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Memoirs Found In A Bathtub

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The year is 3149, and a vast paper destroying blight-papyralysis-has obliterated much of the planet's written history. However, these rare memoirs, preserved for centuries in a volcanic rock, record the strange life of a man trapped in a hermetically sealed underground community. Translated by Michael Kandel and Christine Rose.

204 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1961

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About the author

Stanisław Lem

444 books3,617 followers
Stanisław Lem (staˈɲiswaf lɛm) was a Polish science fiction, philosophical and satirical writer of Jewish descent. His books have been translated into 41 languages and have sold over 27 million copies. He is perhaps best known as the author of Solaris, which has twice been made into a feature film. In 1976, Theodore Sturgeon claimed that Lem was the most widely read science-fiction writer in the world.

His works explore philosophical themes; speculation on technology, the nature of intelligence, the impossibility of mutual communication and understanding, despair about human limitations and humankind's place in the universe. They are sometimes presented as fiction, but others are in the form of essays or philosophical books. Translations of his works are difficult and multiple translated versions of his works exist.

Lem became truly productive after 1956, when the de-Stalinization period led to the "Polish October", when Poland experienced an increase in freedom of speech. Between 1956 and 1968, Lem authored 17 books. His works were widely translated abroad (although mostly in the Eastern Bloc countries). In 1957 he published his first non-fiction, philosophical book, Dialogi (Dialogues), one of his two most famous philosophical texts along with Summa Technologiae (1964). The Summa is notable for being a unique analysis of prospective social, cybernetic, and biological advances. In this work, Lem discusses philosophical implications of technologies that were completely in the realm of science fiction then, but are gaining importance today—like, for instance, virtual reality and nanotechnology. Over the next few decades, he published many books, both science fiction and philosophical/futurological, although from the 1980s onwards he tended to concentrate on philosophical texts and essays.

He gained international fame for The Cyberiad, a series of humorous short stories from a mechanical universe ruled by robots, first published in English in 1974. His best-known novels include Solaris (1961), His Master's Voice (Głos pana, 1968), and the late Fiasco (Fiasko, 1987), expressing most strongly his major theme of the futility of mankind's attempts to comprehend the truly alien. Solaris was made into a film in 1972 by Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky and won a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972; in 2002, Steven Soderbergh directed a Hollywood remake starring George Clooney.

He was the cousin of poet Marian Hemar.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 301 reviews
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,357 reviews11.8k followers
April 10, 2023

“When you jump for joy, beware that no one moves the ground from beneath your feet.”
― Stanisław Lem

If you are up for writing with ample helpings of the polyglotomatic and metapsychodelic, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 novel of screwball bureaucratic misadventure will most certainly stir your brainwaves and set your neural neurons fizzing.

What a polyglot and metaphysician was our author - fluent in Polish, Latin, German, French, English, Russian, Ukrainian, Lem’s expertise ranged from medicine and biology, physics and astronomy, mathematics and robotics to philosophy, literature and linguistics. And added to this intellectual mix, such a protean imagination – numerous collections of highly provocative essays, dozens of short stories and seventeen science fiction novels, many judged among the best within the genre.

A twelve page Introduction (part of the novel) written hundreds of years into the future outlines how this manuscript, Notes from the Neogene, or its more commonly known title, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, is a precious relic from Earth’s ancient past, "a period of decline which directly preceded the great Collapse," a time when paper was used extensively for writing. Among the numerous documented facts alluded to by this archaeologist of the future in his quest to discover the reasons behind the demise of that paper centered, bathroom centered, ancient civilization is a thriving cult revolving around Kap-Eh-Taahl, a deity denied supernatural existence. Yes, Kap-Eh-Taahl is “Capital,” one example of how the Introduction, scholarly and authoritative in tone, is a Stanislaw Lem-ish tour de force of word play, word blending, punning, spoonerisms, neologisms, double entendre, tongue-twisters and tongue-in-cheek.

Nevertheless these introductory remarks are picture-perfect as a set up to frame the narrative that follows, an extensive firsthand report authored by a newly assigned secret agent caught in an unending network of offices, corridors, stairs, elevators and bathrooms forming part of a vast underground military compound. If this strikes you as a Kafkaesque parable of little guy versus big bureaucracy, you hit the bulls-eye – much of the spirit of Lem's novel is captured in the above Jaroslav Rona sculpture located in Prague with natty Franz Kafka atop a headless, handless giant.

In the very first paragraph our disoriented narrator tells us he can’t locate the proper room amid multiple levels of departments and offices in this Pentagon-like Building as he attempts to press through crowds of marching military personnel, disguised agents and preoccupied secretaries. Kafka’s An Imperial Message comes immediately to mind, a tale where a messenger sent by the Emperor is trying to bring a special message for you alone but the messenger must push through a solid mass of humanity in an outer courtyard only to find another horde of people in the next courtyard blocking his way and so it continues, such that, alas, you will never receive your message. Anybody who has ever been obliged to deal with a bloated administrative system will hear a familiar ring.

The narrator wends his way to the office of powerfully built, bald, old General Kashenblade, Commander in Chief, only to be given an unidentified special mission. The more questions he asks about the specifics of his mission, the more indecipherable the explanations, even moving out to the stars, as when the old man pontificates, “And the spiral nebulae?! Well?! Don’t tell me you don’t know what that means! SPY-ral!! And the expanding universe, the retreating galaxies! Where are they going? What are they running from? And the Doppler shift to the red!! Highly suspicious – no more! A clear admission of guilt!!”

