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.