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Mortal Engines (1992)

Mortal Engines (1992)
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3.86 of 5 Votes: 4
ISBN
0156621614 (ISBN13: 9780156621618)
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English
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mariner books
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Mortal Engines (1992)
Mortal Engines (1992)

About book: review of Stanislaw Lem's Mortal Engines by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - July 28, 2015 I suppose, strictly speaking, this isn't 'a bk by Stanislaw Lem' insofar as it's a collection of short stories by Lem, united by the theme of robots, chosen by the translator, Michael Kandel, at the prompting of the publisher, Harvest/HBJ, so that there cd be a Lem bk in English that hadn't previously existed in Lem's language, Polish. I wdn't exactly say that that negatively effects the collection but it does result in a bk that's less sylistically unified than, say, what I might think of as its predecessor, the bk that 11 of the 14 stories previously appeared in, Bajki robotów ("Fables for Robots") in Cyberiada (3rd edition), wch is, apparently not the same as The Cyberiad - Fables for the Cybernetic Age, published by Avon in English in 1976, since none of sd 11 stories are in sd The Cyberiad. Harumph. This is the 16th bk I've read by Lem. He's one of my favorite SF writers, his bks usually have strong ideas & strong literary style. My favorites by him have been Solaris made into a movie 1st by the great Tarkovsky & 2nd by Soderbergh. I loved them both. I've also enjoyed very much Lem's The Invincible, The Chain of Chance, & Imaginary Magnitude. Mortal Engines isn't really 'up there' in their company, I'm somewhat indifferent to it. I started reading this as a break from 2 other bks that I'm currently reading that I find somewhat tedious: GX Jupitter-Larsen's Sometimes Never & George Herbert Mead's Mind, Self, & Society. The days when I've finished both of those & reviewed them will be a relief, indeed. They're both excellent in their respective ways but that doesn't mean I'm exactly 'enjoying' them. SO, I read Lem for some relief & Mortal Engines did the trick but it didn't exactly inspire me to heights of passion or whatever. In the translator's introduction there's this: "Norbert Weiner, the "father of cybernetics," presented cybernetics as the study of complex systems that could regulate their own performance or function (output) on the basis of received data about that performance (input)—in other words, systems possessing feedback. Man was one example of this kind of system; a "life-imitating automaton" would be another. The system was the important thing, not the raw material; that could be biological or nonbiological." (p viii) This gives me an excuse to quote at length from my review of Rudy Rucker's The Hacker and the Ants ( https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ) wch, in turn, quotes from my review of Rucker's Master of Space and Time ( https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... ), a critical nesting process that I quite enjoy: ""How did I look? Like most users, I owned a tailor-made simmie of my cyberspace body. Cyberspace users called their body simmies tuxedos." - p 14 ""The funny thing about the "cyber" prefix was that it had always meant bullshit. ""Back in the 1940s, the story went, MIT doubledome Norbert Weiner had wanted a title for a book he'd written about the electronic control of machines. Claude Shannon, also known as The Father of Information Theory, told Weiner to call his book Cybernetics. The academic justification for the word was that the "cyber" root came from the Greek word for "rudder." A "kybernetes" was a steersman or, by extension, a mechanical governor such as a weight-and-pulley feedback device you might hook to your tiller to keep your sailboat aimed at some fixed angle into the wind. The practical justification for the word was contained in Shannon's advice to Weiner: "Use the word 'cybernetics,' Norbert, because nobody knows what it means. This will put you at an advantage in arguments."" - p 19 "This is obviously a pet peeve for Rucker b/c he also referred to it in Master of Space and Time 10 yrs before. In my review of that I wrote: """Cybernetics. That was a word Harry and I had always laughed about. Nobody had any idea what it means, it's just some crazy term that Norbert Wiener made up." - p 13 ""Really? Paul Pangaro has this to say: """What does the word “cybernetics” mean? """“Cybernetics” comes from a Greek word meaning “the art of steering”. """Cybernetics is about having a goal and taking action to achieve that goal."""Knowing whether you have reached your goal (or at least are getting closer to it) requires “feedback”, a concept that comes from cybernetics."""From the Greek, “cybernetics” evolved into Latin as “governor”. Draw your own conclusions."""When did cybernetics begin?"""Cybernetics as a process operating in nature has been around for a long time."""Cybernetics as a concept in society has been around at least since Plato used it to refer to government."""In modern times, the term became widespread because Norbert Wiener wrote a book called “Cybernetics” in 1948. His sub-title was “control and communication in the animal and machine”. This was important because it connects control (a.k.a., actions taken in hope of achieving goals) with communication (a.k.a., connection and information flow between the actor and the environment). So, Wiener is pointing out that effective action requires communication."""Wiener’s sub-title also states that both animals (biological systems) and machines (non-biological or “artificial” systems) can operate according to cybernetic principles. This was an explicit recognition that both living and non-living systems can have purpose. A scary idea in 1948." - http://www.pangaro.com/definition-cyb..." "Note that in the The Hacker and the Ants incarnation of this pet peeve Rucker 'quotes' a conversation between Shannon & Weiner. Really? Was that somewhat incriminating conversation recorded in the 1940s? I think not. Rucker is putting forth someone's imagined version of a hypothetical conversation. It may be very accurate - but it's probably not an actual quote. Naughty, naughty, Rudy." & since I'm in the midst of an intertextuality spree here, I might as well throw in a bit of Mead's Social Behaviorism: "In so far as one can take the role of the other, he can, as it were, look back at himself from (respond to himself from) that perspective, and so become an object to himself. Thus again, it is only in a social process that selves, as distinct from biological organisms, can arise—selves as beings that have become conscious of themselves." ("Introduction" by Charles W. Morris, p xxiv, to Mead's Mind, Self, & Society) "Social psychology is especially interested in the effect which the social group has in the determination of the experience and conduct of the individual member." (Mind, Self, & Society, p 1) In case it isn't glaringly obvious, I'm drawing a parallel between the "system [as] the important thing" & the emphasis in Social Psychology on the social as the self-determinant. Ahem. Back to Mortal Engines's intro: "In his" [Lem's] "autobiographical essay The High Castle, he writes: "I used to be a philanthropist to old spark plugs, I would buy parts of incomprehensible gadgets, I would turn some crank or other to give it pleasure, then put it away again with solicitude. . . . To this day I have a special feeling for all sorts of broken bells, alarm clocks, old coils, telephone speakers."" (p xi) Once upon a time I wd've called this Animism, these days, thanks to Rucker, I prefer the term Hylozoistic (hylozoism: "The philosophical doctrine holding that all matter has life, which is a property or derivative of matter." - http://www.thefreedictionary.com/hylo... ) Yes, Lem likes to put the shoe on the other foot, he likes to imagine human life, life as we typically think of it, as seen from the perspective of robots, things usually considered to be simulations of life: ""Fine, fine!" said the King. "Is it true that the thing is made of water, and yet nontransparent, like that puppet of mine?" ""This too is true! It has, Sire, a multitude of slimy tubes inside, through which waters circulate; some are yellow, some pearl gray, but most are red—the red carry a dreadful poison called phlogiston or oxygen, which gas turns everything it touches instantly to rust or else to flame. The Homos itself therefore changes color, pearly, yellow, and pink. nevertheless, Your Royal Highness, we humbly beseech you to abandon your idea of bringing here a live Homos, for it is a powerful creature and malicious as no other . . ."" - p 17 The 1st 11 stories, as previously stated, are, indeed, fables, as is the last story, arguably the 'best', "The Mask". By "fable" I mostly mean stories told in a somewhat simple formulaic way that involve kings & kingdoms, wch might be more appropriately called "fairy tales" even tho no "fairies" are