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The Futurological Congress by Stanisław Lem

The Futurological Congress (1972)

by Stanisław Lem

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Ijon Tichy (3)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,314258,787 (3.99)20
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» See also 20 mentions

English (23)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (25)
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"Books are no longer read but eaten, not made of paper but of some informational substance, fully digestible, sugar-coated. A few grams of dantine, for instance, and a man goes around with the deep conviction that he has written The Divine Comedy.
-Stanislaw Lem, The Futurological Congress

A short novel narrated by cosmonaut Ijon Tichy, a kind of futuristic Alexis de Tocqueville who shares his travel report and diary beginning at a convention of world futurologists held at a space age hotel in Costa Rica where he has a room one hundred floors above the street. Tichy is as clearheaded as Thomas Jefferson or Isaac Newton, a well-educated gentleman with an impeccable moral sense. Too bad Tichy isn’t living in the eighteenth century age of reason rather than the twenty-first century of the future where the entire world has gone mad on mass ingestion of every variety and kind of weird pills to alter mood and even weirder chemicals to twist, bend, rotate and transform the mind.

This was my very first Stanislaw Lem and it certainly will not be my last. Did the author coat the corners of the book’s pages with hallucinogens for me to lick? Sometimes, as I turned the pages, I thought such a practice would have been most appropriate. In a similar spirit, below are a batch of psychic hits, eight strobe light flashes, of what a reader will encounter with Lem's spectacular, speculative loop-the-loop:

Kill the Pope: At a hotel bar, one where an all-girl orchestra plays Bach while performing striptease to the rhythm of baroque music, a burly, bearded bloke sticks his double-barreled rifle under cosmonaut Tichy’s nose and asks how he likes his papalshooter. Big Beard then goes on to explain how he is flying to Rome to shoot the Pope, what he terms “Operation P” in the spirit of Abraham and Isaac in reverse (rather than father killing son, he's son who will kill father). And, turns out, this guy is a devout and loyal Catholic! The sole reference to religion in the novel. Thank the Lord! – with devotion like this, who needs fanatics?

Future Writers: The hotel is also hosting a banquet for Liberated Literature, where loudspeakers play: “Now to make it in the arts, publicize your private parts! Critics say you can’t offend ‘em with your phallus or pudendum.” And later on Tichy bumps into Harvy Simsworth, a writer who turns fairy tales and classic literature into hardcore porno - Ali Baba and the Forty Perverts, King Leer, what Snow White really did with the seven dwarfs, what Jack really did with Jill. Just in case anybody thinks our current day degenerate literature couldn’t get any more debased and debauched.

Something in the Water: Back in his hotel room Tichy's good mood begins to soar higher and higher by the minute. Even though he cracks his head on the furniture, the lights go out and he can’t get the telephone to work, Ijon Tichy considers his hotel room one of the nicest in the world. He could hug, caress and kiss his worst enemies. But when he laughs with uncontrollable hilarity with how “the butter might splutter and make the flame gutter,” Ijon senses something is amiss. Ah, of course! The glass of water he drank from the bathroom tap. Our rational cosmonaut is given his first glimpse how those in power will attempt to manipulate and control the population – mind-altering chemicals.

Japanese Proposal: The futureologists are treated to Hayakawa’s plan for the house of the future: eight hundred levels complete with schools, shops, theaters, museums, sports fields, special gymnasiums for group sex, catacombs for nonconformists, rotating apartments to alleviate boredom, recycled food such as artificial bananas, gingerbread and shrimp made from, well, I’ll spare you Hayakawa’s detail. Oh, my goodness, living in housing like this (if you call this living), no wonder people eagerly reach for mind-expanding, feel good drugs. I think I’d do the same.

Kaboom!: A number of spectators in the upper seats listening to Hayakawa’s grand scheme evidently had a similar reaction: someone hurled a Molotov cocktail into the hall. Levelheaded Tichy flees to safety and reads the local newspaper the following day: “I was amazed to find articles full of saccharine platitudes on the theme of the tender bonds of love as the surest guarantee of universal peace – right beside articles that were full of dire threats, articles promising bloody repression or else an equally bloody insurrection.” Our cosmonaut reasons that some journalists have been drinking the water and some not.

