Marquis Chateauneuf du Pape

From Gruppenfuhrer Louis XVI in Stanislaw Lem’s A Perfect Vacuum – a collection of reviews of non-existent books:

Nota bene: the abundance of French names in the novel, which bear a striking similarity to the names of cognacs and wines – take, for example, the “Marquis Chateauneuf du Pape,” the master of ceremonies! – undoubtedly derives from the fact (though nowhere does the author say it) that in the brain of Taudlitz there clamor, for readily understandable reasons, far more names of liquors and liqueurs than those of the French aristocracy.

Funny by itself of course but it also reminded me of a story Ian Mckellen told in his one man show last year – of some actor or other playing Henry V without having memorized the list of French dead and instead relying on the list handed him by stage direction.  Unfortunately one evening the list was a blank prop and he fell to fumbling through in the exact fashion, fashioning wines and liqueurs into ad-hoc noblemen.

A Save the Human Race Foundation

From Pericalypsis in Stanislaw Lem’s A Perfect Vacuum:

The moderate growth of talent, its innately slow maturation, its careful weeding out, its natural selection in the purview of solicitous and discerning tastes—these are phenomena of a bygone age that died heirless. The last stimulus that still works is a mighty howl; but when more and more people howl, employing more and more powerful amplifiers, one’s eardrums will burst before the soul learns anything. The names of the geniuses of old, more and more vainly invoked, already are an empty sound; and so it is mene mene tekel upharsin, unless what Joachim Fersengeld recommends is done. There should be set up a Save the Human Race Foundation, as a sixteen-billion reserve on a gold standard, yielding an interest of four percent per annum. Out of this fund moneys should be dispensed to all creators—to inventors, scholars, engineers, painters, writers, poets, playwrights, philosophers, and designers—in the following way. He who writes nothing, designs nothing, paints nothing, neither patents nor proposes, is paid a stipend, for life, to the tune of thirty-six thousand dollars a year. He who does any of the aforementioned receives correspondingly less.

I’ve had a similar idea for a philanthropic foundation.

On the field of the battle that never was

From Stanislaw Lem’s Cyberiad – in the first sally of Trurl and Klapaucius:

Sensing that something had gone amiss, Ferocitus nodded to the twelve buglers at his right hand. Atrocitus, from the top of his hill, did likewise; the buglers put the brass to their lips and sounded the charge on either side. At this clarion signal each army totally and completely linked up. The fearsome metallic clatter of closing contacts reverberated over the future battlefield; in the place of a thousand bombardiers and grenadiers, commandos, lancers, gunners, snipers, sappers and marauders—there stood two giant beings, who gazed at one another through a million eyes across a mighty plain that lay beneath billowing clouds. There was absolute silence. That famous culmination of consciousness which the great Gargantius had predicted with mathematical precision was now reached on both sides. For beyond a certain point militarism, a purely local phenomenon, becomes civil, and this is because the Cosmos Itself is by nature wholly civilian, and indeed, the minds of both armies had assumed truly cosmic proportions! Thus, though on the outside armor still gleamed, as well as the death-dealing steel of artillery, within there surged an ocean of mutual good will, tolerance, an all-embracing benevolence, and bright reason. And so, standing on opposite hilltops, their weapons sparkling in the sun, while the drums continued to roll, the two armies smiled at one another. Trurl and Klapaucius were just then boarding their ship, since that which they had planned had come to pass: before the eyes of their mortified, infuriated rulers, both armies went off hand in hand, picking flowers beneath the fluffy white clouds, on the field of the battle that never was.

A few background touches to that idyllic voyage

From Stanislaw Lem’s More Tales of Pirx the Pilot:

The radiotelegraph operator, however, coped not by belting up but by jettisoning things: trapped in the space between ceiling, deck, and walls, he would reach into his pants pockets, throw out the first item at hand—his pockets were a storage bin of miscellaneous weights, key chains, metal clips—and allow the thrust to propel him gently in the opposite direction. An infallible method, unerring confirmation of Newton’s second law, but something of an inconvenience to his shipmates, because, once discarded, the stuff would ricochet off the walls, and the resulting whirligig of hard and potentially damaging objects might last a good while. This is just to add a few background touches to that idyllic voyage.

A powerful indictment of our vices

From Stanislaw Lem’s Memoirs of a Space Traveler: Further Reminiscences of Ijon Tichy in that collection’s final story, Let Us Save the Universe (An Open Letter from Ijon Tichy).  I am not a science fiction fan but Stanislaw Lem is the one author I’ve found in that genre whom I deeply enjoy.  But that in itself is due to much of his work falling more towards speculative philosophy (His Master’s Voice, Imaginary Magnitudes) and philosophy of technology (Summa Technologiae).  The pure hard sci-fi (The Invincible) does less for me and his Lucianic strain of marvel-filled satire – like Memoirs Found in a Bathtub and the below – is best kept to controlled doses.

The famous mirages of Stredogentsia owe their existence solely to man’s vicious inclinations.  At one time chillips grew on the planet in great numbers, and warmstrels were hardly ever found.  Now the latter have multiplied incredibly.  Above thickets of them, the air, heated artificially and diffracted, gives rise to mirages of taverns, which have caused the death of many a traveler from Earth.  It is said that the warmstrels are entirely to blame.  Why, then, don’t their mirages mimic schools, libraries, or health clubs? Why do they always show places where intoxicating beverages are sold? The answer is simple.  Because mutations are random, warmstrels at first created all sorts of mirages, but those that showed people libraries and adult-education classes starved to death, and only the tavern variety (Thermomendax spirituosus halucinogenes of the family Anthropophagi) survived.  This special adaptation of the warmstrels, brought about by man himself, is a powerful indictment of our vices.