involved, but they're also fables in the sense of "a short tale to teach a moral lesson, often with animals or inanimate objects as characters" ( http://dictionary.reference.com/brows... ) insofar as the robots are the "inanimate object" characters & if there isn't always a "moral lesson" there's, at least, some sort of lesson, sortof. "How Microx and Gigant Made the Universe Expand" is a fable in the sense of "legends or myths collectively" ( http://dictionary.reference.com/brows... ) b/c it makes a creation myth out of the Big Bang Theory, wch some wd probably consider to be a creation myth in the 1st place. The 2nd story, "Uranium Earpieces", ends w/: "serves moreover as a constant reminder of the virtues of disarmament" (p 14), a moral. The 3rd story, "How Erg the Self-inducting Slew a Paleface" ends w/: "From which one can see straightaway that we have told the truth and not a fairy tale, for in fairy tales virtue always triumphs" ( p 30) perhaps explaining why these are fables & not fairy-tales after all. The 7th, "Tale of the Computer That Fought a Dragon", ends w/ "However from that time on he was an altogether different king: the events he had undergone made his nature less bellicose, and to the end of his days he engaged exclusively in civilian cybernetics, and left the military kind strictly alone" (p 62), another moral (sortof). The last story, "The Mask", was my favorite & the one that Lem seems to've put the most work into in a writerly way. In keeping w/ his apparent hylozoism it begins w/ the birth of a creature thru electro-mechanical means: "In the beginning there was darkness and cold flame and lingering thunder, and, in long strings of sparks, char-black hooks, segmented hooks, which passed me on, and creeping metal snakes that touched the thing that was me with their snoutlike flattened heads, and each such touch brought on a lightning tremor, sharp, almost pleasurable." (p 181) Lem's not heavyhanded about it, he leaves it mysterious, the 'newborn' is, to all appearances, a human female of seductive beauty & wit. All in all, yes, it's Lem, it's good, this wd be a great bk if it were in a lesser writer's oeuvre but in Lem's it's lesser. Still, I recommend it, read everything by him if you don't have anything better to do, et cetry, et cetry..

ContentsThe Three Electroknights (1972)Uranium Earpieces (1972)How Erg the Self-inducting Slew a Paleface (1972)Two Monsters (1972)The White Death (1972)How Microx and Gigant Made the Universe Expand (1972)Tale of the Computer That Fought a Dragon (1972)The Advisers of King Hydrops (1972)Automatthew’s Friend (1972)King Globares and the Sages (1972)The Tale of King Gnuff (1972)The Sanatorium of Dr. Vliperdius (1971)The Hunt (1973)The Mask (1976)This is a collection of short stories which feature Artificial Intelligence (‘Mortal Engines’ being Shakespeare’s description of the machines of war. It can also be seen as a description for mechanisms which possess consciousness and can indeed die) but from Lem’s unique perspective. The first eleven tales are set in a civilisation of robots who have escaped the tyranny of Man and see ‘pale faces’ as only a myth.Lem uses the conventions of fable and fairytale to tell these tales and in so doing, expose the fallibility and hypocrisy of his robots who are, essentially, no better or worse than the palefaces who created them.The robot societies are hierarchical. They have kings and electroknights and an oddly feudal and medieval society which combines a rigorous attention to detail in terms of scientific accuracy with an absurdist, almost surrealist view of the actual robots who are the descendants of AIs who fled from humankind aeons before.Here we have humour, allegory and fable in a set of tales which it is interesting to compare with the Western fashion in the Sixties and Seventies for Science Fantasy from the likes of Moorcock and M John Harrison.Also included in this volume is ‘The Sanatorium of Dr Vliperdius; in which Ijon Tichy of Lem’s ‘Star Diaries’ visits a sanatorium for robots with various psychoses.‘The Hunt’ is a Pilot Pirx tale in which a rogue mining robot goes on the rampage across the surface of the moon.The strongest and most powerful piece is saved for last. ‘The Mask’ is an examination of self, self-awareness and memory told by a robotic assassin – symbolically egg-shaped – which begins as a neuter voice and then realises itself to be female since it inhabits a female body.