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Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,466 reviews3,622 followers
June 18, 2023
It all happened in the days of yore, long before the invasion of cyberpunk… Cyborgs were merry and mischievous then… And they were cunningly inventive…
Next there was a boom, a puff of yellow smoke, and something came rocketing out, a form as blurry as a tornado and with the general consistency of a sandstorm; it arced through the air so fast that no one really got a good look at it anyway. Whatever it was flew a hundred paces or more and landed without a sound; the curtain that had been wrapped around it floated to the earth, glass bells tinkling oddly in that perfect silence, and lay there like a crushed strawberry. Now everyone could see the beast clearly – though it wasn't clear at all, but looked a little like a hill, rather large, fairly long, its color much like its surroundings, a clump of dried-up weeds. The King's huntsmen unleashed the whole pack of automated hounds (mainly Saint Cybernards and Cyberman pinschers, with an occasional high-frequency terrier); these hurled themselves, howling and slavering, at the crouching beast. The beast didn't rear back, didn't roar, didn't even breathe fire, but only opened its two eyes wide and reduced half the pack to ashes in a trice.

This is an absolute beast created by the unsurpassed robotic constructors: optimistic and resilient Trurl and his pessimistic and ironic colleague Klapaucius. Their colourful adventures and mishaps throughout the entire universe are simply unrepeatable…
Everyone knows that dragons don't exist. But while this simplistic formulation may satisfy the layman, it does not suffice for the scientific mind. The School of Higher Neantical Nillity is in fact wholly unconcerned with what does exist. Indeed, the banality of existence has been so amply demonstrated, there is no need for us to discuss it any further here. The brilliant Cerebron, attacking the problem analytically, discovered three distinct kinds of dragon: the mythical, the chimerical, and the purely hypothetical. They were all, one might say, nonexistent, but each non-existed in an entirely different way.

As one can clearly see all the reflections in the book are profoundly philosophic and strictly scientific…
Pugg meanwhile sat propped up against the barrel and read, as that diamond pen which the Demon employed to record everything it learned from the oscillating atoms squeaked on and on, and he read about how exactly Harlebardonian wrigglers wriggle, and that the daughter of King Petrolius of Labondia is named Humpinella, and what Frederick the Second, one of the paleface kings, had for lunch before he declared war against the Gwendoliths, and how many electron shells an atom of thermionolium would have, if such an element existed, and what is the cloacal diameter of a small bird called the tufted twit, which is painted by the Wabian Marchpanes on their sacrificial urns, and also of the tripartite taste of the oceanic ooze on Polypelagid Diaphana, and of the flower Dybbulyk, that beats the Lower Malfundican hunters black and blue whenever they waken it at dawn, and how to obtain the angle of the base of an irregular icosahedron, and who was the jeweler of Gufus, the left-handed butcher of the Bovants, and the number of volumes on philately to be published in the year seventy thousand on Marinautica, and where to find the tomb of Cybrinda the Red-toed, who was nailed to her bed by a certain Clamonder in a drunken fit…

It sounds so familiar… It looks like Stanisław Lem could predict the appearance of the Internet so many years ago.
Do androids dream of electric fairytale tellers?
Cybernetic beings: they are like us and they are as much clueless.
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
April 9, 2021
One of the most brilliant pieces of translation I've ever come across. You can hardly believe that all these wonderful jokes and word-games weren't originally composed in English. I wish I knew some Polish, so that I could compare with the original.

The most impressive sequences, which have been widely quoted, come from the story where one of the inventors builds a machine that can write a poem to any specification, no matter how bizarre. "A poem about love, treachery, indomitable courage, on the subject of a haircut, and every word to start with the letter S!" says his friend. And within a few seconds, the machine has produced:

Seduced, shaggy Samson snored.
She scissored short. Sorely shorn,
Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed,
Silently scheming,
Sightlessly seeking
Some savage, spectacular suicide.

The love poem where all the metaphors come from the language of mathematics is nearly as good.
[Update, Apr 9 2021]

I'm currently working on a translation of Sartre's Huis clos, and I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that, without access to Trurl's Electronic Bard, the song is simply impossible. But maybe someone reading this will be inspired? "A song in three verses, each of six lines, annoying, poetic, impossible to get out of your head, about torturers, and all the lines to end in the same sound..." If you need more details, you can hear Juliette Gréco singing the French original here.
Profile Image for Seth.
122 reviews194 followers
September 28, 2007
If you're only going to read one Lem in your life... medical help. There are several essential Lem books and stories.

