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Peace on Earth (1985)
by Stanisław Lem
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Stanislaw Lem was a master, a writer who transcended the bounds of genre science fiction, creating true literary masterpieces in the process. This novel is a fine example of what he was capable of, telling the story of the evolution of war on Earth, and how that evolution inevitably led to peace on Earth, though not as the world's leaders would have wanted it...
Great amounts of great ideas, especially about (1) knowing and not knowing and (2) war and it's possible futures.
However, while loving Solaris, The Fiasco, The Futurologocal Congress, Return from the Starts (and hating Notes found in a bathtub) this book just passed me by. Not much plot, really at all, difficult to care about the characters, vague and rambling. And the ideas aren't all that> great.
Not a great, and I originally gave only two stars.
Wundervolles Buch. Wirkt allerdings sehr ironisch.
Belongs to Series
Ijon Tichy (4)
Belongs to Publisher Series
Dzieła Stanisława Lema (Wydawnictwo Gazety Wyborczej)
References to this work on external resources.
Wikipedia in English (1)
Ijon Tichy is the only human who knows for sure whether the self-programming robots on the moon are plotting a terrestrial invasion. But a highly focused ray severs his corpus collosum. Now his left brain can’t remember the secret and his uncooperative right brain won’t tell. Tichy struggles for control of the lost memory and of his own two warring sides. Translated by Elinor Ford with Michael Kandel. A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book
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Stanislav Lem's Peace on Earth
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 18, 2015
Astronaut Ijon Tichy goes on a secret mission to the moon & gets a callotomy from forces unknown presumed to be the forces he was there to spy on: "While I'm urinating, I feel this little snap. Like a crack in the neck, only higher, in the middle of the skull. It was a remote callotomy. It didn't hurt." (p 2)
"The corpus callosum is a band of nerve fibers located deep in the brain that connects the two halves (hemispheres) of the brain. It helps the hemispheres share information, but it also contributes to the spread of seizure impulses from one side of the brain to the other. A corpus callosotomy is an operation that severs (cuts) the corpus callosum, interrupting the spread of seizures from hemisphere to hemisphere. Seizures generally do not completely stop after this procedure (they continue on the side of the brain in which they originate). However, the seizures usually become less severe, as they cannot spread to the opposite side of the brain." - http://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/guide/corpus-callosotomy
"The best research done on the split brain and the results of that operation are in Professor Gazzanigi's book, The Bisected Brain, published in 1970 by Appleton Century Crofts, Educational Division, at the Meredith Corporation, and may my brain never grow together again if I'm inventing Michael Gazzanigi" - p 6, Peace on Earth
Of course, it's the fictional character Ijon Tichy who's saying the above & since both he & his callotomy are fictional his brain is no more likely to grow back together if he 'tells the truth'. NONETHELESS, I looked up Gazzanigi &, YES, he has a bk called The Bisected Brain:
"Michael S. Gazzaniga, one of the premiere doctors of neuroscience, was born on December 12, 1939 in Los Angeles. Educated at Dartmouth College and California Institute of Technology, he has been on the faculty of the Center for Neuroscience, University of California, Davis. His early research examined the subject of epileptics who had undergone surgery to control seizures. He has also studied Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients and reveals important findings in books such as Cognitive Neuroscience: The Biology of the Mind. While many of his writings are technical, he also educates and stimulates readers with discussions about the fascinating and mysterious workings of the brain. Books such as The Social Brain and The Mind's Past bring forth new information and theories regarding how the brain functions, interacts, and responds with the body and the environment." - https://books.google.com/books/about/The_bisected_brain.html?id=lOtqAAAAMAAJ
The Bisected Brain being from 1970 & Peace on Earth being from 1987, it might be safe to hypothesize that Lem read The Bisected Brain & was partially inspired by it to write this - esp given that Lem was a medical student (see his novel Hospital of the Transfiguration).
