Stanisław Lem · 149 pages
Rating: (7.1K votes)
“She was beautiful all right, beautiful in a way that was at once seductive, demonic, and raspberry.”
“Books are no longer read but eaten, not made of paper but of some informational substance, fully digestible, sugar-coated.”
“I always thought there would be ice in hell”
“The opportunity for evil in itself does not suffice; people need a rationale as well. Consider how unpleasant, how awkward it must be when your neighbor, catching his breath (and that can happen anytime), screams, 'Why?' - or, 'Aren't you ashamed?!' It's embarrassing to stand there without a ready answer. A crowbar makes a poor rebuttal, everybody senses that. The whole trick lies in having the proper grounds to brush aside such aggravating objections. Contemptuously. Everyone wants to commit a villainy without having to feel like a villain.”
“What was civilization ever, really, but the attempt by man to talk himself into being good? Only good, mind you. The rest had to be shoved somewhere out of sight, under the rug. Which History indeed did, at times politely, at times police-ly, and yet something was always sticking out, breaking loose, overthrowing.”
“Progress is a wonderful thing of course, and I can appreciate the lactiferins that are sprinkled on the pasture to turn the grass to cheese. And yet this lack of cows, however rational it may be, gives one the feeling that the fields and meadows, deprived of their phlegmatic, bemusedly ruminating presence, are pitifully empty.”
“Anyhow, the criterion of common sense was never applicable to the history of the human race. Averroës, Kant, Socrates, Newton, Voltaire, could any of them have believed it possible that in the twentieth century the scourge of cities, the poisoner of lungs, the mass murderer and idol of millions would be a metal receptacle on wheels, and that people would actually prefer being crushed to death inside it during frantic weekends exoduses instead of staying, safe and sound, at home?”
“Mi chiedo se Averroè, Kant, Socrate, Newton, Voltaire avrebbero mai creduto che nel Ventesimo secolo la piaga delle città, l'avvelenatore dei polmoni, l'omicida di massa, l'oggetto di culto sarebbe diventato un carrello di lamiera con le ruote e che le persone avrebbero preferito morire schiantate al suo interno durante gli esodi di massa per i fine settimana, anzichè restarsene tranquillamente a casa.”
“He also said - pointedly - that space travel nowadays was an escape from the problems of Earth. That is, one took off for the stars in the hope that the worst would happen and be done with in one's absence. And indeed I couldn't deny that more than once I had peered anxiously out the porthole - especially when returning from a long voyage - to see whether or not our planet resembled a burnt potato.”
“Simulant - something that doesn't exist but pretends to.
Dissimulant - an object that exists but pretends not to.”
“The most recent of the iamides, heavily advertised - authentium. Creates synthetic recollections of things that never happened. A few grams of dantine, for instance, and a man goes around with a deep conviction that he has written The Divine Comedy. Why anyone would want that is another matter and quite beyond me.”
“But how can I use a method to discredit that very method, if the method is discreditable?”
“A man can control only what he comprehends, and comprehend only what he is able to put into words. The inexpressible therefore is unknowable. By examining future stages in the evolution of language we come to learn what discoveries, changes and social revolutions the language will be capable, some day, of reflecting.”
“A journey is a dismal thing when there can be no homecoming.”
“In just the last issue of Science Today there had been an article on some new psychotropic agents of the group of so-called benignimizers (the N,N-dimethylpeptocryptomides), which induced states of undirected joy and beatitude. Yes, yes! I could practically see that article now. Hedonidil, Euphoril, Inebrium, Felicitine, Empathan, Ecstasine, Halcyonal and a whole spate of derivatives. Though by replacing an amino group with a hydroxyl, you obtained instead Furiol, Antagonil, Rabiditine, Sadistizine, Dementium, Flagellan, Juggernol and many other polyparanoidal stimulants of the group of so-called phrensobarbs (for these prompted the most vicious behavior, the lashing out at objects animate as well as inanimate—and especially powerful here were the cannibal-cannabinols and manicomimetics).”
“Above the podium stood a decorated board showing the agenda for the day. The first item of business was the world urban crisis, the second—the ecology crisis, the third—the air pollution crisis, the fourth—the energy crisis, the fifth—the food crisis. Then adjournment.”
“Dear patient (first name, last name)! You are presently located in our experimental state hospital. The measures taken to save your life were drastic, extremely drastic (circle one). Our finest surgeons, availing themselves of the very latest achievements of modern medicine, performed one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten operations (circle one) on you. They were forced, acting wholly in your interest to replace certain parts of your organism with parts obtained from other persons, in strict accordance with Federal Law (Rev. Stat. Comm. 1-989/0-001/89/1). The notice you are now reading was thoughtfully prepared in order to help you make the best possible adjustment to these new if somewhat unexpected circumstances in your life, which, we hasten to remind you, we have saved. Although it was found necessary to remove your arms, legs, spine, skill, lungs, stomach, kidneys, liver, other (circle one or more), rest assured that these mortal remains were disposed of in a manner fully in keeping with the dictates of your religion; they were, with the proper ritual, interred, embalmed, mummified, buried at sea, cremated with the ashes scattered in the wind—preserved in an urn—thrown in the garbage (circle one). The new form in which you will henceforth lead a happy and healthy existence may possibly occasion you some surprise, but we promise that in time you will become, as indeed all our dear patients do, quite accustomed to it We have supplemented your organism with the very best, the best, perfectly functional, adequate, the only available (circle one) organs at our disposal, and they are fully guaranteed to last a year, six months, three months, three weeks, six days (circle one).”