And this is one of them. Both of them. Something like that. It's an essential Lem book of essential Lem stories.

The basic outline is simple: two robot inventors (they are robots and they invent robots... whether they invented themselves is indeed an open question) appear, one or the other or both, in some fashion, in a series of stories set in a universe of robots. The inventors--friends, rivals, and each the only one capable of understanding the other's genius--are Nasrudin-like figures, both wise and fools, both creating problems and solving them, meeting common (robot) folk and uncommon (robot) world leaders.

They try to one-up one another, they try to help one another, and through it all they teach by doing and do by teaching. Maybe the comparison to Mullah Nasrudin is more apt than I'd realized.

If Mullah Nasrudin were two space-travelling robot inventors....

Yeah, that's the book.

Read it.

And btw, it's hilarious, it's a quick read, and it's really easy to get ahold of.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,100 followers
July 20, 2019
While I was initially tempted to treat this collection of 1965 short SF stories with kid gloves because I was already a huge fan of Solaris, I didn't quite understand that this collection was already a heavyweight of humor, satire, and delight.

Where the hell have I been? I should have read this back when I was a kid! Alongside Hitchhiker's Guide! As I read this, I gave a constant chuckle-rumble, especially with the Seven Sallies of Trurl and Klapaucius. These two master-builder robots get along with their wits and near-infinite capability to make things. Anything. And they are tricksters. Very funny tricksters.

The one time that Trurl made a poetry machine, I was f***ing spoiled by some of the best math poetry I've ever read, and here's the kicker: This was translated from Polish. Hell, it was translated into several dozen languages. But the English translation retained ALL its flavor. :) It was honestly funny.

All of this was light, clever, and always to the point. These are traditional fables, almost like the old Chivalric tradition, but add the element of gods granting everyone's wishes to the downfall of the wisher, and you've got a very good idea about what's going on here. Oh, and almost every character is a robot. The wisecracking kind.

I admit I've read a number of things *like* this, but never to this one's high quality. This is a perfect cure for grimdark malaise. :)
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,049 reviews4,118 followers
August 17, 2019
A peerless collection of stunning fables, bursting with imaginative madness and the most impressive punnilinguistics in sci-fi. The inclusion of this collection in Penguin Classics proves that Lem is one of the most original writers of the last century, not merely under the sci-fi bumbershoot, in the whole of bigbookdom. Also a feat of remarkable translation from Michael Kandel, on a par with the Oulipian masters Gilbert Adair or Barbara Wright.
Profile Image for OD.
20 reviews6 followers
August 4, 2013
Not only did this book make me want to read everything that Lem has ever written, it also makes me want to buy everything Michael Kandel has ever translated.

One of the saddest things about becoming an adult is growing bored with most of the stories you loved as a child - the Jatakas, the Panchatantras, folk stories. Finding the Cyberiad is like rediscovering your childhood love of fables. This is a book I'm going to be coming back to many many times.
Profile Image for George.
Author 16 books268 followers
October 30, 2019
The Cyberiad is truly a cybernetic Iliad, forged from chromium chronicles, cobalt fables, metallic mythologies, titanium tales, stainless steel stories, platinum parables, magnesium sagas, wrought iron records, copper epics, silicon sagas, lead legends, all-around space-age aluminum alloygories.

This is one of the best story collections I have ever read period (comparable in quality to Borge's Ficciones). It's a story cycle, mostly revolving around the strange adventures and mechanical mishaps of two robotic intellectricians, Trurl and Klapaucius, so it's not as disparate as other collections tend to be. This book also serves as an example of pristine and galvanic translation. I have no idea what the original Polish reads like but Lem's singular imagination is brought to alien life with interplanetary puns, cosmic portmanteaus, and otherworldly descriptions. Indubitably evocative, humorous, and clever.