‘She’ finds she has three alternate choices of past memories, a puzzling fact which becomes irrelevant when she discovers a fascination for a man called Arrhodes and realises that she is programmed – or destined – to kill him.Later, realising that she can feel the metal ovoid within herself, she cuts herself open, releasing what is actually her true self, a robotic scorpion like creature.This symbolic caesarean birth gives rise to another adjustment of identity although the robot’s prime directive is still to track down Arrhodes by following his scent across the land, during which time the artificial consciousness begins to question its programming, its motives and its ‘desire’ to kill him.This quirky poetic piece is in stark contrast to the levity of the other tales and yet still has elements of fairytale about it, such as the baroque settings, the King – whom we assume commissioned the assassination – and his various subjects.In its fifty-seven pages it explores the nature of self and identity more thoroughly than authors tackling similar themes do in entire novels. Brilliant,
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Reviews
Cody
sorry dudes think this ones pretty lame. imagine you have some kids write some goofy ass medieval magick tales but then you go through and add some computer prefixes to words so teh stories are about like palladiumhorses and electromages and uhh metalswords. i have a huge issue with, i don't even know the name of this, it's when scifi and fantasy writers do that thing where they take a normal colloquialism and really lazily translate it to their world, so like, 'the spacedragon flew through the computersky like a spaceknife through galacticbutter'. that shit drives me crazy. and there's a lot of that. please go read a different lem collection
Marina_f
Я несколько дней думала, стоит ли заявлять так резко, ведь все же это книга Лема - но нет, говорю напрямую - книга бессмысленна. Это сборник довольно простых сказок, количеством всего 13 штук. Разные короткие истории про вселенную, где живут самые разные роботы. Но любая сказка несет мораль и урок, так ведь? Но не в этом случае. На небольшую мораль тянут разве что рассказ "Король Глобарес и мудрецы" и "Белая смерть", остальные 11 сказок вызвали у меня легкое удивление и вопрос "А зачем вообще Станислав сел и написал эти рассказы? Что он хотел этим сказать или что хотел показать? На что хотел обратить внимание?" Я не смогла найти ответы на эти вопросы. Может быть, я слишком глупа для самого великого Лема и кто-то другой прочитает и поймет смысл и мораль сказок про роботов, да напишет подробную рецензию, но увы, это буду точно не я."Пошла читать "Я-робот" Азимова, что бы перебить жуткое послевкусие от этой книги"
Pierre Menard
Fiaba: racconto di avventure in cui domina il meraviglioso, negli episodi come nei personaggi, anonimo e popolare, di fonte e tradizione orale.Fantascienza: genere letterario […] in cui l’elemento narrativo si fonda su ipotesi o intuizioni di carattere più o meno plausibilmente scientifico e si sviluppa in una mescolanza di fantasia e scienza.A leggere le definizioni, tratte dall’Enciclopedia Treccani online non sembra che fiaba e racconto fantascientifico abbiano molto in comune: potrà tuttavia convincersi del contrario chi vorrà leggere questa raccolta di 12 racconti scritti da Lem, pubblicati a metà degli anni Sessanta e ottimamente tradotti da Marzena Borejczuk. Si tratta, nel senso letterale della parola, di fiabe fantascientifiche del genere che i vostri nonni vi racconterebbero, in una gelida serata invernale, di fronte ad un caldo e accogliente forno a microonde, se voi foste dei piccoli robot desiderosi di ascoltare una bella storia.Protagonisti delle fiabe sono coraggiosi elettroguerrieri e spietati cyborg, saggi luminari delle scienze esatte e bislacchi inventori (che poco hanno da invidiare a Merlino e Morgana), potenti re avidi di ricchezze minerali e mostruosi draghi meccanizzati, popoli dai fantasiosi nomi (Kryonidi, Palatinidi, Radomantini etc.) che padroneggiano l’energia nucleare e le più raffinate tecniche metallurgiche. Il tono della narrazione è tipicamente favolistico: alcune fiabe iniziano con il classico “c’era una volta”, fra i personaggi compaiono principesse, dignitari, servitori e venditori ambulanti e sono ripresi i tipici meccanismi della ripetizione favolistica (vedi per esempio “I tre elettroguerrieri”). Non mancano gli echi dalle “Mille e una notte” (l’annoiato re Globares che minaccia di morte i suoi dignitari se non gli racconteranno qualcosa che lo stupisca veramente) e dal ciclo arturiano (la bizzarra caccia della chiavetta d’oro che custodisce la memoria