The Futurological Congress by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Really, it isn't fair to say that I "abandoned" this book. I simply haven't bothered to look for it since I misplaced it. That says something, doesn't? May well say more about me than it does this novel, or it's celebrated author, Stanislaw Lem.
I did not dislike reading what I did of this book. There was a certain pleasure in the hectic invention, and a flat detachment that somehow marked this book as being very different in kind from much of the SF satire of roughly the same era that I remember reading back in the day. Those books, by Ellison, Vonnegut and others, all had a determined, almost dog-like desire to be liked, an audience pleasing insistence, however dark the comedy, on some fundamental optimism, if only in the hope of other worlds, new species, etc. Lem's burlesque is intentionally unlovable, or so at least what I read of it seemed to me. Not the width of a gnat's hair does Lem allow for either optimism or sentimentality here. With Lem, it is just one fucking disaster after another.
That may be why the little I read now feels like enough. How much of that is really required to make his point? And then there was the expiration of much of the comedy here, at least for a reader old enough to remember the times being lampooned. If the hairdos always date historical epics on film, it is the undifferentiated, rather tediously mild misogyny and general misandry that reminded me of just how unenlightened those dark days in the Sixties and Seventies could seem. Witness female academics and revolutionaries in boots and minis, if wearing clothes at all, and little better than Bond girls throughout. Then there is the grainy loop of sex as "spectacle," something no one could quite pull off even then, forgiving the pun, and which turns out to have been roughly as culturally significant as the hula-hoop. O, you can almost hear the synthesizers pulsing whenever the clothes come off, man.
Even as dated as much of this persiflage now seems, there is a remarkable level of pure invention here that demands a certain respect still. From the Huxley-influenced drug-premise, to the seemingly endless dream-cycling of the narrative, no one could fault Lem for ever not exploiting every joke to the full or for ever letting things flag.
Maybe I just remember enough of this trip to not need another hit, thanks much, man.
View all my reviews