I started reading for enjoyment in middle school and would often read anything with a dragon in it. As it happens, there is a highly intellectual and witty story about dragons. But every story is packed with heart and mind, a weird and delightful fusion of old and new loves. Storytelling at its finest and most exuberant. A delight from start to finish. In a word (or two), passionate virtuosity.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
August 16, 2008
3.5 stars. My first experience with Stanislaw Lem and it will certainly not be my last. The stories are very good (some are brilliant), but I believe they work better in small doses rather than one after the other. Nonetheless, a gifted writer.
Profile Image for Ajeje Brazov.
726 reviews
April 22, 2020
Stanislaw Lem, tra i massimi autori di fantascienza nel Novecento, è conosciuto perlopiù per il suo romanzo "Solaris". Così, qualche tempo fa, iniziai a conoscere quest'autore proprio da "Solaris". Il risultato, però, non fu entusiasmante, nel senso, è un gran bel romanzo, pieno di spunti di riflessione, ma la scrittura e la storia in sè, non mi aveva coinvolto come mi aspettavo.
Quindi lo lasciai, per un bel po' di tempo, in "criogenesi"... Poi un paio di settimane fa, mi capita tra le mani questo: "Cyberiade". Il titolo, con il suo sottotitolo molto enigmatico, mi incuriosiscono da subito, così parto e dalle prime pagine mi sento invadere da una creatività, fantasia infinita. Il tutto con quell'umorismo satirico, molto calzante.
Siamo in un tempo imprecisato, può essere tra pochi anni o tra centinaia d'anni o addirittura tra migliaia o decine di migliaia d'anni. Due fantageni, per la precisione due Costruttori, girovagano per l'Universo, perchè chiamati in aiuto o semplicemente per scoprire/esplorare nuovi posti. Così siamo catapultati con, Trurl e Klapaucius, questi i nomi dei nostri protagonisti e vivremo le disavventure più grottesche, surreali, divertenti, impossibili, sfrenate, pazzesche, cyber-netiche, cyber-ottiche, cyber-matte, cyber-..., ma alla fine, dopo esserci fatta una scorpacciata di risate, ci troveremo a porci, interrogativi sull'evoluzione umana e tante riflessioni sociali!
Finalmente ho trovato una scrittura così entusiasmante, sorretta anche da una capacità di raccontare storie fuori dal comune, sbalordendomi ad ogni avventura, ma racchiudendo una miriade di domande sull'essere umano ed il suo "ruolo" nel Mondo.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,196 reviews114 followers
June 6, 2019
Very amusing fable like stories about two friends and rivals, with nearly god-like skill as inventors and builders of machines. They travel the galaxy, seeking to utilize their skills to solve various problems, typically on behalf of a rich prince or king. The machines usually turn out not quite as expected. Like Henry Kuttner's classic The Proud Robot.

There's really nothing quite like Stanisław Lem, wildly imaginative and wholly original. Like Kuttner and Robert Sheckley, much of his writings have a witty, humorous edge. I don't know if there's a deeper message in these stories, about the inherent fallibility of machines and robots, or if they are intended purely as entertainment. Maybe a bit of both. Quite a bit of the humor seems rooted in mathematics, though Lem himself was not a mathematician, scientist or engineer as far as I know.

There's something about these stories that make me think of Jack Vance's classic The Dying Earth series. I could easily imagine the robots as two rival wizards doing their best to outdo each other, or some despotic monarch, with absurd demonstrations of their skill. The stories are generally very short, and while all are entertaining I think they're best enjoyed in small doses as others have noted.
Profile Image for Simona B.
898 reviews3,009 followers
March 21, 2022
Together with Solaris, this is the book you have to read in order to understand Lem. Before I read this, I thought I was fully conversant in the language in itself that is Lem; I found out I was barely a beginner. With The Cyberiad, in other words, I was won over all over again: grotesque, ridiculous, bitter, disillusioned, healthily misanthropic, vertiginous, thought-provoking, as cogent and relevant now, in these times, as it ever was, and an absolute verbal firework. Michael Kandel's translation, besides, is a delight and a true work of art. You simply must read this.
Profile Image for Jose Moa.
519 reviews68 followers
April 16, 2017
Another masterwork of this brilliant writter.

Obviously i have read this work in spanish because this polish collection of tales is almost intranslatable,it is full of fun neologisms of all sort.
It is a extremely funny and satiric book,but also serious deep in almost all branches of philosophy,transhumanism and physics .
Lem builds a astounding medieval, cibernetic,mechanic world were he develops the adventures of two ciberetic beings ,the builders,Trul and Claupacius.
Below this apparently absurd and grotesque fables,full of distorted philosophic ,matematical and physical neologisms ,underlie many times deep concepts of philosophy and advanced phisics and mathematics,carried to bizarre limits.
For put a example,we have the astounding tale "The Dragons of Probability" where the builders make a machine that increases the probability till near 1,as a consecuence very improbable events become real and the second law of termodinamics is broken,this lead to very improbable arranges of the matter that makes possible the existence of dragons,the spontaneus motion of inert stones and so on.Other long tale touch subjects as the existence of God or themans creating robots and robots creating mans in a infinite loop.