e la coscienza della principessa Elettrina, rubata da uno spregevole “pallidone”, appartenente alla nostra specie). Gli elementi della fantascienza si integrano con quelli della fiaba portando il lettore nel regno della pura fantasia: al posto dei sortilegi dei maghi, abbiamo le invenzioni degli scienziati, al posto della brama dell’oro c’è quella per l’uranio o per le terre rare, al posto dei messaggeri c’è il telegrafo e così via. Le fiabe sono destinate ai robot perché narrano di esseri artificiali, di congegni meccanici, di macchine intelligenti, di forme di energia, di elementi chimici, di genesi delle stelle.Come nel romanzo Il congresso di futurologia, l’inventiva linguistica, che si esprime soprattutto nei nomi bizzarri di popoli, luoghi e personaggi, arricchisce notevolmente il piacere della lettura. L’ironia e la satira divertono il lettore stimolandone la riflessione sui temi filosofici cari a Lem - come la dimensione razionale dell’uomo, il libero arbitrio, l’intelligenza artificiale e le trappole della logica -, dissimulati nelle pieghe del racconto. I quattro ambiziosi e tronfi consiglieri programmatori di re Idropso sono incaricati di fabbricare un degno erede del sovrano: avendo disposto che il nuovo sovrano avrà una predilezione per gli esseri piccoli, i quattro dovranno ingaggiare una comicissima lotta per miniaturizzarsi. Murdas, sovrano dispotico che teme i cattivi profeti e le apparizioni, conferisce grandi onori all’inventore della macchina che elimina i fantasmi: Lem spiega che “era senz’altro una buona macchina se si considera il fatto che il re non vide mai nessun fantasma”. Una delle fiabe (non dico quale per non togliervi il gusto della lettura) ha una conclusione che assomiglia ad una paradossale dichiarazione di realismo: attraverso l’inganno e la disonestà l’eroe riesce nell’impresa e sposa la sua bella, e il narratore commenta che “così si capisce subito che abbiamo raccontato la pura verità, e non una favola, perché nelle favole la virtù trionfa sempre”. Ma c’è anche spazio per vicende più meste, come la malinconica fine degli Enteriti nella “Morte bianca”. Infine Lem non può esimersi dal presentarci una possibile soluzione del problema dell’espansione del nostro universo, scaturita dalla disputa accademica fra i due costruttori cosmogonici Micramor e Gigaenzo, che si conclude con un vero e proprio duello di menti ingegneristiche!La fiaba più paradossale è senz’altro quella dedicata allo scontro cibernetico, fisico e matematico fra una macchina digitale e il terribile elettrodrago creato per errore da Poleandro Partobon, signore di Kyberia. Il mio racconto preferito (anche se è difficilissimo scegliere: sono tutti bellissimi, divertenti e affascinanti) è “L’amico di Automatteo”. Un robot, che ha in programma di compiere un lungo viaggio, si rivolge ad un inventore perché gli procuri un amico: la scelta cade su Vaio, un minuscolo elettramico, ossia un “concentrato di pensiero elettrico, straordinariamente versatile e perspicace”, che installandosi nell’orecchio del robot gli farà compagnia nella buona e nella cattiva sorte, allietandolo con la sua brillante conversazione e consigliandolo nei momenti di difficoltà. Quello che l’inventore non dice ad Automatteo è che Vaio è un essere dalla stringente e impietosa razionalità: il povero robot, naufragato su un’isola deserta, fuori dalle rotte delle navi, si troverà ben presto a dover combattere con la ferrea logica dell’elettramico, che lo esorta a suicidarsi visto che le probabilità di essere salvato solo una su 400,000! La fiaba di Automatteo è una bellissima variazione filosofica sul tema dello scontro fra razionalità votata all’autodistruzione e irrazionale istinto di sopravvivenza. Non credo sia facile trovare un altro scrittore di fantascienza che sappia affrontare temi simili in modo così divertente e paradossale.Nel leggere questa geniale raccolta, mi sono tornate alla memoria le bellissime pagine delLe Cosmicomiche: anche se in Lem manca l’intento didattico e l’ironia calviniana non è graffiante come quella del polacco, credo che le due raccolte abbiano moltissimo in comune, sia nella scelta dei temi, sia nel tono della narrazione, sia nell’inesauribile fantasia delle situazioni. Chissà se Lem e Calvino si sono mai conosciuti, anche solo a distanza: mi piace pensare che si sarebbero apprezzati a vicenda. Consigliato a chi deve raccontare una fiaba ad un bambino che da grande vuole fare l’astronauta.Sconsigliato a chi detesta la contaminazione dei generi.
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