"they were offended when I told them I was seeing Dr. Turteltaub. They informed me that he had been expelled from their research group on ethical grounds. Turteltaub wanted to offer murderers sentenced to death or life imprisonment the chance to submit to callotomy instead." - p 9
May things never reach that point. There are multiple premises in this bk of interest. One being that "Peace on Earth" has been accomplished by moving arms development to the Moon & then making it difficult for Earthlings to know what's happening there. Tichy is a recurring character in Lem stories - such as in The Futurological Congress & "The Sanitorium of Dr. Vliperdius". In Peace on Earth he reminisces about returning to Earth after a long absence:
"Earth had changed completely. There was total disarmament. Even the superpowers no longer had the money to continue the arms race. The more intelligent the weapons, the more they cost. That was the real reason for the Geneva agreement. In Europe and the United States no one wanted to enlist in the army." - p 24
"["]The Geneva Agreement made four impossibilities possible. A continuing arms race at the same time as universal disarmament—that's one. Arming at maximum speed and at no cost—that's two. Full protection of each nation against surprise attack while each reserves the right to wage war—that's three. And finally the liquidation of all armies despite their continuing existence. No troops, but the staffs stay on and can think up anything they like. In a nutshell, we've instituted pacem in terris."" - p 78
Lem adds a touch of disappointingly typical human insincerity to Tichy's character: "I took my leave, saying I had to go and promising (insincerely) that I'd drop in again soon." (p 36) Another Tichy story is referred to as if it's non-fiction (& not actually by Lem): "These new acquaintances all turned out to be fans of my Star Diaries." (p 37) Lem always has a sense of humor:
"The older, Castor, worked in algomathematics, which is the algebra of conflicts that end fatally for all parties. (This branch of game theory is sometimes called sadistics.)" - p 37
"A certain Adlai Groutzer ordered from the Boston branch of Gynandroics a remote of his wife at age twenty-one, not fifty-nine, her actual age. A further complication was that when Mrs. Groutzer was twenty-one, she wasn't Mrs. Groutzer at all but the wife of James Brown, whom she divorced twenty years later to marry Adlai Groutzer. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. A ruling had to be made as to whether a wife who wouldn't operate the remote bought by her husband, for sex, was refusing him his conjugal rights. And whether remote incest was possible, and remote sadism and masochism." - p 43
& to think that the best I can do w/ my remote is turn on w/o being turned on [reviewer joke made out-of-context that may seem more confusing than funny to reader]. One of the people that Tichy interacts w/ is named "Tottentanz":
"There was no point in trying to defend myself, Tottentanz persuaded me, because I would be entering a waste bristling with death and inevitably fall and the whole hope was that we would learn something from my death." - p 87
In case I haven't already worn out my welcome as joke-explainer: "tottentanz" is a German musical term meaning "Dance of Death". In contrast to this, I hereby coin the word "ejacudance" to celebrate life. 'Are you going to the Ejacudance tonight?' 'I sure as fuck hope so!'