Such decidedly cerebral passages are reminiscent of another classic where imagination and erudite fancy mix with elements of physics, mathematics, astronomy and other sciences - t zero by Italo Calvino. Lem’s polyglot background frequently shines through with a light touch, a real treat for readers who enjoy heady subjects and brain teasers mixed in with their fiction.

Next stop, we follow our earnest special agent, now a man on a mission, to the main office where he is approached by a young officer who introduces himself as Lieutenant Blanderdash, the Chief’s undercover aide. Whoa, Stanislaw! Was that Blanderdash or Balderdash? Blanderdash proceeds to ask the agent if he yawns or snores (the department lost many people by snoring) before leading him to the Department of Collections to view, along with a multitude of other absurdities, cabinets with millions of cuff links and glass cases filled with artificial ears, noses, bridges, fingernails, warts, eyelashes, boils and humps.

Given such a display (no pun intended) of government and military intelligence brings to mind Moscow 2042 and other comic masterpieces by Vladimir Voinovich. Such a sharp satirical needle – too bad the archaeologist examining these memoirs assumes the narrator is entirely serious and completely reliable! He’s missing out on much of the irony and dark humor.

I’m reminded yet again of another author, Lewis Carroll and his Alice in Wonderland, most especially the Mad Hatter’s tea party. For the more I turned the pages, the more I had the feeling special agent Undereavesdropper Blassenkash (in Chapter 2 he answers to this title and name) is trapped in a building filled with a stream of Mad Hatters spouting sheer indecipherable nonsense. I actually found this one of the more amusing and more telling aspects of the tale since the madness is accentuated by our unfortunate narrator forever remaining the serious, formal straight man.

Perhaps agent Blassenkash finally comes to understand the underlying meaning of what’s going on: either all of this is a test for him to pass in his capacity as agent, or - fanfare tooted by Alice's White Rabbit on his tiny trumpet - everyone is a raving lunatic. Or, maybe he has been misled by enemy spies that have infiltrated the Building. Or, then again, his very presence in the Building is, in fact, his mission. Or a dozen other possibilities.

You will have to read for yourself to decipher the code. However, be aware – there could be more than one code. As a head Building official explains, “Now, there are calling codes, stalling codes, departmental codes, special codes, and – you’ll like this,” he grinned, “they’re changed every day. Each section, of course, has its own system, so the same word or name will have a different meaning on different levels.”

Stanisław Lem, age 50, at his typewriter in Kraków, Poland, 1971
Profile Image for Ania.
252 reviews30 followers
May 17, 2012
Madness... it's ALL madness.

I imagine all fans of this book to look something like this:
The question now becomes, am I a fan?

I really don't know how to rate this book. After finishing this book I wanted to chuck it out the window. "2 days wasted!" I thought. Nothing but madness and more madness.... Then today more of it made sense, by of course, not making sense. (you're picturing the crazy cat as my face now, aren't you?)

I do understand the book however, and I suppose this is why I am writing this review: I felt no one has understood it deeply enough, only barely skimming the surface.

This is the point in this review where you raise your left eye brow, look at me and ask "oh really now smarty pants? what is the meaning then??".

I'll tell you what it is.

*Looks around paranoid and whispers*:

"there is no spoon".

In the movie The Matrix Neo enters the apartment of the Oracle, where he spots a child bending spoons with its mind. When Neo picks up the spoon, the child says:
"Do not try to bend the spoon, that's impossible. Instead...try to realize the truth. ... There is no spoon. Then you will see that it is not the spoon that bends, only yourself."

"Huh?" I hear you say?

"Exactly" *I nod.* "keep reading my friend."
The Plot

The plot on the surface is quite simple yet completely maddening. It is a story of a confined universe, aka The Building, an underground secret facility where all the American elites and their body guards (the army)have hid themselves following a world crisis.(Humourously, Lem writes this "world stopping crisis" as a disintegration of all paper in the world, but it could very well have been a plague, an economic collapse, or a revolution. I'm glad he's chosen paper, it makes the book a bit less heavy than it could have been.) Being completely closed off and forgotten, the people in the building became a universe onto itself, a world within a world.

Naturally, because they were paranoid their paranoia in a confined space begins to consume itself, like a snake eating its tail, the Ouroboros of total insanity and claustrophobic madness.

The protagonist of this mad world is a nameless person, most likely a man who's spy adventures and misadventures we follow throughout the building. The man's mission is so secret that even he himself doesn't know what it is. He attempts to unravel the mystery but he cannot, as everyone is a spy like him, on a senseless mission to keep everyone occupied.

At the end of the book .

What does it all mean??

When I say that there is no spoon, I mean that the point of this book is that there is no meaning. The point is that all there is, is items and we are trapped in this world, making our own meaning out of it.

"Do not try to bend the spoon [find meaning], that's impossible. Instead...try to realize the truth. ... There is no spoon.[meaning]".

Only when we understand that meaning is all interpretation, a completely individual experience, then we realize that there is no meaning because it's all made up individually as we go along based on our assumptions and experiences (much like the missions in The Building). Only then can we abandon the search for meaning, which is the only liberation from the madness of meaning itself and hence, the world.

What I think happens...

Interesting Stray Observations

- I think this book is not about cold war, it's too easy to say that.

- I think it's interesting how women are like furniture in this book or probably more like coffee makers in skirts.

- I didn't like the analogies to nature. I felt these people were trapped in this enormous bunker for a long time, most likely even born there, hence they would not be able to relate to this living world.

