"Microworlds" by Stanislaw Lem (1984)
The following conversation, conducted with the previously, presently, and perpetually deceased Stanislaw Lem, was constructed from the top three lines on every 27th page of "Microworlds," a collection of his essays. In this book Mr. Lem discusses his personal life, his thoughts on science fiction, and also the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges. He uses many large and self-invented words to do so, and the reader of the following extracts is asked to exercise a modicum of patience.
Lem: "Later, it turned out that several of the ideas that occurred to me during the writing of these works and that I used as hypotheses and examples - i.e., much of what I encountered...."
Me: I admire how you admit to your own creative failures, but I think your opinions on American science fiction and science fiction writers are a bit harsh, especially since you'd only read a small sampling of what American sci-fi had to offer. You dismiss the lesser "pulp" novelists like van Vogt for perfectly understandable reasons, but what about Herbert, Sturgeon, and Clarke? What about Walter M. Miller Jr.? Did you read their works? Were you aware of them?
Lem: "In the Upper Realm one always strives at least to keep alive the appearance of intact virtue, in the same way as in high society women do not permit themselves to be...."
Me: The way in which you liken bad writers to (female) prostitutes makes me uncomfortable, and smacks of sexism. In the first essay you admit to certain failures in your own bibliography, couldn't you exercise a bit more forgiveness with regard to others?
Lem: "...his best, like Ubik - are faultless masterpieces. The surfaces of his books seem quite coarse and raw to me, connected with an omnipresence of trash. I like what he has..."
Me: PKD was a great writer, but he wasn't creating out of a vacuum. There are other (American!) sci fi authors that anticipated many of the trends in his work, even if it was PKD that refined these trends into a brand of fiction that was uniquely his own. Jack Vance, for example, was a writer who PKD admired and who he unquestionably borrowed from at times.
Lem: "...primitive developments to which very little time was devoted, because the main purpose of the operation was to heal the patient, and one is not allowed to attempt tests..."
Me: Yes, the "half life" experienced by the characters in "Ubik" can be supported by recent scientific developments, but is that why people enjoy the book? Most of us aren't researching cryogenic suspension in our spare time, and we don't need to verify the content of every story we read in the latest research journals. All that is required is a suspension of disbelief.
Lem: "...stage of history - even to the caveman or downright animal stage. Such an evasion is often employed in science fiction, since inadequacy of imagination takes refuge in..."
Me: OK, I'll agree with this part of the book. Most science fiction is lazy and stupid. Most readers of science fiction (most, I say) are lazy and stupid as well. Yet which of these begets the other?
Lem: "...pseudo-logical manner current scientific hypotheses. This is 'pure' science fiction, or science fantasy, as it is sometimes called. It shows us nothing serious, but merely de-..."
Me: It doesn't always need to show us something serious.
Lem: "As cultural prohibitions weaken, it becomes impossible for literature to confront them. An approach that a century ago would have been considered 'blasphemous' or..."
Me: This may well be true, but only if you subscribe to the idea of our culture "deteriorating" in some fashion, and not just changing to suit the technological inventions that you wax so enthusiastic about in other places. Yes, there's a lot of sex in Literature now. Perhaps too much. But this may just be a fad, and even if it isn't it's both as old and as young as the Marquis de Sade.
Lem: "...this manner the stuffed waxworks come about, the miserable ersatz that is supposed to be cosmic civilizations.
"3. Why is it impossible to regain the universe that has..."
Me: You have a lot of great ideas for stories. I only wish you could have written these stories down before engaging in this kind of diatribe. Your legacy would have been better served.
Lem: "...stories. These are: 'Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,' 'Pierre Menard - Author of the Quixote,' 'The Lottery in Babylon,' and 'Three Versions of Judas.'
Me: There are many parallels between your career and Borges'. But then again Borges never wrote anything as punishingly boring as The Cyberiad. I loved Solaris and Mortal Engines, but sometimes you didn't know when to quit while you were ahead. Great stories aren't written through intellect alone.
Lem: "...a place in which the attaining of complete information about anything whatever is never possible. According to the third of my propositions, the principle of freedom..."
Me: So you would rather we lived in a world where we are able to attain less information? Can't follow you there. In a world of more limited information, someone else is bound to do the deciding for us. I would rather not live in that world.