Pandemonium: The violence escalates beyond the hotel. The government acts quickly, dropping LTN bombs on the undesirables. The results are not as anticipated – LTN stands for Love Thy Neighbor and some of the bombs hit their own riot police. Ijon Tichy witnesses: “Before my eyes policemen tore the masks from their faces and, shedding copious tears of remorse, fell to their knees and begged the demonstrators for forgiveness, pushing the billy clubs into their hands with fervent pleas to be severely beaten."

Escape: All hell breaks loose and Ijon and several other futurologists seek refuge down in the city’s sewer system. Among the many things they encounter are enormous sleek rats walking in single file on their hind legs. Ijon pinches himself, wondering if he is hallucinating. Nope – all of what he is experiencing is as real as real. Well, maybe.

Utopia/Dystopia: After a sequence of rescues from the city sewer system and the rats, after surgery and having been kept in deep freeze for years, Ijon is defrosted and wakes up in 2038. Ah, he can experience for himself humankind’s future New York City. Ijon quickly discovers chemicals to induce artificial worlds (psychems) are all the rage, how the city kids and teenagers are so considerate and sweet (that’s certainly a switch!), the weather is determined by vote, and how a plethora of words and expressions are new, new, new, new: threever, pingle, hemale, placize, cobnoddling, snthy and dozens more. If you enjoy language and word play, you will LOVE this Stanislaw Lem novel. On second thought, I think I’ll do a reread and lick the pages now and then. I’d advise you do the same.

Thanks to Goodreads friend Manny Rayner for bring this stunning classic of science fiction to my attention.


Stanislaw Lem (1921 - 2006), Polish author of satirical essays and science fiction, a writer with boundless imagination, laser-sharp mind, lively sense of humor and an uncanny ability to play chess, volleyball, Russian roulette and hundreds of other games with language. ( )
1 vote Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
A far-out acid trip of a novel / prediction / cautionary tale. ( )
  wirehead | Sep 3, 2018 |
Classic Lem--his writing style is very unique and it permeates this book. This book is a bit of a cutting look at a future entirely too dependent on drugs....and some of the stuff he talks about seems to be coming true today. Entertaining and a delightful read. ( )
  L_Will | May 14, 2018 |
It's entirely thanks to my sister, Jessa, that I discovered Lem, and thanks to the used bookstore in Mecosta that I keep finding old paperbooks of his and adding them to my collection.

This is a dystopian, chaotic future, full of rioting and hallucinogenic drugs used as societal control. This book is a hallucination within a hallucination within a hallucination. Where do they end? And what is the truth? The multiple hallucinations allow Lem to explore a number of possible futures and possible realities. None of which are terribly comforting. ( )
  greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
Get into the rhythm...

This satire has a particular patter, very fast, and once you go with it, the ribald 'ride' becomes immensely enjoyable. ( )
  James.Igoe | Jul 26, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stanisław Lemprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bustamante, MelitónTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kandel, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koivisto, RiittaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matwin-Buschmann, RoswithaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rey, LuisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Siraste, KirstiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stachová, HelenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Taşkent, FatmaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zimmermann-Göllheim… IrmtraudTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The eighth world The Futurological Congress was held in Costa Rica.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156340402, Paperback)

Bringing his twin gifts of scientific speculation and scathing satire to bear on that hapless planet, Earth, Lem sends his unlucky cosmonaut, Ijon Tichy, to the Eighth Futurological Congress. Caught up in local revolution, Tichy is shot and so critically wounded that he is flashfrozen to await a future cure. Translated by Michael Kandel.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:26 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

World-renowned cosmonaut Ijon Tichy, persuaded to attent the Eighth World Futurological Congress, is severely injured when the Congress is routed by Costa Rican revolutionaries, is refrigerated in liquid nitrogen, and awakens in the year 2039.

» see all 3 descriptions

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