But then again, what do I know? After all, there is no spoon. :)

Profile Image for Alan Marchant.
258 reviews12 followers
July 12, 2009
Kafka on Prozac

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub by Stanslaw Lem follows the adventures of an agent-in-training as he wanders in search of a mission through the vast bureaucracy of a purposeless intelligence agency.

The agent is anonymous. But we can call him K - because the story, the style, and the absurdist message are drawn directly from Kafka (esp. The castle]. K is an everyman, and his agency is an allegory for society. Ostensibly, the agency is the post-apocalyptic remnant of America, but it feels entirely European.

The theme of the Memoirs is that one's search for individual identity (i.e. the mission) is distracted by reflections of the self in other people. Social interaction discloses layer upon layer of identity (like the numberless floors of the agency's building) but no essential purpose. Such a search wraps the individual tighter and tighter in a web of conformity.

In the end, K can no longer imagine leaving the building. He becomes incapable of even attempting a mission, should he ever find one. Even his human rebelliousness turns into tragically reflexive conformity.

Lem's narrative style conveys serious ideas using a simple narrative prose and pervasive, but understated humor. In this respect, Lem writes like Kafka on Prozac - with clearer ideas, faster pace, and more fun. For me, this is the best aspect of the book.

The worst aspect of the book is the introduction. I advise the reader to skip it; with the intro included, my recommendation drops by at least one star. It places the Memoirs in a sophomoric (and entirely unnecessary) SciFi context and draws the connection with America. I speculate that the introduction was added to satisfy censors in 1961 Poland.
Profile Image for Dee.
62 reviews1 follower
September 1, 2007
This book blew my mind. I had to scream after I put it down! It is the story of a man who doesn't know his mission, who is on the outside of an inside joke. Everything is in code, even the code is in code, and everybody is a double, triple, quadruple or more agent. Or maybe they just make up their jobs and go about doing them-there is no way to know.

This book is a tragedy in the sense that it is a comedy about someone who ultimately fails. In comedy, the hero always succeeds at the end, in greek theater.

Highbrow science fiction, so far beyond genre that it is actually literature.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,967 followers
February 25, 2021
"Anything enormous, immense beyond belief or reckoning, has to be serious. -- Size, how we worship size. -- Believe me, if there were a turd the size of a mountain, its summit hidden in the clouds, we would bend the knee in reverence."

Indeed. The bigger the edifice, whether building, organization, or the universe itself, the more impossible our belief that it might ever fail.

I swear, this book may appear to be a far-future edifice of rampant spy-vs-spy rampant paranoia where every little thing is a code within a code, from farts to sighs to the shape of a wart on an old man's neck, but it's really a testament of human psychology.

We grew into ourselves always looking into the dark forest looking for tiny details to conflate into huge conspiracies, whether it is a tiger, a snake, or a defector in our own ranks. Stanislaw Lem's far-future edifice of absolutely meaningless betrayals and sextuplet counter-betrayals made me think I was reading a massive nod to Catch-22 and a million spy thrillers as written by one of the most fantastic SF authors of our time.

And I enjoyed it immensely. I even laughed my ass off several times. The wordplay is so smart and crazy and the sheer size of this little masterpiece of conspiracy fiction made me chortle to no end.

"I am a man of the cross and the double-cross. No nails, no thorns, no spear in the side... only the boss gets a little cross."

19 reviews3 followers
January 2, 2014
this book is fucked up. i don't usually say that about books but this one is wicked fucked up. i listened to an audiobook version that left the introduction out and that made it even weirder. basically this dude comes into existence in a cold war era underground government bunker and has to find out what his mission is but he's stuck in the place that drives you mad from that asterix movie so he just runs around for a while trying to navigate the insane mazes of political intrigue before realizing that the structure of the building has completely sealed it off from the world and nothing within the bunker relates to anything outside at all and nothing that anyone says has any particular meaning. i listened to most of this on a train in germany and at the end of the trip i wanted to throw myself on the tracks. 4/5
Profile Image for Jose Moa.
519 reviews65 followers
November 7, 2016
With the Futurological Congress the most outlandish and grotesque novel of Lem i have read and perhaps the most of all i have read in my life.
What a mix,surpassing all them,of Lewis Carroll,Kafka and Dick,he takes the logic to the absurd extreme as Caroll,builds a grotesque senseles burocratic world as Kafka and transmits a sense of nigmarish irreality as Dick,a real irreality without the need od drugs

After a ancient plague that have destroyed all the paper and by that the histhory records ,in near the 4000 year the histhorians have a fragmentary record of the near to day civilization named the Neogene.
After a hilarant historian satyra over the ideologic fight between capitalism and comunism the histhorians find in a big bunker in the Rocky Mountains named the Last Pentagon flooded by magma a memoirs written by a inhabitant of the building closed to the rest of the world in a claustrophobic militaristic extreme burocratic society.Narrated in first person by a man without name in a unfrutuous search of the class and meaning of a mission ordered to him, he makes a narration of a world where the characters each one more absurd ,each one in search of his existential meaning,in a chaotic organization.

Lem carries the reality to the most extreme senseles,create delirant neologisms,create outlandish concepts as the desemantizacion of the words,the nested layers of encripted normal languaje,the nested layers of truth and spy in a paranoic esquizofrenic paradise.
There is a duality beween the Building and a next Antibuilding with simetric interchangeable roles with perhaps a deeper open meaning.The building is the absolut maze where the characters are lost in search of his existential meaning.

