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Summa Technologiae (Electronic Mediations) Paperback – January 1, 2014
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"At the end of the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas wrote the Summa Theologiae, an ambitious compendium of all orthodox philosophical and theological knowledge about the world. Seven hundred years later, science fiction author Stanislaw Lem writes his Summa Technologiae, an equally ambitious but unorthodox investigation into the perplexities and enigmas of humanity and its relationship to an equally enigmatic world in which it finds itself embedded. In this work Lem shows us science fiction as a method of inquiry, one that renders the future as tenuous as the past, with a wavering, ‘phantomatic’ present always at hand." —Eugene Thacker, author of After Life
"With Summa Technologiae, his masterwork of non-fiction which has been translated into English for the first time, Lem has taken Western civilisation for a spin—with spectacular consequences. " —New Scientist
About the Author
Stanislaw Lem (1921–2006) was the best-known science fiction author writing outside the English language. His books have been translated into more than forty languages and have sold more than 27 million copies worldwide.
Joanna Zylinska is professor of new media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is the author of Bioethics in the Age of New Media and The Ethics of Cultural Studies.
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Top customer reviews
Fans of Lem's later Imaginary Magnitude and A Perfect Vacuum will find many of their ideas already present in Summa. Lem is not as pessimistic here as he would later become. While hardly a techno-booster, he's more concerned here with possibilities than likelihoods, so he does indulge in some best-case fantasies at times--which are still not *that* sunny.
Here's what he has to say: "Civilization lacks knowledge that would allow it to choose a path knowingly from the many possible ones, instead of drifting in random tides of discoveries. The discoveries that contributed to its construction are still partly accidental. ... So it is not a question of condemning of praising technology but rather of examining to what extent we can trust its development and to what extent we can influence its direction."
Not terribly reassuring. The sections on virtual reality ("phantomatics") and artificial life ("imitology") are lighter on the gloom and feel quite prescient.
Many thanks to Minnesota and the translator for putting this out in English. While not necessarily the best place to start if you're new to Lem (try A Perfect Vacuum for a more digestible, Borgesian form of some of Lem's ideas), Summa contains Lem's brilliance in the most concentrated form. It is absolutely essential for Lem fans and for anyone interested in authentic, hard-nosed futurism, rather than posthumanist cheerleading.
It turned out to be a discourse on evolution from two different viewpoints, bio-evolution and techno-evolution. The first is well understood but one needs to have your attention drawn to the second, which is very different, in that it can be reversed with all the cultural consequences, while the former can not.
Be prepared to work at this book as the author introduces all sorts of new and newly created vocabulary, but don't be put off. It is well worth the time spent reading it.
Lem shows himself as intelligent and insightful as usual, but the book has disppointed me in two ways. First of all, the translation is not as good as expected. It seems that the translation goes laboriously word by word with no regard to the full meaning of paragraphs or even sentences.
Secondly, Lem is not at his best. The ideas flow as a river meandering with no destination; they are not fully developed, their implications are not explored nor extrapolated to the end. The imagination and creativity of Lem seem restricted or curbed in a vain attempt to appear as more "scientific" and less "ficticious".
You will find more science, more lines of provocative thinking, and deeper analysis of humans and their social and technological issues in almost all of Lem's fiction works
Being out of date is the less signficant flaw of this book,