential for any academic study of science fiction, and for any reader who takes the genre's potential seriously.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great telling by Stanislaw Lem of his life, and what he thinks makes for great science fiction writing. I was pleased on what he had to say about Philip K. Dick, one of my favorite authors. Lem seemed to have read and known about everything, on just about any scientific subject, and his views on many in this volume are fascinating to read...
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Format: Paperback
Although the book in its entirety is highly recommended for fans of Lem, I would like to present some comments extracted from the essay entitled Unitas Oppositorum: The Prose of Jorge Luis Borges.

Lem states: "In each story we can find the same kind of method: Borges transforms a firmly established part of some cultural system by means of the terms of the system itself. In the fields of religious belief, in ontology, in literary theory, the author "continues" what mankind has "only begun to make." Using this tour d'adresse Borges makes comical and absurd those things which we revere because of their current cultural value."

"However, each of these tales has in addition another - wholly serious - hidden meaning. At base, his curious fantasy is, I claim, quite realistic. The author therefore has the courage to deal with the most valuable goals of mankind just as mankind himself does. The only difference is that Borges continues these combinatory operations to their utmost logical conclusions."

"Considered from a formal point of view, the creative method of Borges is very simple. It might be called unitas oppositorum, the unity of mutually exclusive opposites. What allegedly must be kept separate for all time (that which is considered irreconcilable) is joined before our very eyes, and without distorting logic. The structural content of nearly all of Borges's stories is built up by this elegant and precise unity."

"In the beginning he was a librarian, and he has remained one, although the most brilliant manifestation of one. He had to search in libraries for sources of inspiration, and he restricted himself wholly to cultural-mythical sources.
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