The book is open to several interpretations,possibly a alegoria of the despersonaliced , paranoic and senseles world of his sovietic orbit natal Poland.

A unique original, nigmarish,grotesque and full of bleak humor postapocaliptic distopia.

A strongly recomended masterwork in its genre
Profile Image for Diana Stoyanova.
589 reviews123 followers
August 23, 2021
Странна книга, написана с голяма доза трескава фантазия и множество измислени понятия( например Молбилантрикс- стр 28). Мога да си представя колко е било трудно да се преведе на български.
На главният герой му е възложена мисия. Трябва да намери нещо в Зданието, а насоките са разпръснати навсякъде. Той се лута из коридорите и етажите като в лабиринт и сякаш всяко малко нещо е като код в кода за разшрифроване на загадката. Прилича на шпионски трилър в далечното бъдеще, в който е вкаран и щур хумор.

Няма да слагам оценка, защото тази книга се оказа прекалено висока топка за мен и се опасявам, че не можах да вникна в нейната същина.
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,714 reviews2,307 followers
July 15, 2022
Maddening story, but that's quite the point.

An everyman character wanders around an underground intelligence agency that is just a labyrinth of corridors and offices. He's in search of "his mission" and loses sense of time (and self?) but it manages to also be absurd and funny in parts.

The Introduction - a letter from the future describing the loss of every scrap of paper, and therefore all of written history - was more enjoyable to me than the following 180+ pages of Kafkaesque wanderings and circular dialogues with bureaucrats in office bunkers.

Overall a nerve-racking read. Perhaps I prefer a more serious scientific Lem...
Profile Image for Anna.
1,686 reviews636 followers
November 30, 2016
‘Memoirs Found in a Bathtub’ is a strange novel, but its strangeness feels somehow familiar. It reminded me of Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled, Kadare’s The Palace of Dreams, the Terry Gilliam film ‘Brazil’, and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. It would probably also remind me of Kafka’s The Trial, if I’d read it. (I am going to - the library’s copy never seems to be on the shelf!) First published in 1971, Lem’s novel is an unsettling satire on the Cold War, in which an intelligence agency (the CIA?) has retreated into a massive underground bunker. The narration begins abruptly, in the middle of a sentence, without introducing the narrator. He seems to be an agent of some sort, tasked with an important mission that no-one is willing or able to explain to him. He travels from office to office, encounters a bizarre array of obfuscating persons and attempts to discern what the hell is going on. There are some recurring themes relating to astronomy and free will, as well as a framing conceit of the memoirs as a rare document recovered thousands of years later. By this point almost all paper has been obliterated by an epidemic of some sort, so historians struggle to understand what was going just on much as the narrator does.

The narrative has considerable momentum, closely resembling an anxiety dream in which you’re late, lost, and obscurely to blame for something. Thus it isn’t the most pleasant thing to read, although some of the writing is beautiful. Certain incidents are merely farcical or grotesque, but others feel profound. My favourite moment was this, towards the end:

”A priest? You turned me over to Major Erms! You only wear a cassock to hide the uniform!”

“And do you only a wear a body to hide the skeleton? Try to understand. I am hiding nothing. You say I betrayed you. But everything here is illusion: betrayal, treason, even omniscience - for omniscience is not only impossible, but quite unnecessary when its counterfeit suffices, a fabrication of stray reports, allusions, words mumbled in one’s sleep or retrieved from the latrines… It is not omniscience but the faith in that matters.”

I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the ending, though.
Profile Image for Jay.
174 reviews14 followers
November 26, 2016
This book is NOT science fiction. It is Kafka meets Lewis Carroll meets Alain Robbe-Grillet. A "story" of a nameless man, seemingly trapped in an underground Building of many levels, with all of the attributes of a long, long suffocating dream, a tale with its own internal "logic" but utterly outside anything rational or "real". Written and published in Polish in 1961, translated into English in 1973 and dismissed by yours truly in 2016 as a WTF entry on my bookshelves with a hallowed place between "Zen and the Art of Diesel Typewriter Maintenance" and "20,000 Wanks Under the Sheet". Hands down, this is the craziest "novel" I have ever read.

The introduction or prologue, such as it is, is a "teaser" that is clumsily grafted onto the main story. Ostensibly written in 3149, the prologue introduces the "memoirs" as having been found in a bathtub in an ancient underground military-like facility destroyed by a volcanic eruption roughly 1600 years previous to their find. The prologue dwells on a cataclysmic event in earlier millennia in which a virus, accidentally introduced by space travelers returning from one of the moons of Uranus, destroyed all of the paper on Earth and all of humanity's knowledge, bringing chaos, anarchy and a new Dark Age. The memoirs and their discovery are mentioned almost as an afterthought. Written in 1961, the fictional paper cataclysm is eerily prescient of what would probably result in the wake of an electromagnetic pulse following one or more nuclear detonations over one or more continents.