“For truly, what computer has not asked whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous instructions?”
“Chapulier's Rule (the law of least resistance). If the machine is not too bright and incapable of reflection, it does whatever you tell it to do. But a smart machine will first consider which is more worth its while: to perform the given task or, instead, to figure some way out of it.
The Great Mendacitor, for example, for nine years in charge of the Saturn meliorization project, did absolutely nothing on that planet, sending out piles of fake progress reports, invoices, requisition forms, and either bribed his supervisors or kept them in a state of electronic shock.”
“Manufacturers these days have peculiar problems: a package may recommend the virtues of its product by voice only, for it is not allowed to grab the customer by the sleeve or collar.”
“All the wild beasts have been extinct for years, but it's perfectly possible to synthesize them autobiogenically. On the other hand, why be bound to what was once produced by natural evolution? The spokesman for surrealist zoology was most eloquent - we should populate our preserves with bold, original conceptions, not slavish imitations, we should forge the New, not plagiarize the Old.”
“Then what exactly is it that you design?"
He gave a proud smile.
"Bitless? You mean, from bits, the units of information?"
"No, Mr. Tichy, the units of being bitten.”
“Really, Tichy. Don’t be so demonic. Ours is simply a world in which more than twenty billion people live. Did you read today’s Herald? The government of Pakistan claims that in this year’s famine only 970,000 perished, while the opposition gives a figure of six million. In such a world where are you going to find Chablis, pheasants, tenderloin with sauce béarnaise? The last pheasant died a quarter of a century ago. That bird is a corpse, only excellently preserved, for we have become masters of its mummification—or rather: we have learned how to hide its death.”
“A real tank now costs about a million dollars, while a hallucinated one amounts to less than one-hundredth of a cent per person, or centispecter per spectator. A destroyer costs a dime. Today you could fit the whole arsenal of the United States inside a single truck.”
“Come now, Tichy. For half a century civilization hasn't been left to its own devices. A hundred years ago a certain Dior was dictating fashions in clothing. Today this sort of regulating has embraced all walks of life. If prostheticism is voted in, I assure you, in a couple of years everyone will consider the possession of a soft, hairy, sweating body to be shameful and indecent. A body needs washing, deodorizing, caring for, and even then it breaks down, while in a prostheticized society you can snap on the loveliest creations of modern engineering. What woman doesn't want to have silver iodide instead of eyes, telescoping breasts, angel's wings, iridescent legs, and feet that sing with every step?”
“Aisles and aisles of absolventina, theopathine, genuflix, orisol. An enormous place; organ music in the background while you shop. All the faiths are represented too—there’s chistendine and antichristendine, ormuzal, arymanol, anabaptiban, methadone, brahmax, supralapsarian suppositories, and zoroaspics, quaker oats, yogart, mishnameal and apocryphal dip. Pills, tablets, syrups, elixirs, powders, gums—they even have lollipops for the children. Many of the boxes come with halos.”
“What was civilization ever, really, but the attempt by man to talk himself into being good? Only good mind you. The rest had to be shoved somewhere out of sight, under the rug. Which History did at times politely, at times police-ly, and yet something was always sticking out, breaking lose, overthrowing.”
“What was civilization ever, really, but the attempt by man to talk himself into being good?”
“We owe our liberation to chemistry," he went on. "For all perception is but a change in the concentration of hydrogen ions on the surface of the brain cells. Seeing me, you actually experience a disturbance in the sodium-potassium equilibrium across your neuron membranes. So all we have to
do is send a few well-chosen molecules down into those cortical mitochondria, activate the right neurohumoral-synaptic transmission effector sites, and your fondest dreams come true. But you know
all this," he concluded, subdued.”
“Man’s inhumanity to man, unleashed, was an obscenity, and that obscenity was each person’s own private responsibility.”
“Don't ask where the rest of this book is!" It is a shrill cry that comes from an undefined spot among the shelves. "All books continue in the beyond...”
“I could die in this bed with him right now, wrapped in his arms and I would never know that I had died.”
“He looked at her in the darkness, at this woman who was everything to him-mother, Africa, wisdom, understanding, good things to eat, pumpkins, chicken, the white sky across the endless, endless bush, and the giraffe that cried, giving its tears for women to daub on their baskets; O Botswana, my country, my place.”
“Rule of life. If you bother to ask someone’s advice, then bother to listen to it.”
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