Science fiction fairytales

Between attempts at thesesial ponderation, I have been reading Mortal Engines: a book of short stories by Stanislaw Lem. It is one of a collection of books abandoned by departing graduate students that I have come to possess, and which has been mocking me on the basis of being unread among so few books I possess here. When one only has a few dozen books in one’s entire room, it is really intolerable to have not read them all.

Written in the form of the science fiction fairlytale, Lem’s stories remind me of certain parts of Orson Scott Card‘s superb collection Maps in a Mirror, as well as some of Isaac Asimov‘s more lighthearted work. On a beach on Hornby Island, many years ago, I remember a story of Asimov’s that involved the following response from a ‘wizard’ who gets exposed to a dragon:

“Of all things, an Apatosaurus!,” [the wizard exclaimed.] But he often spoke nonsense, and was ignored.

If anyone can recall the name of the story, I would be much obliged to learn it. Since I was stealing the book from Kate at the time (racing to finish stories before she demanded its return), perhaps she will be able to enlighten us.

Going back to Lem, the most notable thing about the stories is how he combines the eminently plausible (even scientifically necessary) with the fanciful and allegorical. Being able to forge subjects out of uranium so that their coming together in conspiracy automatically makes them explode in a chain reaction is doubtless a fantasy that has appealed to a monarch or two. When I finish it, I will quote some of the cleverer bits here.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

7 thoughts on “Science fiction fairytales”

  1. R.K.,

    Those were fruitless for me, as well.

    All I have found so far is an email from Kate from June 9th 2000 that quotes the same thing. That proves, at least, that I am not out of my mind for thinking such a story exists.

  2. Re: Asimov story

    I tried the Amazon book search on some of his short story collections. No hits for ‘wizard’ or ‘Apatosaurus.’

  3. My two favourite quotes from Mortal Engines so far:

    From “White Death” (46):

    Still, they did not believe the prophecy of doom, for its likelihood seemed to them remote. Nevertheless they lifted the entire ship from its resting place, smashed it on anvils of platinum and, when it fell apart, immersed the pieces in heavy radiation, so that it was reduced to a myriad of flying atoms, which keep eternal silence, for atoms have no history, all are equal to each other, whether they come from the strongest of stars or from dead planets, or intelligent beings, both good and evil, because matter is the same throughout the Universe and no one need have fear of it.

    From “The Computer that Fought a Dragon” (60):

    “We create a general theory of the slaying of electrodragons, of which the lunar dragon will be a special case, its solution trivial.”
    “Well, create such a theory!” said the King.
    “To do this I must first create various experimental dragons.”

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