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A PERFECT VACUUM by Michael Kandel


translated by Michael Kandel & by Stanislaw Lem

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1978
ISBN: 0810117339
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

I suspect," intones one of Lem's supposed reviewers, "that there was an idea that burst upon the author--and from which he shrank." So what we have here, first appearances to the contrary, is not a jolly collection of parodies but 16 assorted fictional notions presented as summaries of books under "review." True, several do take the form of parodies twitting the neo-Joycean epic and its exegetes, the nouveau roman, the excesses of structuralist criticism, and so forth. But most of the book is in fact taken up with ideas "from which the author shrank." In some of these pieces, the gimmick of the review recedes to an enigmatic framing distance; in others, it dwindles to irrelevancy. Typical of the first category is a brilliant sketch for a novel about a former SS squad leader who assumes the identity of "Gruppenfuhrer Louis XVI" in a grandiose court in the Brazilian jungle, and another about an aging couple's resort to desperate stratagems of faith in order to cope with an idiot child. The second and lesser group consists mostly of convoluted examinations of apparently absurd logical, moral, and scientific propositions: computer-generated minds argue the existence of a Creator, a probability-theoretician weighs the likelihood of his own existence, etc. These notions are pursued with a sort of dazzling doggedness characteristic of Leto at his most energetic. He may be one of the most annoying writers alive, but had he not existed it would probably have been necessary to invent him.