Stanisław Lem's fictitious criticism of nonexisting books

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Stanisław Lem's fictitious criticism of nonexisting books may be found in his following works: in three collections of faux reviews of fictitious books: A Perfect Vacuum (Doskonała próżnia, 1971), Provocation (Prowokacja, 1984), and Library of 21st Century (Biblioteka XXI wieku, 1986) translated as One Human Minute, and in Imaginary Magnitude (Wielkość Urojona, 1973), a collection of introductions to nonexistent books. [1][2]

While reviewing nonexistent books, a modern form of pseudepigraphy, Lem attempted to create different fictional reviewers and authors for each of the books. In his own words: "I tried to imitate various styles – that of a book review, a lecture, a presentation, a speech (of a Nobel Prize laureate) and so on". Some of the reviews are lighthearted, concentrating mostly on the story; others, however, read more like serious, academic reviews. Some of the reviews are parodies, or the books being reviewed are parodies or complete impossibilities, others are quite serious and can be seen almost as drafts for novels that Lem never got around to write.[1] Lem wrote: "With years passing a great impatience grew in me. It would be a hard work to convert ideas into narration, and that was one of the main reasons I went for such cruel abridgements of the books". [2] Lem was not alone in passing through this kind of crisis: examples are abound of works planned by literary celebrities, but never completed.[3]

It can also be said that in this book Lem criticizes the postmodernist "games for games' sake" ethos, turning it against itself.[citation needed]

A Perfect Vacuum[edit]

A Perfect Vacuum (Polish: Doskonała próżnia) is a 1971 book by Polish author Stanisław Lem, the largest and best known collection of Stanislaw Lem's fictitious criticism of nonexisting books.[4] It was translated into English by Michael Kandel.[5] Some of the reviews remind the reader of drafts of his science-fiction novels, some read like philosophical pieces across scientific topics, from cosmology to the pervasiveness of computers, finally others satirise and parody everything from the nouveau roman to pornography, Ulysses, "authorless writing", and Dostoevsky.

The 2008 edition of the book printed by Agora SA contained a supplement by Jacek Dukaj titled Who Wrote Stanisław Lem?, nominated for the 2009 Janusz A. Zajdel Award.[6][7] It is a faux review of a book published in 2071, the book being a discussion of the activities of artificial intelligences which simulated Stanisław Lem. In fact, Dukaj maintained a column of faux reviews, Alternative Bookstore ("Księgarnia alternatywna") in Polish magazine Science Fiction (from #14 (04/2002) to #33 (12/2003)). In an interview he claimed that it was not an intended continuation of Lem's work; rather he had a number of ideas he didn't have time to develop in full.[8] Some critics asserted that the latter reason was behind Lem's pseudepigraphy as well. When this opinion was brought to Lem's attention, he denied that.[9]

The Agora SA edition also contained the "Glossary of Lem's Terminology" ("Słownik terminów Lemowskich") based on the book Co to są sepulki? Wszystko o Lemie (2007) by Wojciech Orliński.

Imaginary Magnitude[edit]

In 1973 Lem published a book Wielkość urojona [pl], a collection of introductions to books supposedly to be written in the future, in the 21st century. One of those Lem eventually developed into a book by itself: Golem XIV is a lengthy essay on the nature of intelligence, delivered by the eponymous US military computer.[3]

In 1985 Wielkość Urojona was published in English by Harvest Books under the title Imaginary Magnitude, a mistranslation of the Polish term which actually means "delusion of grandeur", to which Lem himself did not object. The translation book included the complete Golem XIV. [10]

Imaginary Magnitude differed from the previous book, A Perfect Vacuum, by a more serious tone, and probably therefore did not enjoy the same kind of enthusiasm from the readers.[1]

Provocation and One Human Minute[edit]

Provocation (Prowokacja, 1984) contains two faux reviews:

  • "Provocation", for a faux two-volume work by Horst Aspernicus: Der Völkermord. I. Die Endlösung als Erlösung. II. Fremdkörper Tod, Getynga 1980.
  • "One Minute", for a faux book by J. Johnson and S. Johnson: One human minute, Moon Publishers, London - Mare Imbrium - New York 1985. The book is alleged to be a collection of statistical tables, a compilation that includes everything that happens to human life on the planet within any given 60 second period.

The work of Aspernicus is the presentation of a certain historiographical hypothesis about the roots of genocide and the role of death, especially mass murder in human culture. Lem wrote that some historians took the quite voluminous review of Aspernicus for real and tried to order the non-existing book,[11] and one person even claimed he had the Aspernicus' book at home, despite the fact that Lem dropped a hint by dating the review by a year ahead of the book publication date. [12]

One Human Minute or Library of 21st Century (Biblioteka XXI wieku, 1986) contains three faux reviews,

  • "Das kreative Vernichtungsprinzip. The World as Holocaust" ("The Creative Extermination Principle. The World as Holocaust")
  • "Weapon Systems of The Twenty First Century or The Upside-down Evolution"
  • "One Minute", the same as in Provocation

In 2009 the Hungarian film director Pater Sparrow released an award-winning film 1, based on One Human Minute.

Lem's One Human Minute and Harry Mathews’s The Chronogram for 1998 inspired Nick Montfort, associate professor of digital media in Comparative Media Studies/Writing at MIT, to create the novel World Clock, which was generated using 165 lines of Python code ( "It celebrates the industrial concept of time and certain types of vigorous banality which are shared by all people throughout the world.".[13][14]

Stupidity as the Driving Force of History[edit]

In a 1991 interview Lem mentioned a possible title of a nonexistent book, Stupidity as the Driving Force of History. The idea is that stupidity in an ordinary man is basically harmless for humankind. However stupidity of a major historical person has a tragic effect on the course of human history. And this, in Lem's view, can be observed at the roots of many tragic events of the past.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Aporkyfy at the official website of Stanislaw Lem
  2. ^ a b Stanisław Lem @, section "Apokryfy"
  3. ^ a b "APOKRYFY LEMA" , an afterword of Jerzy Jarzębski [pl]
  4. ^ "Stanislaw Lem - A Perfect Vacuum".
  5. ^ Stanisław Lem, A Perfect Vacuum, Northwestern University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8101-1733-9
  6. ^ "Kto dostanie nagrodę Zajdla". 26 June 2009.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-08-07. Retrieved 2012-04-12.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Kiedy temat bierze pisarza za gardło" Archived 2012-01-12 at the Wayback Machine, an interview with Jacek Dukaj origiginally appeared in magazine Lampa, no. 25, 04/2006
  9. ^ Peter Swirski, Stanislaw Lem: Philosopher of the Future, p.45
  10. ^ Peter Swirski, Stanislaw Lem: Philosopher of the Future, p.46
  11. ^ Stanisław Lem,Mein Leben ("My Life"), Berlin, 1983
  12. ^ Peter Swirski, Stanislaw Lem: Philosopher of the Future, p. 47
  13. ^ "Nick Montfort discusses his work at Harvard Book Store, with book signing"
  14. ^ "EKSPERYMENTALNA LITERATURA NICKA MONTFORTA", Dariusz Jaroń, October 8, 2014
  15. ^ СТАНИСЛАВ ЛЕМ: ГЛУПОСТЬ КАК ДВИЖУЩАЯ СИЛА ИСТОРИИ, an interview, Komsomolskaya Pravda, February 26, 1991.
  • Peter Swirski, ed. (2006). The art and science of Stanislaw Lem. McGill-Queen's Press. ISBN 0773530460.