I have wanted to read this book for several decades, after I had read Solaris. I wanted and expected to be entertained, enlightened, and that I would walk away a "better person" for the experience. Unfortunately, I am none of these, although, looking on the bright side, I can at last check this one off my bucket list. 3 stars here, because I know it took considerable talent to conceive and execute the novel, and craftsmanship deserves a respectful nod. However, I suspect Lem's editor was a catatonic by the time the manuscript went to print. Everything has its cost.
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
545 reviews147 followers
January 23, 2019
Funnier than Kafka, more flippant than Heller, Lem mocks and satirizes a bloated bureaucratic military complex where nobody knows what anybody is doing, not even themselves. All told, it's a pretty brilliant solution to prevent espionage: if everything is misinformation, then nothing can fall into the enemy's hands. Right?
So . . . I had considered myself the center of the universe, the bull's-eye, so to speak, for all the slings and arrows the Building had to offer—and all along I was nothing, just one of a series, another copy, a stereotype, trembling in all the places my predecessors trembled, repeating like a record player exactly the same words, feelings, thoughts. My melodramatic actions, the sudden impulses, false starts, surprises, moments of inspiration, each successive revelation—all of it, chapter and verse, including this present moment, was in the instructions—no longer my instructions, they weren't made for me . . . So if this was neither a test nor a Mission, nor chaos—what was left? ... Were they all crazy? Were they out to make me crazy too? Then everything would be fine, for if everyone's crazy, no one's crazy . . . But where was it all heading? (124)
5 stars out of 5. Yeah, it's a little bit juvenile, mostly goofy, and very over-the-top. And the whole "paper blight" introduction didn't really need to be there. But if you think about it you'll realize it's really a secretly coded message about life and living in an over-informed, media-saturated society (I swear). And all that stuff is right up my alley.
Profile Image for 0rkun.
130 reviews28 followers
June 23, 2018
Küvette Bulunan Günce, Stanlislaw Lem'in gelecekten gelen bir labirent tasviri.

Kitap gerçekten muhteşemdir. Lem beni her zaman etkilemeyi başarıyor. Bu da en iyi kitaplarından biriydi kesinlikle. Hele finali muhteşemdi. En iyi kitap finali bile seçilebilir.
Profile Image for Kiril Valchev.
178 reviews4 followers
January 12, 2021
Дълбоко под земята, в отдавна изчезналата държава Амер-Ка, Зданието приютява последните останки от култа към загадъчните божества Рас-Са и Кап-И-Таал. А сред безкрайните коридори и безчетните стаи на Зданието, се лута безименият ни протагонист - таен агент, твърдо решен да изпълни своята Мисия, въпреки непонятния ѝ характер.
В "Дневник, намерен във вана", Станислав Лем е забъркал атмосфера на комично абсурдна в мащабите си параноя и е населил страниците на романа си с хора, които не допускат съществуването на случайни явления и непреднамерени действия и търсят скрити послания във всеки звук, всяка дума и всеки акт. На тях им е останало "само все по-дълбоко да потъват в бездната на колективното безумство".
"Конгрес по футурология" си остава по-силната му антиутопия, но всяко непреведено досега заглавие на Лем е добре дошло. Благодарности на "Колибри", Силвия Борисова и програмата "Творческа Европа" на Европейската комисия!
Profile Image for Carla Remy.
836 reviews61 followers
April 5, 2013
This is the most dreamlike book I ever remember reading. Or nightmare like. A study in bureaucracy and paranoia. Including coded camouflage and artificial body parts and much much more. My American paperback is from 1971 but apparently the original is from 1961.
December 17, 2018
Somewhere between Kafka and PKD by way of Pynchon's Tristero-style conspiratorialism—a fever dream of the eternal Cold War between the individual and the mass of the universe pressing down on them in all its chaos, meaningful or not.
Profile Image for Nico.
6 reviews
January 7, 2013
I adored this piece from start to finish. Lem (or his translators) have a grasp on prose that wows and flows. This absurdist satire had me laughing and cringing throughout as the nearly 40-year-old piece rings true as a bell to contemporary themes of espionage, privacy, and deception. The story attempts to detail the complex interworking of an institution so mired in secrecy and insecurity that trust, truth, and deception swirl together in a miasma of confusion and paranoia such that any occurrence, no matter how subtle or seemingly unintentional must be a code or sign.
Profile Image for William Cardini.
Author 11 books12 followers
January 25, 2017
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub is a dark satire of spy bureaucracies.

The introduction tells us that these memoirs were found in a bathroom of the Third Pentagon 72 years after it had been hermetically sealed to prevent a paper-destroying plague from ruining the records of this last vestige of American capitalism. But the memoirs themselves do not reference this context. The nameless narrator begins his story with an ellipses but it becomes clear that he has entered this windowless Building because he was summoned for a Mission from a life outside. The Building (capitalized throughout) is never called the Third Pentagon in the main text and it could just as easily skewer the KGB as the CIA. I wonder if the introduction was added afterwards to please Soviet censors who altered some of Lem's other works.

I've reread both The Futurological Congress and Memoirs Found in a Bathtub in this past year. I thought that Congress was Lem's most psychedelic novel but now that it and Memoirs are both fresh in my mind it's hard to say which one is more mind altering. Congress is certainly more fun and visual – Memoirs has a lot of despair and treachery. Like Solaris, His Master's Voice, Eden, and many other Lem stories, Memoirs is about one man trying to understand a confusing system that . Unlike those other novels, which deal with aliens, in Memoirs he is trying to understand an all-too human system of agents and double agents, tests and games, and an occluding bureaucracy.

The narrator is on a quest for the instructions for his Mission so he can begin it but no one will give him a straight answer. Various characters propose their explanations for how the Building and the spies within work: the confusion is deliberate – no one knows their true mission so the double agents can't discover the Building's plans; everyone is behaving randomly with no true purpose; everyone is speaking in code but there is a hidden meaning behind it; everyone in the Building has been replaced with double agents from the Anti-Building but the Anti-Building has also been replaced with double agents from the Building; and everything that happens is a test to prepare the narrator for his real Mission.

