Comments on Gratuitous Literary Fragment #147 (referee report)

jonas (2019-08-04T22:07:20Z)

In addition to your older writeups that mention E_8, the explanation could now link to <URL: >.

jonas (2018-09-29T13:53:52Z)

Ah. I see that my comment about Lem's reviews of fictional works is over ten years late, because Anon has already pointed that out in <URL: >. That said, I don't think they're the right starting point to Stanisław Lem.

jonas (2018-09-29T13:46:27Z)

See also “Did [Jorge Luis] Borges invent the idea of writing reviews/summaries of imaginary literary works?” <URL: > for a few notes on the history of this genre.

jonas (2017-07-22T03:37:16Z)

Also, you've brought up the coups de théâtre, big reveals or twists near the end of the story that put everything you've read in a new viewpoint, found at the end of many of Asimov's stories, all of Agatha Christie's detective stories, or each of the Harry Potter books. You won't find those in Lem's writings. Lem's stories do often hinge on surprising facts, but you will find them more often in the first half of the story rather than the ending. You do still get richer if you read to the end of the stories, but rather than a surprise, you gain greater understanding of the consequences of the setup. I don't think that will discourage you from reading though.

jonas (2017-07-22T02:41:06Z)

I re-read your writeup <URL: > about why you like Asimov's Foundation but not Herbert's Dune. Even after reading it, I can't get into your head well enough, and I'm very much not confident in which Lem book I should recommend you.

This quote, however, speaks to me a lot.

> Mais en fait, le point important est un peu différent : je peux apprécier une description d'un monde horrible ''à condition qu'il y ait des personnages qui se révoltent contre lui,'' avec lesquels je puisse m'identifier au moins un peu (même si, in fine, leur révolte échoue).

It is part of why I recommended the Foundation's Triumph trilogy to you. Like you say, in Asimov's books, the heros or the villains don't take the rules of their society for granted. The people of the Foundation rebelled against a society of telepaths secretly controlling their every move, Baley rebels against the earthmen never leaving the comfort of the caves of steel, and the future people of Noÿs rebel against Eternity leading humanity down a safe but stagnant path. In the Foundation's Triumph trilogy too, you will find that all characters question the apparent direction that the Galactic Empire is heading to.

If you want to read Stanisław Lem, my suggestion is to start with the pilot Pirx stories <URL: >. These are ten short stories that were originally published in two volumes. Like I said, I'm hesitant here, and it's quite possible that there's some other writing you'd enjoy more. I also acknowledge that this suggestion is biased by my personal preference among the books.

The hero Pirx is an intelligent man who often questions the rules he has to follow. You will see a lot of these thoughts, because all the stories are told from Pirx's viewpoint. But this isn't present in the grandiose way you find in the Foundation or the Dune, but rather in all the minor inconveniences of life. In Asimov's books, the heros often try to decide the ultimate fate of humanity (or, that one time, the ultimate fate of the Cepheids). In the pilot Pirx books, there's no ten thousand year old Empire to rebel against, no Seldon Plan, no suggestion that sentient robots would take the entire humanity under their ward. Only in the final story are the actual stakes are high (the plan to colonize Mars may have to be halted because the bigger-than-ever cargo haul spaceship used turns out to be not as safe as people thought), but even then the story seems to be down to earth in that it always feels like the characters are fighting with the petty problems in the present, not with thousand year old plans. From the impression I got from your blog, I think you may enjoy this more humble viewpoint.

jonas (2017-07-13T14:56:47Z)

The reason why I posted the question under this blog entry is his reviews of fictional books (<URL:'s_fictitious_criticism_of_nonexisting_books >). They are longer and better than your fragments, but the genre similar enough that I was reminded. I have only read some of those books though, and long ago enough that I don't remember them enough to know for sure if I can recommend them.

As for his science fiction stories, yes, I'll have to review what you wrote in <URL: > and <URL: > and elsewhere to figure out which books to recommend you. Obviously this part won't help me:

> Je crois que quand je lis du Asimov, je ressens une profonde empathie pour l'auteur. Asimov n'est pas doué pour faire ressentir la psychologie de ses personnages, mais il est doué pour faire ressentir la sienne : ce n'est pas facile à expliquer, mais on sent parfaitement, en le lisant, que c'était un homme à la fois profondément bon, avenant, profondément rationnel, humaniste, et ayant une foi positiviste dans le Progrès telle que ce que j'évoquais dans cette entrée.

None of Lem's writings show the personal touch of Forward the Foundation.

The translations might indeed be a problem. Lem's writings are often very hard to translate, unlike Asimov's. His sci-fi works have really good translations, by Murányi Beatrix (but she isn't the translator for the reviews of fictional books). I've never read any of the English translations, but some of them are infamously weak (also I'm biased and always presume that they are weak). In the few cases when there's more than one English translation of the same work you can probably find out from internet searches which translation is preferred (<URL: > in the case of Solaris). I don't know anything about any French translations.

Ruxor (2017-07-13T11:41:29Z)

@jonas: Still the case. If you have some advice as to which I should try (given what I wrote on this blog about my tastes — e.g., in matters of SF and theatrical revelations), I'll be glad to hear it. I was thinking, maybe, *Kongres futurologiczny*. (Also, since I can't read Polish, there is the question of which translation to choose, but this is, of course, not easy to judge.)

jonas (2017-07-12T02:15:55Z)

David, in 2004 you wrote on the blog that you haven't read anything from Stanisław Lem. Is that still the case?

Luigi (2013-10-20T11:49:50Z)

Pour E8, voir le nouveau logo de l'Institute for Theoretical Studies (ETH) :

<URL: >

Clément (2013-10-09T20:48:54Z)

Je ne sais pas si tu connais ou as entendu parler, mais au cas où :

Tout n'est pas juste dans cet article (certaines remarques sur les théories Toda sont fausses), mais c'est assez instructif.

Il y a un vrai miracle 'naturel' qui se produit ici (je travaille là-dessus).

Imohtep (2013-10-09T19:06:14Z)

I am very fond of this fragment !
It would be nice if you could somewhat develop the story of some of the characters you just introduced. I would like to see where you would lead us.
But I guess that would be utterly against the philosophy behind those fragments :-)

A la baguette (2013-10-08T19:42:44Z)

Le Boson de M Parry Hotter a belle allure ; nous lui attribuons la mention Magna Cum Laude.

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