A joker,satiric,extremely original and deep work that one reads with a big smile from the begining till the end.
Without doubt reccomendable .
Profile Image for Andrei Mocuţa.
Author 16 books92 followers
September 24, 2022
Multă vreme am trăit cu impresia că Solaris e capodopera lui Lem. Ciberiada e și ea acolo, la doar câteva lungimi distanță. Fiind o colecție de povestiri, e imposibil să fie toate geniale, mai ales într-un volum de aproape 500 pagini. Nu l-am bănuit pe Lem niciodată de atâta creativitate, mi s-a părut mereu un autor cerebral, dar aici își dă frâu liber imaginației și rezultatul e spectaculos. O carte care combină perfect știința riguroasă cu fantezia debordantă. Dacă vă plac basmele moderne cu inserții insolite, e lectura perfectă. Iar traducerea în română aparținând lui Mihai Mitu este și ea stelară.
Profile Image for Nate D.
1,595 reviews1,027 followers
April 5, 2011
Cybernetic fables, simultaneously very old and very new. At his best, Lem is playful and wise in the manner of certain Calvino. At his worst, he tales off into long strings of silly words and technobabble puns. As such, I had to take a few breaks, but ended up being well rewarded for my time: the later stories-within-stories-within-stories (a nested Arabian Nights, or rather a Sarragossa Manuscript) seem to really be making an attempt to interrogate the universe, and its observations are sad and thoughtful beneath the clowning. I even actually felt myself drawn a little closer to the characters, props and automata that they may well be. Really, that's the main issue I had here: these really are fables more than stories, and as such it's difficult to really get close to the characters or narratives for the most part. But fables have there place of course, and many of these are good ones.
Profile Image for Voss Foster.
Author 40 books18 followers
July 12, 2020
I first ran across The Cyberiad in desperation. It takes me next to no time to read books, so I quickly drained every last inch of our bookshelves by eighth grade, and the library had nothing.

My dear lord. Before I get into the writing itself, let's not forget the briliant translation, and this book would not be easy to translate, between alliterations, rhyming, and the sheerly brilliant nonsense (I use brilliant so much because one simply can't use that word enough when speaking of this book.), he had a Herculean challenge and met it.

Now, when it comes to the writing of Lem himself, you reach a new level. Most science-fiction fans will gladly preach the gospel of the European sci-fi authors, and Lem is unquestionably a great among them, in no small part due to The Cyberiad. While fans of hard sci-fi may find the ridiculous, operatic, humorous, pseudo-scientific stories pretty much revolting (though I doubt it), no one can deny the uniqueness of his worldbuilding (surprisingly deep, for nonsense) or the fabulous anti-hero, Trurl.

I feel terrible not being able to give more, in case someone hasn't read it, but it would not be right to reveal the glory here. Suffice it to say that this should live on every bookshelf, genre-bound or literati, and should be reread often and with much gusto. A true piece of art.
Profile Image for Michael R..
128 reviews4 followers
September 16, 2011
Originally I was just thrilled to find a SF book by an author actually in Poland. But, after I read the book, I was amazed. Still one of the funniest books I have ever read. Two competing robots (Trurl and Klaupacius) who try to out-invent each other, create some of the most wild constructs that anyone could ever imagine.

One being the machine Trurl creates that can make anthing that starts with the letter 'N'. Things really get wild when Klaupacius tests the machine by asking it to create 'nothing'.

But my favorite was the three story tall calculating machine. But no matter how many times the massive computer is reprogrammed, whenever asked the answer to the equation of '2 + 2' is always '7'! And the machine is quite definative about it's answer too. I like these passages so much I used them in my college speech class.

If you could use a good laugh, 'The Cyberaid' is the answer!
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,114 followers
Shelved as 'did-not-finish'
January 3, 2017
I got to page 112, but honestly this is just not my thing. I loved Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, but somehow the circular storytelling employed in very short stories gets very repetitive. I don't find the humor funny or clever, it just feels like it is trying to hard. It smacks of Phantom Tollbooth or Hitchhiker's Guide, and these are just not my thing. Sorry, guess I'm going to lem* it. I was supposed to be on a podcast about it, but that's not going to happen!

I imagine that engineers really like this book though.

