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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2003
Ijon Tichy is the calm, but worried and fascinated witness of a world gone astray. In the book's first part, he arrives at the Hilton hotel to participate in the eighth futurological congress, which is soon ruined by the local revolution; the situation degenerates further when the governement awkwardly tries to control it by using various substances. After what appears to be a 40 year-long 'stay' in liquid nitrogen, Tichy has to encounter a world profoundly affected by 'psycho-chemistry'. In all of the worlds - 'real' or illusory - that he visits, Tichy walks in the middle of prisoners (in the Platonic sense) rendered defenseless in the bottom of their cavern; the prisoners are not only the unknowing victims of the illusions, but also the vain and mischievous demiurges who perpetrate them. In such worlds, craving for knowledge has been reduced to a mere search for formulas and chemical products whose only role is to provoke the desired reactions and keep all the citizens in a state of sleep. Tichy is alone in perceiving what is positive about getting rid of complete servitude, but the world Lem depicts in the book is so oversaturated with different levels of illusions that such a hope can only lead to failure. Thus, even though Tichy is one of the sole half-liberated prisoners of the whole book, he remains a prisoner all the same and is ultimately comforted by the least threatening of the various lies. Like the others, Tichy is caught up in a world whose web of illusions he can't totally understand.
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on June 23, 2002
Written when Poland was under the grip of Communism, "The Futurological Congress" is a powerful parable of a totalitarian state that uses psychotropic drugs not only to subdue its citizens but also to make them believe things are better than they are. The first third of the book reads almost like an adventure story: Ijon Tichy is attending a convention of futurologists in Central America, when he and his colleagues are caught up in a bizarre coup d'etat. When Tichy's cryogenically frozen corpse is reanimated decades later, the entire overpopulated world is hooked on drugs.
Unlike most pieces of dystopian fiction, Lem's novel is funny and brainy rather than depressing and catastrophic, but it is still scarily prophetic. At times, though, the prose threatens to collapse into a pun-laden Physician's Desk Reference for the Year 2039: "they give the children throttlepops, then develop their character with opinionates, uncompromil, rebellium, allaying their passions with sordidan and practicol; no police, and who needs them when you have constabuline. . . ?" (These passages must have been a nightmare to translate and, remarkably, they never lose their fluency.) But Lem keeps the reader's interest by alternating his pharmocological laundry lists with clever plot twists and bizarre visions, and the novel's pace continuously accelerates until its frenzied, over-the-top climax.
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on October 24, 1999
I was surprised by how thoughtful the book turned out to be, given the way it began. I picked up this book for a college lit class not knowing at all what to expect. I loved the first 36 pages - the biting irony made me laugh out loud. After that it got dead serious. Lem raises some very tough questions, the main one being, "When does the government have the right to conceal the truth from the governed?" It was a roller coaster ride to read, but the ending was a real let-down.
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