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The Futurological Congress (1972)

by Stanisław Lem

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Ijon Tichy (3)

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1,788349,140 (3.96)21
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.… (more)
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» See also 21 mentions

English (29)  Spanish (2)  French (2)  German (1)  All languages (34)
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
This is the 2nd time I tried to read this book. I ran into the original bookmark along the way and made it further this time. But, alas! Despite how much I love Lem, this one just did not work for me. It had that same headlong, breathless rush of The Chain of Chance but with the barest thread of a plot. It is a concept book. It is very funny at times and crazy in the vein of Gogol. But it requires a lot energy too. In this sense, I am not an ideal reader at the moment.

I can imagine a time when I might want to read this....just not now.

I read to page 79.
  tsgood | May 1, 2023 |
Stanislaw Lem isn't the first person to ask whether we can be sure what we see is really real, nor is "The Futurological Congress" the best exploration of this philosophical chestnut, but this one is worth a read anyway. While it's still a wild, even disorienting ride from first page to last, Lem's future also belongs to yesterday, defined, as it is, by the student protest and sexual liberation movements of the late sixties and early seventies and the dire prophecies of Paul Ehrlich's "The Population Bomb." It's the sort of book that could have only been written in 1971, featuring, as it does, bearded would-be assassins, shamelessly liberated literary movements, brutal Latin American dictatorships, and controlled psychotropic substances by the trainload.

The prose is not the main attraction here. While our hero, Ijon Tichy, undergoes wild transformations in the course of this one, living, as he does, in a future where it's easier to switch bodies than to change a car tire, Lem doesn't really dwell on the import of these changes, and it can often seem as though too much is happening too fast. I had to reread the first half of this one just to keep my bearings. As might be expected from a science fiction novel from this period, there isn't much indirect in Lem's third person: he didn't write "the Futurological Congress" to explore the subjective nature of consciousness and identity. What surprised me, though, is how funny the book often is. Lem and his translator worked overtime to come up with bizarre, humorous drug names and charmingly redefine existing words to fit in their manic, buzzed, and horribly overcrowded future. I can't think of another book that would define an expectorant as a conception aid.

I'm sure that a good amount of readers will enjoy "The Futurological Congress" for its retro charm: it is, at the very least, a curio from an era that, as Louis Menand put it, conceptualized almost everything as a drug trip. But some more durable themes do emerge. The author draws a neat parallel between lazy, underperforming and rebellious robots and the way that capitalists, according to communist critiques, view the working class. The book is also, in a roundabout way, one in a long tradition of literature that warns readers of our desires to distance ourselves from the harshest aspects of our reality: it could be argued that the difference between Lem's "psychem" and Zuckerberg's Meta is that one relies on chemistry and the other on circuitry. And Lem both echoes and criticizes contemporary postmodernists who aim to show that language provides the key to divining and creating our future. Interesting as all of this sometimes is, it's the very weirdness of "The Futurological Congress" that hits you hardest: it's a short book, but it describes a constant, freaked-out stream of events that barely pauses to catch a breath. It's not exactly a life-changer, perhaps, but it's certainly a trip. Whether you grok it or not, there isn't too much out there that's quite like this one. ( )
2 vote TheAmpersand | Apr 28, 2023 |
Very funny utopian satire that starts out in an academic conference in a Third World hellhole and ends up somewhere really unpleasant. The translator did a good job with the technological puns, which are actually part of the plot for once -- one character has a theory that society evolves to meet the demands of jargon. ( )
  elibishop173 | Oct 11, 2021 |
A cross between Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Monty Python; very funny, disorientating story with so many futuristic ideas, inventions (including the spray-on-clothes that Robert Silverberg used in his novel Thorns), neologisms, and the etymology that goes with that. Fun and interesting read. ( )
  AChild | Mar 13, 2021 |
Ditched a few chapters in.
Very 1970s.
Could well have been awesome in it’s day and may well have contributed to the evolution of SciFi writing but it has been thoughtless surpassed now. Interesting as a piece of history but I can’t be arsed with reading it now given everything else that’s available. ( )
  mjhunt | Jan 22, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lem, StanisławAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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
Swahn, Sven ChristerTranslatorsecondary 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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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.

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