This novel is both funny and disturbing. Just like The Futurological Congress and many Philip K Dick books, it can give you the feeling that nothing is real and make you very paranoid. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Toby.
258 reviews36 followers
March 4, 2009
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub combines biting satire with Carollian absurdity to brilliant effect.

Follow the confused and paranoia-driven encounters of a government agent as he navigates the exaggeratedly complex and ridiculous set of codes and regulations enforced by the other inhabitants of the edifice known simply as The Building. He is on a mission, but no one has told him what the mission actually is yet.

The introduction to the novel sets the context: Something brought back on a space flight destroyed all the paper in the world at once, throwing the Earth into near-chaos and simultaneously wiping out all records of a large period of history. These days what little is known of those times comes from word-of-mouth stories. That is until the Memoirs are found:

"Those finds concern religious beliefs prevalent during the Eigth Dynasty of Ammer-Ka; They speak of various Perils - Black, Red, Yellow - evidently cabalistic incantations connected in some way to the mysterious deity Rayss, to whome burnt offerings were apparently made."

Not make much sense? Re-read it, but this time substitute "America" for "Ammer-Ka", and "race" for "Rayss" ;)

Memoirs is a more complex book than much of Lem's other works, for example, The Futurological Congress, but the complexity of the novel itself serves an important function: to emphasise and share the lost confusion felt by the protagonist and also the structured but seemingly chaotic culture of The Building. A highly recommended read!

Some other great quotes:
"Then he spoke of sodomystics and gomorrhoids"
"Also, I dabble in decerebration and defecation - trepans and bedpans, you know - just a hobby"
Profile Image for Sara.
195 reviews
July 16, 2015
Stanislaw Lem's Memoirs Found in a Bathtub is a parable of deconstruction, where all meaning is lost in intrigue. Our hero is the author of one of the last written manuscripts on earth, after a great blight destroyed nearly all written history. His body, and his memoir as a newly recruited spy in the Building are found in a bathtub. The story follows his mishaps as he tries to discover what his orders are, and what his mission means. As the ages have passed, the last vestiges of Capitalism are holed up in a mountain, and everyone, even the priest is a spy. Every word written or spoken has multiple levels of meaning, the furniture, the layout of the Building, even the way a girl eats her sandwich. Nothing can be taken at face value, or can it?

Ironically, Lem would probably laugh at any review assigning meanings to symbols in his novel, but whatever. The Building, and its anti Building represent the Universe around us. Our recruit's orders represent the meaning of life, and the spies represent all those who try to find their purpose.

As an English major, I should have found this book at least mildly amusing, but after the back story in the editor's note, everything went downhill. Trying to keep track of all the plots and sub plots became more taxing than amusing, and something about Lem's prose in this book makes him sound preachy. Add in a very unnecessary attempted rape scene, and by the end you'll be glad this book is only 200 or so pages.

August 11, 2017
Stanislav Lemin "Solaris" və "Ulduzlardan qayıdış" romanları ilə eyni ildə- 1961- ci ildə qələmə aldığı romanı. Yazarın üslubundakı fəlsəfi nüanslar, satirik toxunuşlar, eləcə də qeyri- müəyyənlik ilə həm yaratdığı obrazları, həm də oxucunu sonu bilinməz hadisələr şahidinə çevirməsinin bu əsərdə də əks olunduğunu görürük.
Roman Neogenin Böyük Tənəzzül dövrünə çox yaxın zamanda yazılmış bir gündəlik və onun içindəkilərdən bəhs edir. 3146- cı ildə arxeoloqların və Böyük Tənəzzül dövrü üzrə tədqiqatçı Wid- Wiss' in böyük səyi nəticəsində tapılan gündəlikdə son Neogen dövrü və orda ortaya çıxan (labüdlükdən) izolə olunmuş bir cəmiyyəti, həmin cəmiyyətə agent qismində daxil olmuş bir nəfərin dilindən dinləyirik. Böyük bir binadan təşkil olunmuş bu cəmiyyətə girmək şansı əldə etmiş agent, ona tapşırılan gizli tapşırıq barədə göstəriş almaq üçün bina daxilində uzun müddət müxtəlif qurumları ziyarət etməli olur. Bu, bir yerdən sonra elə bir hal alır ki, obrazımızın gizli tapşırığının nə olması ilə bağlı marağ��mızı itiririk, bizi daha çox bina cəmiyyətinin həyatı, onların paranoyası, yaşadıqları distopik quruluş və onun mexanizmi maraqlandırır. Eynilə qəhrəmanımız kimi romanın sonlarına qədər əksər düşüncələrində haqlı olduğunu düşünür, bütün sistemin özünə qarşı daim diqqətdə olduğunu əminliklə öz- özümüzə söyləyirik. Ta ki sondakı hadisələrlə qarşılaşanadək. Bir sistem üçün bir element (bu misalda distopik cəmiyyət üçün obrazımız) hər zaman təhlükəli olmaya (hərçənd göstəricilər əksini göstərdiyi təqdirdə belə) bilər və sistemin təhlükəsizlik və öz bütövlüyünü qoruma mexanizmlərində bu təhlükəli olmayan element heç bir halda nəzərə alınmır. Qədim insanların düşünmə bacarığı əldə etdikdən sonra ətraflarında baş verənlərə məna yükləməsi və yüklədiyi bir çox mənada nə qədər yanıldığını uzun müddət başa düşməməsi, özünü daima bütün baş verənlərin mərkəzinə yerləşdirmə cəhdləri kimi mövzular və onların Lem üslubunda tənqidi, eləcə də, linqvistika və semantika sahələrində yazarın parlaq düşüncələri romanda öz əksini tapır.
Yazardan üç kitab oxuduqdan sonra gəldiyim qənaətə görə, Lem qarşısında bir xeyli səbrli və diqqətli oxucu görmək istəyir. Hər hansısa kitabını oxuyarkən ilk sıxıldığınız an kitabı əlinizdən qoymayın. Bir şans daha verin və diqqətli olmağa səy göstərin. Çünki Lem yazdıqları ilə mütləq sizin "düşüncələr sarayı" nızda ildırımların çaxmasına səbəb olacaq :)
Profile Image for George K..
2,366 reviews292 followers
March 14, 2015
Δεν είναι το κλασικό βιβλίο επιστημονικής φαντασίας, σαν σκηνικό έχουμε το Συγκρότημα που είναι ένα πολυόροφο, δαιδαλώδες, γεμάτο χιλιάδες διαδρόμους, πόρτες, δωμάτια και γραφεία, κτίριο, και το οποίο είναι κάτω από το έδαφος, θυμίζει αυτά τα τεράστια δημόσια κτίρια σε δυστοπικές κοινωνίες, κάπως έτσι τέλος πάντων.

