October 04, 2005

A Perfect Vacuum by Stanislaw Lem

Reviewing non-existent books is not Lem's invention; we find such experiments not only in a contemporary writer, Jorge Luis Borges (for example, his `Investigations of the Writings of Herbert Quaine') but the idea goes further back -- and even Rabelais was not the first to make use of it. `A Perfect Vacuum' is unusual in that it purports to be an anthology made up entirely of such critiques. Pedantry or joke, this methodicalness?

So starts Stanislaw Lem's book. The Introduction is a review of the book, a book full of reviews of books that should have been written for the most part. Thus there is a sneaky implication that this book should have been written as well. Since it was, is it worth reading as well?

This question is easy: unless you have a deep hatred for Stanislaw Lem's work you must read this book. To summarize the interesting parts of this book would be to reproduce it in its entirety.

Like Borges, Lem packs a compact punch, squeezing in large ideas in the compressed form of a short story. By attempting to create the fiction of a book which contains these ideas, every aspect of some philosophy of science is explored in a few pages.

Fans of Greg Egan's work in hard-sf might find interesting parallels between Lem's review of `Non Serviam' in this book with Egan's novels "Permutation City" and "Diaspora". Also compelling is the similarity between Lem's `The New Cosmogony' with Egan's short story "Axiomatic".

An example of the mental gymastics Lem can achieve in this collection is the description and review of the book called `Gruppenführer Louis XVI': the story of a murderous SS officer who escapes the fall of the Third Reich by escaping to Argentina where he sets up a perfect recreation of the court of Louis the sixteenth. A recreation which becomes reality in his mind.

Other Stanislaw Lem books reviewed in Special Circumstances

%T A Perfect Vacuum %T :translation of Doskonala próznia %A Stanislaw Lem %I Harcourt Brace Jovanovich %D 1971 %G ISBN: 0156716860 (pb) %P 229 %K science-fiction

Review written: 2002/02/22

Posted by anoop at October 4, 2005 08:24 PM