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Matt McIrvin's Steam-Operated World of Yesteryear


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Stanislaw Lem (1921-2006)
mmcirvin
Via james_nicoll and others: The man who gave us Ijon Tichy, Trurl and Klapaucius, the planet Solaris and GOLEM XIV has died at the age of 84. (Many Americans may have been unaware that he was still alive, since he stopped writing fiction about 20 years ago and his later nonfiction essays and commentary have mostly not been translated into English.)

Though I've only read him in translation, Stanislaw Lem was one of my very favorite writers in any genre or language. His astonishing body of work was mostly a response to the horrors and absurdities of the 20th century, and I am sorry to say that it is still relevant to our age. Though he was a cranky pessimist to the end, he expressed it in his fiction with an exuberance of imagination unmatched since Olaf Stapledon, and often with a wicked, hyperintellectual sense of humor. When I stumbled on The Cyberiad in my youth, I was never the same again.

If you haven't been introduced to Lem's work, my own Lemography is one place to start, as is Lem's official web site.

Wow, first Octavia Butler, now Stanislaw Lem.

I was especially bummed about Octavia, because she was only in her late forties or early fifties. WAY too young to die, and with still so much left to write.

It's sad news. I just recently loaned one of my friends, cgoldfish, my copy of the Cyberiad.

Ah damn, I know this one must sting you like I was stung when Zelazny died. You put The Cyberiad in my hands in high school and I loved it.

Speaking of which, has it ever occurred to you that the "Random Page" button at Wikipedia behaves a lot like a Demon of the Second Kind?

I'll have to read Fiasco again sometime (spoiler, in case anybody else reads this). The first time, it didn't blow me away, but you probably picked up on some subtleties that I overlooked. Also, there were two fiascos, right? The arms race part still seems cold-war-ish, but the fiasco that ended the book strikes me as Iraq-war-ish, so I think that has aged well.

The writer whose death I've had trouble accepting is Adams's. (I tried to fight off that last 's', but it was stronger. It's the one syntactical case where I can't overcome the prescriptivist urge. Well, that and moving quote marks inside the comma or period if there's no comma or period in the actual quote. Oh, and month-day-year and 12-hour time and the English customary system are dumb. I grew up with centimeter and decimeter blocks in kindergarden, and we almost never talked about miles or inches, let alone slug units, in science class, but now metric's as dead as universal health care. God, what's happening to me? Next I'll be ranting about "nucular". No, it's all right. I'm not a type, because it doesn't make you a "type" to hold opinions that happen to be objectively true.) I'm still skeptical that Adams is dead instead of just procrastinating on his next book. I also identified with him; if he had dropped to 93 pounds and gotten an addiction to insecticide and run around raving and naked except for a belt of explosives and blown himself up at a sheep farm, then I would have felt it was a bad sign for me also. But I don't think myocardial infarctions are psychosomatic.

Congratulations and good luck to you and Sam about the baby.

Indeed... the fiasco at the end of the book, the way the protagonists just talk themselves into escalating atrocities in a spiral of high-sounding self-justification, just seems more and more believable to me every year.

Thanks!