Η όλη εξιστόρηση είναι σε πρώτο πρόσωπο, με πρωταγωνιστή έναν ανώνυμο άντρα που είναι νέος στο επάγγελμα του πράκτορα και θέλει να μάθει ποια είναι η αποστολή την οποία υποτίθεται του έχουν αναθέσει οι ανώτεροί του. Καθώς ψάχνει το καθοδηγητικό πλάνο, συναντά ένα κάρο άλλους πράκτορες, διπλούς, τριπλούς, τετραπλούς και δεν συμμαζεύεται, ο ένας τον στέλνει σε άλλο τομέα του Συγκροτήματος κάθε φορά, από το ένα γραφείο στο άλλο, γραφεία γεμάτα απασχολημένες γραμματείς και περίεργους αξιωματικούς, μπερδεύοντας κατά πολύ τον ίδιο και εμάς τους αναγνώστες. Ο τύπος με αυτά που τραβάει, με τους δαιδαλώδης διαδρόμους, τα χιλιάδες δωμάτια, τους άλλους πράκτορες που παίζουν παιχνίδια, αρχίζει να τρελαίνεται - και μεις το ίδιο.

Διάλογοι που μπορεί να είναι κώδικες οι οποίοι κώδικες μπορεί να οδηγούν σε άλλους κώδικες, ένα δαιδαλώδες σύστημα με γραφειοκρατία που ανάθεμα και αν έχει τα πάντα υπό έλεγχο, πράκτορες να παίζουν παιχνίδια, ο πρωταγωνιστής που περιπλανιέται στους διαδρόμους και από τον ένα τομέα στον άλλο, ύστερα από τυχαίες ή και μη τυχαίες καθοδηγήσεις, να τρελαίνεται. Πολλές "ανατροπές" και στοιχεία που δείχνουν ότι κάτι δεν πάει καλά με τον πρωταγωνιστή, σε μια φάση αυτός ξυριζόταν στο μπάνιο και στη μπανιέρα κοιμόταν κάποιος που μπορεί να ήταν και ο ίδιος (...), και στο τέλος κάτι αντίστοιχο (φυσικά δεν πρέπει να πω περισσότερα, όχι ότι θα βγάζατε και νόημα αλλά λέμε τώρα).

Προφανώς είναι κάτι σαν αλληγορία για τον κόσμο και την περιπλοκότητα του, μια σάτιρα για τις διάφορες υπηρεσίες, το κράτος, την πολιτική, τον ψυχρό πόλεμο, σίγουρα κάτι τέτοιο. Το τέλος πολύ δυνατό και μπορεί κανείς να βγάλει νόημα, κάποια άκρη.

Δεν είναι εύκολο βιβλίο, θέλει προσοχή σε αυτά που συμβαίνουν, η γραφή βοηθά αρκετά, αλλά και πάλι θέλει λίγη σκέψη. Πάντως σε όλο το βιβλίο διέκρινα έναν κυνισμό, έναν σαρκασμό και πολλές σκηνές ήταν απόλυτα κωμικοτραγικές. Είναι από τα βιβλία που θέλουν και δεύτερη ανάγνωση για καλύτερα και πιο σίγουρα συμπεράσματα.
Profile Image for Hank.
88 reviews7 followers
April 10, 2011
As a kid, I read and reread Lem's science fiction short story collection Tales of Pirx the Pilot. In fact, I'd say that book, along with Heinlein's Green Hills of Earth, really cemented my love for science fiction. To this day, I prefer that style - character and story-driven, with just enough tech babble to make it spacey. That was my only exposure to Lem, although I did know that he was a highly respected author in several genres.

Because of my love for Pirx, I really looked forward to picking up this slim novel. Thank god this isn't the first thing I read by Lem, though, because damn. This kind of dry as dust (ha) anti-bureaucracy allegory has become my least favorite kind of dystopian work. This short little book took me 6 months to read, because I'd pick it up, go ten pages, and then put it down in favor of something more entertaining.

