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IMAGINARY MAGNITUDE by Marc E. Heine Kirkus Star


translated by Marc E. Heine & by Stanislaw Lem

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 1984
ISBN: 0156441802
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

In A Perfect Vacuum (1979), Leto offered a collection of reviews of nonexistent books. Here, in a companion book of sorts, he concocts introductions to nonexistent books, complete with sample pages, plus an introduction to introductions in general. (It first appeared in Polish in 1973.) And each entry displays a different facet of the formidable Lem talent. The first introduction concerns a bizarre volume of pornographic soft-focus X-ray plates. Next, with deadpan glee, Lem presents a scientist breeding bacteria that communicate in Morse code and foretell the future. A treatise on computer-generated literature includes machine-neologisms like "horseman" (centaur) and "piglet" (a filthy rooming house). There's a wildly funny sales pitch for Vestrand's Extelopedia in 44 Magnetomes: a "Prognostic-Aim Encyclopedia with Maximal Forereach in Time" which "contains information on History as it is going to happen"; not only that, but "at the sound of your voice, the appropriate Magnetome slips off the shelf, TURNS its own pages, and STOPS at the desired entry." Lastly, at his most challenging, Lem describes Golem XIV, a super-computer commissioned by the Pentagon to handle all military matters. Golem decides it doesn't want the job ("the best guarantee of peace is universal disarmament"), and instead settles down at MIT to deliver a set of devastating lectures on humanity's shortcomings; finally, then, its intelligence having progressed beyond human comprehension, Golem destroys itself. Don't look for stories, here, or fiction in any orthodox sense—but this is weirdly satisfying entertainment, with the remarkable Lem variously at his profound, provocative, or comic best.