Book Review – The Cyberiad

TheCyberiadThe second in my occasional series of brief book reviews is The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem. I skipped a month, so Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo went both unread and unreviewed.

The Cyberiad centres around two robotic “constructors”, Trurl and Klapaucius, and their adventures in a series of bizarre and humorous short stories as they travel the galaxy creating strange machines, usually as a result of commissions from the rulers of the planets they visit.

It’s set in a weird and distinctly fantastical universe – this is most definitely not hard science fiction. Almost all of the characters are robots, intergalactic travel is commonplace, but the societies are mostly cod-medieval and the technology somewhat steampunk – all nuts, bolts and a variety of other mechanical bits and pieces. The book was written in 1965, and so predates the silicon chip, but the technology is not really the point.

The stories are basically fables in the Aesop sense. The constructors grant their customers wishes with the machines they make, and the moral is often “be careful what you wish for”. For example, the pirate who captures the duo and asks for knowledge ends up with a machine that prints out every piece of information in the universe. The constructors make their escape as the pirate is drowned under the massive pile of useless trivia. It’s almost like Lem predicted the internet…

The book was written in Polish, and it’s worth noting the translation. The stories rely heavily on wordplay, puns, poems and rhythmic lists. That they work in English is remarkable, and the translator must be considered as a co-author in that he’s basically taken the form of the original and found a way to make it work in English. It’s an incredible achievement.

So is it worth reading? I think so, if you enjoy science fiction and are prepared to just sit back and enjoy the writing. Don’t try to read it all at once – they get a bit samey after a while. At our book group it was likened to a box of chocolates – dip in from time to time, but don’t try to scoff the whole box at once.

in Books

One Comment

  1. David Worton 28th February 2015

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