Posts Tagged ‘‘A Perfect Vacuum’’

DuneInfo Shows Cover of Imaginary Album of Music by Dune Character

October 2, 2022

This is a bit of trip into the world of postmodernism. Duneinfo is a YouTube site about Science Fiction book Dune and its film, graphic novel and other adaptations. A few days ago, they put up this piccie on their community page of a non-existent album of music by Gurney Halleck. Halleck is a character in Dune, a warrior troubadour, whose instrument is the ballaset, a type of futuristic lute. In David Lynch’s 1985 film, he was played Patrick Stewart and the ballaset used in the film was based on the stick, a new musical instrument developed from the electric guitar. The fake record sleeve, showing Stewart as Halleck was created by the artist John Bergin. It looks like a real vinyl record sleeve of the type that was knocking around back then in the days when K-Tel were advertising their records on TV.

It also reminds me more than a little of some the literary games played by Polish SF master Stanislaw Lem. Lem was very much an eastern European intellectual. He wrote some excellent science fiction but also sneered at the genre. He was very much into experimental literature, particularly that of the South American magic realist writer Borges, as well as the SF writer Philip K. Dick. Lem produced a several books consisting of reviews and blurbs for books that didn’t exist. One of these books was called A Perfect Vacuum, which I think is a literary jest, a way of saying that it doesn’t exist, because the books it reviews don’t. This fake record cover looks like the musical and pictorial equivalent.

DuneInfo captioned this: ‘Another great imagined (but sadly fake) #Dune item from John Bergin – “The Ballads of Gurney Halleck” – almost all copies of which were destroyed due to the mistaken credit of “The Sting”! 🤣 ‘ Which is a joke about Sting appearing in the movie as one of the villains, Feyd Rautha.

To see the original, go to: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmkVsAdYNiyQG9ZJR6P9FjA/community?lb=UgkxEOVBKmx9zCluGQGj8DF4-t-oUq2h-CYy

Lem’s Robots and Marvin the Paranoid Android

February 15, 2017

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Polish SF Maestro Stanislaw Lem

Remember Marvin, the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? He was the manically depressed robot with a brain the size of a planet, who also suffered from a terrible pain in the diodes all down his left side. I was reminded of him yesterday when reading one of the short stories in Stanislaw Lem’s Mortal Engines (Harmondsworth: Penguin 2016.

Lem’s a highbrow Polish SF writer, who uses his fiction to explore deep philosophical issues, sometimes stretching and challenging the conventions of the short story form itself. One of his volumes, A Perfect Vacuum, consists of reviews of non-existent books. Another one is blurbs, also for books that don’t exist. As you can see from this, he was strongly influenced by the Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges, after whom he’s been hailed as the ‘Borges of Science Fiction’. But he could also write straightforward stories, some of which could be hilariously funny.

Two of his works are collected short stories about robots, The Cyberiad and Mortal Engines. The stories in the Cyberiad, and several in Mortal Engines, are literally technological fairytales, in which electroknights sally forth to battle robotic dragons. Or mad robotic inventors compete with each other to create the most impressive machines, machines which usually go disastrously wrong. One of the stories in Mortal Engines, ‘The Sanatorium of Dr Vliperdius’, is about a journalist who goes to visit a mental hospital for robots. At the end of his visit, just as he is going out, the journo encounters yet another troubled cybernetic soul.

On my way back with the young assistant I met in the corridor a patient who was pulling behind him a heavily laden cart. This individual presented a singular sight, in that he was tied all around with bits of string.

‘You don’t by any chance have a hammer?’ he asked.
‘No’.
‘A shame. My head hurts.’

I engaged him in conversation. He was a robot-hypochondriac. On his squeaking cart he carried a complete set of spare parts. After ten minutes I learned that he got shooting pains in the back during storms, pins and needles all over while watching television, and spots before his eyes when anyone stroked a cat nearby. It grew monotonous, so I left him quickly and headed for the director’s office. (P. 131).

There’s a serious philosophical issue here, apart from Lem’s literary exploration of the kind of delusions mentally ill robots could suffer from, such as the robot earlier in the story, who believes that he’s really organic, but that somebody has stolen his human body and replaced it with the machine he inhabits. If humanity ever creates genuinely sentient machines, which are able to think and reason like humans – and that’s a big ‘if’, despite the assertions of some robotics engineers – then presumably there will come a point when these machines suffer psychological problems, just as humans do.

Mortal Engines was first published in America by Seabury Press in 1977, roughly at the same time Hitch-Hiker came out on radio over here. Hitch-Hiker is full of references to philosophical problems, such as the debate about the existence of God, so clearly both he and Lem saw the same potential for using robots to explore spiritual malaise, and the psychological implication of genuine Artificial Intelligence.