Saturday, April 02, 2005

Science Fiction - "Star Diaries"

My local library has several book discussion groups. Jayne and I have attended some of the meetings every now and then. Last summer I found out that one of the groups was dedicated to Science Fiction books, and since the book they were going to discuss next was "Snow Crash" (Neil Stephenson),which I read, I decided to attend. Since then I've attended many of the meetings and they are always a lot of fun.

The composition of the group is pretty eclectic. There are a couple of people retired from Bell Labs, who seem to go around to many sciene fiction conventions and are involved in voting on SF awards (like the Hugo). There is a man, named Charles, who's college room mate was Ted Nelson. Ted Nelson, if I need to remind you, was the guy who invented hypertext. There is an older lady, Shirley, who comes to all the groups and who seems to have read everything.

The book we discussed in March was "Star Diaries" written by Stanilaw Lem. I suggested this book, as Lem is my all around favorite SF writer. First time I read "Star Diaries" I was twelve (that's back in the Jurasic Era ;-) ), and since then I read it again every few years.

"Star Diaries" is a collection of "voyages" of intrepid Ijon Tichy - a kind of space age Gulliver, who travels around the space and time, and gets into trouble. The actual stories that comprise this book have been written over a number of years - first one in late 50s the latest in the 70s.

Some of the stories are downright silly. For example, when Tichy's rocket stearing mechanims breaks and he falls into a large field of "space vortices", with many space/time loops and winds up arguing with himself from another day on how to go about fixing the rocket. Things get out of hand pretty quickly - there are so many Tichy's that committees have to be organized...etc.

In another voyage Tichy is recruited by his future self to be the leader of the project to correct human history. In the furture, after time travel is discovered, Earth is embarrassed of its history and naturally a large project is started to fix it. The only person, according to psychological profiles, who can lead it is Tichy.

When he arrives in the future, the project turns out about the same as any large government type of project. There is incompetemce , back-stabbing politics, and all around nastiness. From this story you will learn why Earth's axis is tilted, who killed the dinosaurs and what happened to project members Lenny D'Vinch and Pat Lado. This particular voyage is so full of awful jokes, that I find few more each time I read it.

My favorite voyage is bit serious though. Rather than being funny, it consders the problem of a really really advanced technology and the Church. In particular on the planet that Ijon Tichy visits two major biologal evolutions took place. Bio-tech is so advanced you can grow anything - i.e.
furniture or a tape recorder. While on the planet Tichy stays with an order of robot monks and studies the history of the relation between the Church and the advancing bio-tech. For example, if the soul enters the body at conception, what happens if conception is reversed?

I was surprized that the people in the group did not like this particular voyage at all. They were more impressed with the language play and silliness of other stories. We all agreed that the translator has done a great job.


At 12:48 PM, Anonymous Leonid Tomilchik said...

That your club did not like the Church voyage does not surprise me. Considering relatively high level of religiosity of Americans, it would be quite hard for them to detach themselves from the subject, and toy with the idea, flipping it this way and that way. Just like a little questionnaire I saw on the Web ( that asked a hypothetical question: if you are unarmed, and in a gym-size hall, and are attacked by an unlimited number of vicious 5-year old kids - how many do you think you could dispatch (and how) before they overcome you? For parents especially, it is hard to treat this as purely mental excercise (that included me, BTW, alhough I did appreciate some of the answers - they are outright hilarious!).

At 1:20 PM, Blogger richieb said...

Your evaluation of my club member is not correct. They are just very particular about the SF they like. The Church story was bit serious - and they didn't like all this philosophy in the middle of silly stories.

Maybe you should come to one of our meetings... :-)

As far as 5 year olds. I can take as many as you can fit in the room. I'll just stand in the middle, wiggle my hands in the air and yell "tickle! tickle!"


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