MICROWORLDS

WRITINGS ON SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY

Ten essays, 1971-83: ranging from autobiography through analyses of the underpinnings of sf to examinations of specific authors and works—delivered in thunderous yet calculated tones, and a welter of academic polysyllables. The autobiographical piece is most engaging and revealing—with Lem candidly discussing his upbringing, his Jewish heritage, the German and Russian occupations of Poland, his own sf. Elsewhere, he demonstrates his formidable intellect and his self-imposed conceptual limitations: he finds fiction without intellectual challenge boring (and has no patience with the notion of fiction as entertainment); in his view, sf works in which neither the objects nor the ideas have any basis in reality are merely "empty games." Later, however, Lem cogently discusses sf's various time-travel motifs—notwithstanding his previous denunciation of "empty games" where "impossible time-travel machines are used to point out impossible time-travel paradoxes." "The primary unsolved problem" of sf, he writes, is "the lack of a theoretical typology of its paradigmatic structures"—yet he fails to demonstrate why this lack is so damaging. On the incestuous nature of Western sf, he's devastating: "critiques are not produced independently, but are written by either the authors or the editors of anthologies, who evaluate each other's works." (He also blasts publishers and editors for camouflaging advertising as criticism.) For all these reasons, sf is trashy and apt to remain so. Moving on to specifics, Lem shows himself to be a penetrating but often arbitrary and petulant critic. Just about the only Western sf author he approves of (Ballard and Bradbury rate a maybe) is Philip K. Dick—who "tries to probe the neglected, latent, untouched, as-yet-unrealized potentialities of human existence." A. E. van Vogt's work is condemned as "stupid lies" without a shred of evidence or analysis; Borges, Lem determines, "has suffered from a lack of a free and rich imagination." He criticizes Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon for what Leto thinks Keyes' should have written; the Strugatsky brothers' Roadside Picnic—which Leto not only analyzes brilliantly, but finds enjoyable—comes in for similar treatment. Clearly, there's some ax-grinding going on. In sum: guaranteed to offend and provoke.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1984

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1984

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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