*lem - term coined by Sword and Laser readers to describe abandoning a book, originally chosen for the masses abandoning Memoirs Found in a Bathtub.
Profile Image for Gabriella.
17 reviews
September 7, 2013
Stories: A mix of good, boring, thought-provoking, and bad.
Main characters: Seldom comedic. A bit whiney. Emotionally uninvesting.
Writing: Okay at first, but very annoying by the end. I lost interest after the writing structure started to become more and more ridiculous and hard to read/understand. By trying to be creative, it basically seemed like he used a math or science term and added a couple letters to the end of it to make it sound latin. It felt very forced and unimaginative. A couple of these in a paragraph to give something a name would have been fine, but every sentence seemed almost made up of this gibberish (Thisicus wouldabar be the naminad of a personia or a sentencera). In addition to replacing the simplest of words with long strung-out technical sounding jargon, some of the character names seemed to lack creativity as well (a character named Mygrayne - aka migraine?). The chapters that did not have this sort of writing were far more bearable to read and enjoyable.
Summary: All in all, this was a giant disappointment. It seemed interesting enough at first, but the farther and farther I got into the book, the less I wanted to read it. I'm not quite sure what people see in this book. Maybe it was better in the original Polish version and got lost somewhere in the translation.
Profile Image for Greg.
92 reviews157 followers
October 7, 2009
I first came across Stanislaw Lem by way of an absolutely fantastic book called The Mind's I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul in which three of his short stories were featured. His stories touched on issues in philosophy, topics having to do with artificial intelligence, consciousness, physics, mathematics programming, and more. Upon reading these my thoughts were something along the lines of, "this is one of the most fabulous authors I've ever come across, how have I never heard of him?" I picked up The Cyberiad because I knew it contained two of the short stories I had read and assumed the quality of the book as a whole was on par with my experience, but halfway through The Cyberiad I my thinking was more along the lines of, "what the hell is this?"

The Cyberiad is a collection of short stories that take place in a very distant future, revolving around two characters name Trurl and Klaupacius, synthetic conscious robot type lifeforms in a universe where humans are but a distant memory. Trurl and Klaupacius are constructors, which means their profession involves building everything from the smartest machine in the universe, to an entire universe housed within a glass ball. Stanislaw Lem was obviously brilliant. The man understood physics and computing at a level far beyond his time, especially for a science fiction writer. His stories are infused with so much scientific terminology and mathematics that a reader not familiar with these terms might as well be reading gibberish. And herein lies half the problem. While his knowledge of these ideas is obvious, the way he uses them is often times nonsensical. Not only is the use of these terms and ideas mostly nonsensical, but the stories they are contained within and wrapped around are mostly nonsensical themselves. Many of the stories are absurdest. I would assume they were written for children if it wasn't for the complexity of the vocabulary and ideas.

For those readers that have read The Neverending Story, picture the story telling style contained within that book(the randomness and seeming inexhaustible supply of non sequiturs and incidental information) in a science fiction setting written by Douglas Adams on acid. It wasn't until over half way through the book before the stories started incorporating a more serious philosophical underbelly. In the end the last few stories were recognizable to me as the author that initially amazed me so. Even till the very end they all contain some element of absurdism, but you can tell there is more going on. If the earlier stories had anything more to them, I must be too dense to have figured it out. This is a bit unfair. Almost every single story within the book had some very smart and ingenious aspect to it. But was for the most part lost within absurd narrative going on around it.

Douglas Adams has a way of being absurd that still remains engaging and entertaining and somehow always feels like there is deep meaning infused in each progressive paragraph. Stanislaw Lem had the opportunity to create that, but chose a different path. Still, these stories are FUNNY. And the word play and narrative structure is really brilliant. I was continuously amazed that this wasn't written in english because so much of the comedy and style depended on a very specific structure. Kudos to whoever did this translation.

Profile Image for Melanti.
1,256 reviews117 followers
October 22, 2014
If I had to pick just one word to describe Lem's fiction, it would be "experimental." All the books by him that I've read so far have been so incredibly different from one another - and often different from anything else I've read as well!

This particular book is a book of short stories about a pair of robots who run around the universe constructing other robots. In many places, it really reminds me of folklore trickster tales, in other places The Arabian Nights Entertainments, and in still others just common silliness. It's a lot of fun and a whole lot more accessible than some of his other work (such as Memoirs Found in a Bathtub that inspired the "lemming" of Sword & Laser infamy) and I think it would appeal to even those who aren't die-hard sci-fi fans.

In addition, I've got to say this is one of the most phenomenal pieces of translation I've come across in a long, long time. All the fantastic jokes and wordplay - including made up words, alliteration, poetry, word games - are all translated wonderfully. They're not word-for-word translations, of course. Such a thing wouldn't work at all with this sort of book. But Kandel took enough liberties with the text that if a joke just couldn't be directly translated and still be funny, he replaced it with a similar reading English joke. Which is rather daring, but that's really the only way this sort of book could ever be translated.