Now, it's not hollow or pointless. There is plenty of there there. If you do enjoy this sort of Kafka nightmare fuel, individuals lost in twisting corridors of paperwork and location, unable to save themselves, unable to even understand why they are there and how to get free, well, there's a reason it's a classic of the genre. Lem is Polish, and paints the whole thing with a very Eastern European, cold war paranoid, Soviet doublespeak. It's effective, if you've got a taste for the style. I simply do not, in particular.

Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,048 followers
November 23, 2008
I keep seeing comments various places that "Lem is like Kafka." I've never read Kafka. I felt I should make that clear before diving into any sort of opinion, but I'll add it to my list.

This book brings up many more questions than answers. My biggest one pertains to the narrator. Is he reliable? Throughout what we read, he is being taught that everything is code, and symbolic, and that everyone is a triple agent (or more, the wonders of illogical math). So is what we're reading anything close to what he experienced? How would we know? Does it matter?

I kind of wish there was more about the destruction of papyr as detailed in the introduction, about the country that worshipped Kap-Eh-Taahl. That would have made an interesting novel too, although this was like what I imagine a bad drug trip would be like. Or socialism, wasn't that the point?

The writing style once you get to the regular story has a lot of humor and confusion in it, and little tidbits made me laugh - hollowing out poppy seeds, choking on my own enigma, "We're here because we're here" and then the whole "We can't statistically be here" contradiction. The writing meanders much like the protagonist is - never seeing the light of day, barely stopping for cafeteria mac and cheese, and trying to find what the mission even is in the first place.
Profile Image for Jeff Crompton.
401 reviews14 followers
April 28, 2013
Stanislaw Lem wrote science fiction, but he wasn't really a "science fiction" writer in the commonly accepted sense of the term. Science fiction was the medium Lem chose to explore the ideas and themes which interested him. Memoirs Found in a Bathtub is supposedly a manuscript from sometime in our future, found even further in the future, which describes life in the Third Pentagon, known to the narrator only as "the Building." But it's obvious that the plot, such as it is, is not really what Lem is interested in.

The back cover blurb calls the book "an entertaining but disquieting satire of paranoia and overzealous bureaucracy," and that's probably true, but it goes deeper than that. It's about life, God, and meaning, or the lack thereof. The denizens of the Building engage in meaningless activities, convincing themselves that there is a purpose to it all. The narrator tries to figure it all out, but at one point realizes that "almost any sufficiently complex idea seemed to apply to the Building, to explain it...."

This is not an easy read; it's certainly not an entertaining little science fiction story. I went through a period of exasperation with Lem's writing until I saw what he was getting at. After that, it was an intriguing read, although still not a jolly one.
Profile Image for Alterjess.
18 reviews3 followers
July 16, 2012
This is a wonderful little book, though it is clearly not for everyone (Sword & Laser folk, you know what I'm talking about).

However, if you are a fan of Lem's other work, this will almost certainly delight you. It reminded me strongly of a short story out of The Cyberiad, and also of the TV series The Prisoner (original, please, not the AMC remake).

The framing device makes it science fiction (the title is literal, a far-future historian discovers the memoir in a bathtub in some ruins), but the meat of the story takes place in the "present day," which is to say, late twentieth-century America as seen from the perspective of Russia in 1973. It's about the absurdity of bureaucracy in the world of espionage, and it is hysterical if you are the kind of person who finds it funny.
Profile Image for Davis.
20 reviews
November 24, 2015
Lem does it again!..... everything "Brazil" should have ben, what "kafkaesque" bitches want to be but can't possibly know it.....
As I have seen in the shapes of his other novels, this one trudges along slowly---a quick read, but still trudging. At the end tho, Lem hits you with everything he's got, and when he does.... wowie!!!

Frustrated, as you can sense when reading that the original Polish has a great deal more puns and double-meanings, humorous and thematically significant play-on-words which is lost in the English.... that being said, the translators(Michael Kandel and Christine Rose) of my edition did a great job, and much of the humor and wordplay still came thru.

Lem over and over secures his status as one of my favorite writers, and Memoirs Found in a Bathtub is no exception.

I look forward to continuing to think about this book a great deal into the future.
Profile Image for Christopher Turner.
18 reviews6 followers
April 12, 2017
It's kind of a Kafka's The Castle or Beckett's Waiting for Godot for the cold war set.

One man is trapped in a labyrinthine military building as paranoia and conspiracy swirl around him in both literal and figurative ways while he attempts to complete an intelligence mission that is as absurd as it is mysterious. Lem explores themes of authenticity, the nature of knowable reality, and epistemology sometimes through actual discussion of these topics but mostly through the symbolism of the characters and their actions.

I liked it and you might like it, but I feel like I've seen an existential/nihilistic Alice in Wonderland done better by other authors. Be prepared for 40 page sections of what amount to, essentially, parable about the futility of discovering objective meaning and reality through the human lens, while no discernible actions occur to advance the plot.
Profile Image for Annelie.
26 reviews1 follower
June 19, 2015
This book is interesting to say the least. I have never been the BIGGEST fan of his work, but I always keep going back to his books!!! They are simply spectacular. As this is my dad's favorite book, and in my opinion Stanislaw Lem's best work, I think it deserves 4.5 stars (but I can't actually give it that, can I?). Anyway, it takes place in Stanislaw Lem's dystopian future ( as usual), and depicts a government with immense power. No one is really sure HOW to live, and how to operate. People are eating stuff no one in their right mind would dream of eating! They are being deceived in this way. This, combined with Lem's rather strange style, made me instantly enthralled with this book. I think everyone should read this book, because it is absolutely fabulous!!
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