Aug 7, 2010

The Star Diaries

The Ijon Tichy chronicles

Seventh Voyage. Part 1. This is Idiotic

It was on a Monday, April second --I was cruising in the vicinity of Betelgeuse-- when a meteor no larger than a lima bean pierced the hull, shattered the drive regulator and part of the rudder, as a result of which the rocket lost all maneuverability. I put on my spacesuit, went outside and tried to fix the mechanism, but found I couldn't possibly attach the spare rudder --which I'd had the foresight to bring along-- without the help of another man. The constructors had foolishly designed the rocket in such a way, that it took one person to hold the head of the bolt in place with a wrench, and another to tighten the nut. I didn't realize this at first and spent several hours trying to grip the wrench with my feet while using both hands to screw on the nut at the other end. But I was getting nowhere, and had already missed lunch. Then finally, just as I almost succeeded, the wrench popped out from under my feet and went flying off into space. So not only had I accomplished nothing, but lost a valuable tool besides; I watched helplessly as it sailed away, growing smaller and smaller against the starry sky.

After a while the wrench returned in an elongated ellipse, but though it had now become a satellite of the rocket, it never got close enough for me to retrieve it. I went back inside and, sitting down to a modest supper, considered how best to extricate myself from this stupid situation. Meanwhile the ship flew on, straight ahead, its velocity steadily increasing, since my drive regulator too had been knocked out by that blasted meteor. It's true there were no heavenly bodies on course, but this headlong flight could hardly continue indefinitely. For a while I contained my anger, but then discovered, when starting to wash the dinner dishes, that the now-overheated atomic pile had ruined my very best cut of sirloin (I'd been keeping it in the freezer for Sunday). I momentarily lost my usually level head, burst into a volley of the vilest oaths and smashed a few plates. This did give me a certain satisfaction, but was hardly practical. In addition, the sirloin which I threw overboard, instead of drifting off into the void, didn't seem to want to leave the rocket and revolved about it, a second artificial satellite, which produced a brief eclipse of the sun every eleven minutes and four seconds. To calm my nerves I calculated till evening the components of its trajectory, as well as the orbital perturbation caused by the presence of the lost wrench. I figured out that for the next six million years the sirloin, rotating about the ship in a circular path, would lead the wrench, then catch up with it from behind and pass it again. Finally, exhausted by these computations, I went to bed. In the middle of the night I had the feeling someone was shaking me by the shoulder. I opened my eyes and saw a man standing over the bed; his face was strangely familiar, though I hadn't the faintest idea who this could be.

Polish sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem began, catching in a space-time loop his amusing character Ijon Tichy, a set of "philosophical" short stories in The Star Diaries (1957; later there was Memoirs of a Space Traveler, in 1982; and The Futurological Congress, in 1971). Best known for his novel Solaris (1961).

Always word playing, like in The Cyberiad (1967), or did he meant Siberia, that known Russian and Soviet Union's penal colony for criminals and dissidents; or characters as Dr. Harry S. Totteles (named after Aristotle?), Boels E. Bu or professor L. Nardeau de Vince.

Wrote about virtual reality, nanotechnology, robots psychologically dysfunctional or the nature of intelligence, but above all, he was absolutely critical and despair of mankind, communication and understanding. For instance, in The Futurological Congress, Ijon Tichy finds himself in a dystopian world where hallucinogenic drugs have replaced reality.

No doubt outer space would be much more boring without satirical Ijon Tichy.

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