There's more than a few OCR errors through out but it's not NEARLY as bad as the other Stanislaw Lem books I've bought so I guess they at least ran this particular volume through spell check. Whew!
Profile Image for Stephen Banks.
Author 1 book4 followers
March 6, 2013
Short form SciFi at it's best. Stanislaw Lem departs from his occasionally dour disposition (see: Solaris) with a series of very funny but also deeply philosophical "journeys" of a pair of Cybernetic engineers (Trurl and Klapacius). Each journey is a short story that stands alone, yet the whole collection is a complete consistent work. Lem uses absurdist plots and situations to poke fun at politics, religion, romance, war and even science.

The translation into English is phenomenal, keeping an incredible amount of linguistic play and puns. In one of the stories, Klapacius challenges Trurl to construct a machine that can create anything that begins with the letter N. Trurl succeeds, though the machine can't make Natrium (plain old salt) because, if it could make anything that began with N in any language in the universe, it could be a machine that could make anything at all, which is clearly impossible. Klapacius then orders the machine to make Nothing, and the valiant constructors must act quickly to save the universe. In another, a poetry machine creates an epic love poem all in the language of tensor algebra.

It's hard to over-recommend this wonderful work. I must have read it at least a couple dozen times.
Profile Image for Josh.
299 reviews19 followers
November 11, 2018
Other reviews have acknowledged two critical points I’d like to reinforce.

1. This translation is fantastic. Lem makes his money off word play if The Cyberiad is any indicator, and how in the hell someone was able to work that in a polish to English translation is amazing.

2. These stories might be best consumed separately, rather than on the run.

This is at times a funny book. The story about the machine that makes poetry has a nice satirical spice. The femfatalatron and King Balereon were both absurdist and silly. Amongst all the sallies are loads of invented words and puns that will give a giggle if you’re in the know. Some of the references are related to mathematical or engineering principles that may exceed the layman, such as myself, but might be a hoot otherwise. However, even if you don’t get the humor, the allegorical nature of the stories usually delivers a payoff. I found that the word play and exposition of each story usually dragged a bit, but once the conflict was established, the stories were very engaging, the lessons thought provoking, if perhaps a bit dated.

The Cyberiad is a nice little rip. It gets a clean 4 stars.
Profile Image for Toma.
28 reviews4 followers
January 17, 2011
Read this at least 5 times. Probably the best book (at least in its genre) I've read. Extremely funny and witty. With all the made up words and rhyming poems etc. must have been a nightmare to translators (I read the Finnish translation). I only wish I knew Polish so that I could read this in the original language.
Profile Image for Boy Blue.
463 reviews72 followers
June 19, 2023
The story goes that french dignitaries visiting Mao in China were surprised to hear him rave about a particular french novel, saying it was one of the greatest works of literature ever written. On checking they found it was some lesser known work that very few people in France had even read. The dignitaries returned to France and each of them devoured the work in a few days, yet they were all perplexed as they found it to be dull and lifeless. Their feelings about the novel completely explained why no one had read it in France but didn't explain Mao's obsession with it. Unknown to them the Chinese translator of the novel was one of China's greatest authors and he had imbued life into an otherwise dead book.

The power of the translator is immense, especially in the age of global literature. It's possible through translation to bring classic works appreciated only in their country to a completely new audience, one that may find the cultural mores foreign yet fascinating. People may see a completely different angle on a book that seems cliche in its original language.

As translator's go Micheal Kandel must be in the pantheon of greats. Sadly I will never read in Polish, I've heard it's a language of beautiful possibility and ambiguity. I'd like to know how much of Lem's work is his and how much is Kandel's truly magnificent translation. He's not only translated the wordplay and punning, he's translated mathematics, physics, and philosophy. He's done it with such a delicate touch and whimsy that it's hard to believe this book wasn't initially written in English. For those interested he's also behind The Witcher English translations.

I remember when I first read the Asterix books in French and chief Vitalstatistix was Abraracourcix (à bras raccourcis - with shortened arms) and the druid Getafix was Panoramix. Oddly, it wasn't until I read the french version that I realised the English names were puns. At that stage I thought Asterix character names the greatest work of translation in existence. It's amazing what good translation can do. It makes you wonder how many brilliant books have been sunk in other languages by bad translation. 

I'm certain that Ottillie Mulzet is the reason I love Krasnahorkai and I have a suspicion that Murakami is much better in Japanese.

