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Memoirs Found in a Bathtub (1961)

by Stanisław Lem

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Ijon Tichy (2.1)

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1,0381919,882 (3.59)26
The year is 3149, and a vast paper destroying blight-papyralysis-has obliterated much of the planet's written history. However, these rare memoirs, preserved for centuries in a volcanic rock, record the strange life of a man trapped in a hermetically sealed underground community. Translated by Michael Kandel and Christine Rose.… (more)
  1. 10
    Authority by Jeff VanderMeer (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: Epistemological disease in bureaucratic espionage
  2. 00
    The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien (Cecrow)
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» See also 26 mentions

English (17)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (19)
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
Framed as a recovered historical document giving insight into some of the latter days of a society that had isolated itself underground in a giant bunker. It's a tale of espionage, counter-espionage, counter-counter espionage, and so on. I really enjoyed it, though the ending left me with some questions about the feasibility of the framing device. But look at the cover, though! I love the vintage Lem covers, and this one may be my favorite.

Read Lem if you are looking for clever Cold War-influenced science fiction that digs its teeth into a variety of science ideas. Don't come to Lem if you are looking for representation beyond the straight white male -- women are often little more than decoration or objects in these books, and you're more likely to encounter alien species than other races.

In particular, CW for a brief SA fantasy at the end of this that I found really jarring. ( )
  greeniezona | Aug 2, 2023 |
The twelve-page introduction is more overtly sfnal than the body text of this novel, which is a romp of epistemological ambiguity set in the dystopian Building. From the far-future documentary context of the intro we are led to understand that the Building contains a sort of continuity-of-government American microsociety in an underground site in the Rocky Mountains. And yet the exit from the windowless Building in the memoirs themselves is at the bottom rather than the top (185)--unless that "Gate" is merely a sham or a trap, as it may well be.

The narrator of the memoirs gives neither his name nor his origin. He begins in media res with an effort to "find the right room" (13) which quickly eventuates into his recruitment as an intelligence agent. Once he has achieved this status, the first parts of the book are concerned with his striving to acquire his "instructions," which he accomplishes in a sort of tentative and temporary fashion. Later passages are more focused on determining the actual authority and allegiances involved with his activities, which tend toward the scripted and ritualistic, implying all manner of codes and betrayals.

I was already reminded of the Kafkaesque British TV series The Prisoner (1967-8) when Major Erms said, "Be seeing you" (58). I guess any intentionality there must be ascribed to the 1973 English translators, since the Polish original was written in 1961. Another comparandum for me was Jeff VanderMeer's novel Authority.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I picked up this book, but I was surprised to find satirical theodicy skirting the edge of nihilism in an anti-fantasy of espionage and authoritarianism. It's a short book, and I would read it again.

"I only know that you told me what they told you to tell me."

"And you wouldn't believe me if I denied that, and you shouldn't, because even if I did, it probably wouldn't be the truth. Who knows?" (169)
2 vote paradoxosalpha | Dec 3, 2022 |
Very funny introduction written by Lem as part of the story using his trademark neologisms. Baa-bel (Babel), Ammer-Ka (America), Kap-Eh-Taahl (Capital). Just like reading Ridley Walker, Acid House, or Clockwork orange, it takes some getting used to, but it is fun to decipher. I like the idea of a virus destroying all paper everywhere causing chaos across the world. The rest of the book was quite ordinary by contrast, and the scenario played out reminded me of The Third Policeman in that the protagonist was never really sure what was real. The repetitive corridors, rooms, confrontations with spies, made me feel quite claustrophobic and frustrated, and it was quite a relief to finish the book and leave the poor character stuck in the building. I particularly liked the deciphering of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, which revealed Shakespeare harboured a grudge against someone by the name of Matthews! ( )
  AChild | Apr 7, 2021 |
I want this book to mean more just what you see at face value, and now and then I think it does. Then I realize that it just feels that way because the author wants you to think that way, and actually it is utterly meaningless. In fact, I'm sure of that. Except when I ain't ... ( )
  rendier | Dec 20, 2020 |
Memoirs Found in a Bathtub caught my eye simply for the novelty of the title and that bizarre cover. This book is difficult to sum up or even to rate as it truly has no discernible plot. Lest you dismiss it immediately because of this fact, let me assure you that there's much to recommend this title. The word play and circuitous path of our main character (who remains nameless) is satire at its finest. Espionage, counterespionage, and counter-counterespionage abound in The Building where our character has been given a very important Mission...if only he knew what it was. He is continually beset by obstacles in the form of bureaucrats, winding halls with nondescript doors, and instructions that keep vanishing. What would happen if humanity was forced to abandon its cities and move into an underground bunker? Would society, culture, and technology survive and continue to advance? Lem weaves a provocative tale of paranoia, confusion, and ultimately betrayal. 5/10 but would have been higher had there been a plot to follow. ( )
  AliceaP | Jan 31, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lem, StanisławAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fleckhaus, WillyUmschlagentwurfsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kandel, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rose, ChristineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Staemmler, KlausTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Staudt, RolfUmschlagentwurfsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tiel, WalterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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...I couldn't seem to find the right room--none of them had the number designated on my pass. First I wound up at the Department of Verification, then the Department of Misinformation, then some clerk from the Pressure Section advised me to try level eight, but on level eight they ignored me, and later I got stuck in a crowd of military personnel--the corridors rang with their vigorous marching back and forth, the slamming of doors, the clicking of heels, and over that martial noise I could hear the distant music of bells, the tinkling of medals.
"Notes from the Neogene" is unquestionably one of the most precious relics of Earth's ancient past, dating from the very close of the Prechaotic, that period of decline which directly preceded the Great Collapse. It is indeed a paradox that we know much more of the civilizations of the Early Neogene, the protocultures of Assyria, Egypt and Greece, than we do of the days of paleoatomics and rudimentary astrogation.
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The year is 3149, and a vast paper destroying blight-papyralysis-has obliterated much of the planet's written history. However, these rare memoirs, preserved for centuries in a volcanic rock, record the strange life of a man trapped in a hermetically sealed underground community. Translated by Michael Kandel and Christine Rose.

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This is not a collection of two novels by Lem, but two screenplays by Stanislaw Lem and Jan Józef Szczepanski based on these two novels.
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