I wonder if "head under my arm" is an actual expression used by pilots?: "my head under my arm (actually my helmet, but that's how you say it: your head's under your arm when you're ready to fly)" (p 40) So, yeah, I 'had to' look that one up too & there were various results, none of wch that I saw duplicated Lem's usage but I did find this: "The last time I looked, I wasn’t carrying my head under my arm. In other words, my mind and body are, indeed, connected! And – oh yes, your head and body are too!" ( http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/ourladyofweightloss/2010/05/mental-health-ar... )
Lem explores the idea of engineered microorganisms used in warfare, the idea being more robotic than biological or chemical. I'd found a similar idea exciting in Lem's 1967 The Invincible so I found this slightly less exciting b/c it seemed a bit like a rerun. Still, the idea is well worth revisiting:
"As germs secretly enter an animal organism and kill it from within, so did these unliving microbes penetrate cannon barrels, shell chambers, the engines of tanks and planes, and eat through metal, and detonate the ammunition inside. What could a brave, grenade-carrying soldier do against a microscopic, unliving adversary? He would be like a doctor trying to fight a virus with a hammer." - p 51
""The mouse is quick. Correct. From the first antibodies that aose many years ago probably nothing remains. They evolved into—let us call them selenocytes. These joined into multicellular forms to survive, to become more versatile, much as ordinary germs increase in virulence by growing resistant to the antibiotics used against them."" - p 213
Then there're letter-bombs, an idea that certainly pre-existed this novel but wch obtained refreshed meaning w/ the activities of Ted Kaczynski & w/ the post 9/11 anthrax mailings: "The technology of epistolary terrorism is so developed that a charge able to blow the addressee to pieces can be placed inside a Christmas or birthday card wishing him health and happiness." (p 108)
Then there's the lying robot possibility, the integration of deceptive activity in a android-like creature. That seems like something Ron Goulart wd explore the hilarity potential of:
""You'll feel at home here with us, old friend . . ." He bumped my helmet with his as if trying to kiss me on both cheeks. "At home . . . we don't want war, we are peace-loving, meek, you'll see . . ." And with that he kicked me so hard that I fell on my back, and jumped on me, both knees in my stomach. I saw stars, literally, the stars of the black lunat sky, while my "friend" held my head down with his left hand and with his right pulled off his metal bands which themselves twisted into horseshoe hoops. I said nothing, dazed, as he fastened my arms to the ground one at a time with the hoops" - p 152
Lem, like all writers I like, inserts details that might seem irrelevant to the bare-bones plot but wch add much to flesh-out those very bare bones:
"my left leg fell asleep, too tightly wrapped, and I argued on the phone with Wivitch who said the pins and needles would pass and the tape shouldn't be any looser. But I insisted, and they had to spend an hour and a half unwinding me from my cocoon. It turned out that someone—but of course no one confessed—had used a pipe-cleaning utensil to help pull the tape and it had been forgotten under the wrapping around my shin. I asked them to let the matter drop even though I could guess who had done it, since only one of them smoked a pipe. In heroic tales of space such things never happen. An astronaut does not get the runs, nor do the amenities malfunction so that his spacesuit fills with piss. Which actually happened to the first American astronaut in his suborbital flight but out of natural historical-patriotic delicacy NASA didn't mention it to the press." - p 107
Exactly, "In heroic tales of space such things never happen" & therein lies the difference between space opera pot boilers where all the action is laser-weapons-vs-space-monsters & more subtle SF where problems like petty human mistakes can feature as detail even if it's not important in the grand-scheme-of-things.
&, of course, once a writer learns a word like "ommatidia" s/he's just got to work it in somewhere: "I could see on all sides at once, the rear included, like a bee, which has round eyes and sees out of thousands of ommatidia at the same time." (p 166) "One of the optical units, consisting of photoreceptors and usually one or more lenses, that make up a compound eye of an insect or a crustacean." ( http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ommatidia )
"unfortunate consequences, made worse by automation. Russell called it the electronics Stone Age. Illiteracy increased, particularly since now you didn't even have to sign a check, only a thumbprint was necessary and a computer scanner did the rest." - p 206
Published in 1987, relevant to now (28 yrs later as of this review)? People still read but how much reading is done of longer texts? More informative texts? & how much reading is just of txt msgs on cell-phones? Hardly anyone I know actually reads bks anymore. Writing these reviews is like sending a desperate msg in an e-bottle to people I'm sure are out there but not anywhere in my near vicinity. Woe be unto the intellect if bks & scholarly periodicals die off due to lack of readership. "There are still some fifty thousand scientists and scholars left in the world but their average age was now 61.7." (p 207) I'm 62.
All in all, Peace on Earth was an excellent bk & I certainly recommend it. Unfortunately, perhaps, for this reader/reviewer, I've become a bit jaded to Lem & he doesn't quite impress me as much as he once did. ( )