Now for the actual story. If you were to make the Cyberiad out of other writers works you'd need:

2 Cups Douglas Adams
1 Cup Jorge Luis Borges
1/2 Cup Italo Calvino
1 Tbsp Philip K Dick
1 Tsp Alessandro Boffa
A pinch of Iain M. Banks
This book is laugh out loud funny, the absolute highest compliment you can pay to a book intended to make you laugh.

The Improbability of Dragons is worth reading alone. Go into a book store and read that short story. You don't even need to read the rest.

The stories do get slightly monotonous if read back to back and how you handle it will come down to whether you think Lem is Adam Sandler or John Cleese.

I wish Lem had been accepted into the fold of American Sci-fi rather than shunned by jealous rivals. Then we wouldn't have to "discover" his work so late in life. 

I also hope that in life I'm more of a Trurl than a Klapaucius.
Profile Image for Mehmet B.
237 reviews22 followers
September 1, 2021
Uzay çağında, robotların evrim geçirip insanların yerini aldığı bir zamanda gezegenler arasında geçen hikayelerde, mutluluğa tamamen ulaşmış bir toplum kurmayı, tiranlığı, mükemmeli arayışı, cinsellik, ırklar, güzellik, değerleri toplum tarafından anlaşılamayan dahiler, bilgilerin niceliği mi/niteliği mi önemli gibi felsefi tartışmaları, hatta bağlı beyin (wired brain) gibi günümüzdeki gelecek tasarılarının getirebileceği felaketleri, robotlar tasarlayan mühendis kahramanlarının hikayeleriyle didaktik olmadan sorgulatan kurgusuyla, bilimsel terimlerin yeni şiirsel anlamlar kazandığı bilimkurgu masalları...
Profile Image for Paul Ataua.
1,458 reviews144 followers
March 6, 2017
I love Lem’s longer works and came to “The Cyberiad” following classics like ‘Solaris’, ‘The Invincible’, and ‘His Master’s Voice’ . Sadly, I was disappointed with this selection. The stories, following two inventors, are at times clever and sometimes vaguely humorous, but neither of those qualities endeared me to them. The creation of a machine that can create anything that starts with the letter N was a high point, but it was pretty much downhill from there on.
Profile Image for Adam.
349 reviews22 followers
March 10, 2022
“One can accomplish something only so long as one cannot accomplish everything.”

Well, this book absolutely accomplishes something. It’s frivolous language, fun with puns, addiction to alliteration, and fabricated fables all make it a highly enjoyable read. It also doesn’t accomplish everything. I didn’t find any of the stories particularly memorable or overly interesting, and like a sugary dessert I found it most enjoyable in small doses.

I would describe the book as Dr. Seuss writing science fiction fables for adults. It rhymes, it glides, it sizzles and fizzles, it's emphatically erratically radical.

“Not far from here, by a white sun, behind a green star, lived the Steelypips, illustrious, industrious, and they hadn’t a care: no spats in their vats, no rules, no schools, no gloom, no evil influence of the moon, no trouble from matter or antimatter—for they had a machine, a dream of a machine, with springs and gears and perfect in every respect.”

There’s even a dash of Eminem at times.

“electrically caressed, impeccably dressed, pomaded, braided, gold-brocaded, lapped and laved in ducats gleaming, wrapped and wreathed in incense streaming, showered with treasures, plied with pleasures, marble halls, fanfares, balls, but for all that, strangely discontent and even a little depressed.”

And mom’s spaghetti? Seriously, the writing is so fun to read. Again, in small doses.

“The King’s huntsmen unleashed the whole pack of automated hounds (mainly Saint Cybernards and Cyberman pinschers, with an occasional high-frequency terrier)”


Also, as an avid amateur alliterator myself I have nothing but ardent admiration for phrases like this:

“tank-turtles with squashed turrets, and mutilated military millipedes, and other oddities, broken and battle-scarred”

The author was so obsessed with alliteration he even based a story around it, and one of the better ones in my opinion. It began like this:

“One day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create anything starting with n.”

And escalated to this:

“Have it compose a poem—a poem about a haircut! But lofty, noble, tragic, timeless, full of love, treachery, retribution, quiet heroism in the face of certain doom! Six lines, cleverly rhymed, and every word beginning with the letter s!!”

Which of course led to the following avalanche of alliteration:

“Seduced, shaggy Samson snored. She scissored short. Sorely shorn, Soon shackled slave, Samson sighed, Silently scheming, Sightlessly seeking Some savage, spectacular suicide.”


All these stories revolve around the mischievous robot Trurl the constructor. Who serves the reader by inevitably involving himself in ridiculous situations.

“Trurl had loaded the cannons with newborn babies, which rained down upon the enemy in gooing, cooing myriads and, growing quickly, crawled and drooled over everything; there were so many of them, that the air shook with their ear-splitting ma-ma’s, da-da’s, kee-kee’s and waa’s. This infant inundation lasted until the economy began to collapse under the strain and the kingdom was faced with the dread specter of a depression, and still out of the sky came tots, tads, moppets and toddlers, all chubby and chuckling, their diapers fluttering.”

There are, however, moments when the author offers something serious to ponder on.

“Inaction is certain, and that is all it has to recommend it. Action is uncertain, and therein lies its fascination.”

Hmm. Also, here, where he apparently is commenting on LeBron James’ Lakers tenure.

“But it is always best when an intelligent being cannot alter its own form, for such freedom is truly a torment. He who must be what he is, may curse his fate, but cannot change it; on the other hand, he who can transform himself has no one in the world but himself to blame for his failings, no one but himself to hold responsible for his dissatisfaction.”

But mostly I found enjoyment in the moments of absurd language that never made me laugh, but certainly made me smile.

“At about the same time, in the kingdom of Atrocitus, the sixth amphibious division forsook naval operations for navel contemplation and, thoroughly immersed in mysticism, very nearly drowned.”

I almost laughed. He almost got me. But even without laughing I’m amused, and isn’t that swell?

“It is well known, certainly, that one does not laugh because one is amused, but rather, one is amused because one laughs. If then everyone maintains that things just couldn’t be better, attitudes immediately improve. The subjects of Ferocitus were thus required, for their own good, to go about shouting how wonderful everything was, and the old, indefinite greeting of “Hello” was changed by the King to the more emphatic “Hallelujah!”—though children up to the age of fourteen were permitted to say, “Wow!” or “Whee!”, and the old-timers, “Swell!”

Stories-7, Language-10, Ideas-7, Characters-8, Enjoyment-8, Overall-8
Profile Image for Morgan.
149 reviews91 followers
October 6, 2010
I have to give this book an award for Best Chapter Title:

"The Fourth Sally, or How Trurl Built a Femfatalatron to Save Prince Pantagoon from the Pangs of Love, and How Later He Resorted to a Cannonade of Babies."

While the chapter on dragons is by far my favorite sally, mostly for the beginning theoretical explanations of how dragons cannot exist, except by bizarre partial probability equations. Ingenious.

As for Sally 1A, isn't it a bit bizarre that a robot builds the ultimate poetry machine, and that all the other robot poets are shamed by it? Considering it says, rather specifically, that machines cannot write verse (in that they have no soul, I believe it was--this was rather a lot of sallies ago)? Which is an interesting discussion point on the difference between robot and machine.

Overall, a masterpiece of science, mathematics, imagination, philosophy, theology, satire, robotkind, and humankind. An epic of the future, if Odysseus were a robot.
Profile Image for David.
16 reviews2,061 followers
July 24, 2010
This book has the best first line of any book in world literature ("one day Trurl the constructor put together a machine that could create anything starting with the letter n.") It's definitely my favorite Lem, too. By far the funniest. Some of the Pirx the Pilot stories are almost as funny, but never with such consistency.

Probably can't add too much to the other reviews except to say: I actually read this before I read Rabelais, so I didn't realize how much this is a modern version of the same thing - well, minus the crude humor, etc, but totally running with the crazy mock scholarship, over-educated characters making absurd lists and doing utterly inappropriate things. Making all the characters robots makes it... might one even speak of an intellectual carnivalesque? There's a tradition of authors who just purely play with ideas (Borges, Calvino are common comparisons) but no one else I can think of has nearly so much fun with it.
Profile Image for Sandy Parsons.
Author 7 books9 followers
July 31, 2015
Have you ever wanted to hug a book and kiss its cover, reserve a special place on your bookshelf so you can look forward to reading it again? This is a unique book. It's funny and smart philosophical science fiction, which isn't for everyone, but if you fall into that demographic, it's the archetype. I've had it on my 'to read' list for a long time, but bumped it up after listening to a podcast interview with David X. Cohen of Futurama. He didn't say explicitly it was an inspiration, but I noticed a certain flavor to the stories reminiscent of the show. It even has a character named Calculon. I couldn't help but picture the HPLDs as Nibbler's race, the bureauocrat as Hermes, Trurl as Prof Farnsworth, several of the constructs as Bender, etc. It's a rare thing for something to be fun and thought-provoking at the same time. Easy, fantastic read, all the more impressive since it was originally written in Polish.
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