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Mortal Engines Hardcover – 14 Apr 1993

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Mortal Engines + The Futurological Congress (From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy)
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Andre Deutsch Ltd (14 April 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 023398819X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0233988191
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 13.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,232,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Peter Piper TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 13 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A Fascinating and captivating collection of short stories by a master story-teller. These robotic fables and allegories of the highest order are by turns surrealistic and darkly realistic. Frequently they are set in a dystopian fairyland of crystalline or metallic monsters locked in power struggles in the tightest corners of an imagined universe. Knights and Kings undertake superhuman quests, where their battles are as fierce as they are poetic. Gigantic machines grapple with ideals and consequences which show them to be as flawed in their own way as we humans. Stanislaw Lem is surely the supreme fantasist when it comes to robot psychology and soul.

His robots are made of the most impossible but plausible metallic elements and have equally fantastic names. Many of the stories could fall under either of the subgenre headings of steampunk or cyberpunk. If this wasn't already enough, Lem further entertains by weaving into his tales the most exquisite puns. And just when you think you have the measure of Lem's style, you find "The Hunt", where the story of a space merchant's delayed cargo turns into a deadly pursuit, set in perilous high vacuum on the far side of the moon. Another tale involves a visit by a writer to a rest home for delusional robots. Of the fourteen stories, here is a short list of titles that will hopefully inspire you: "The Three Electroknights", "How Microx and Gigant Made the Universe Expand", "Tale of the Computer that Fought a Dragon", and "The Sanatorium of Doctor Vliperdius".

This remarkable and delicious collection of eccentric stories is given an illuminating introduction by the translator Michael Kandel.

I enjoyed these tales immensely. Always unpredictable, there is at least one unexpected twist to each story. This book is a must for any fan of this exceptionally talented writer.
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10 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 10 Dec. 1997
Format: Paperback
Buy this book! And any book of Stanislaw Lem's you can get your hands on as well. He speaks of the human condition in his own unique way. His landscapes are vast, and his characters are more human than we know. Beautiful!!!!!!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Fairy tales for a modern age 1 Feb. 2007
By wiredweird - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The first dozen stories in this book are brief, amusing, and very clever. Most of them start in the traditions of fairy tales, with bold knights, beautiful princesses, powerful kings, and deadly dragons. As in traditional fairy tales, some describe great quests, while others narrate hubris and downfall. The difference is that every story is peopled (if you'll pardon the term) by robots. It creates a grand setting for Lem's adventures and warmly humorous inversion of all the old storytelling.

The final two stories, though, are the real gems of this collection. They are longer, they feature humans as well as robots, and are serious, even somber in tone. One is told by a human, part of the party that has to hunt down a dangerous robot across the stark surface of the moon. The teller finds the rogue in the end and fells it, but something in that last moment turns it from victory into completion of a much more ambiguous kind. The final story, "The Mask," is a sensitive look into a man-made mind. It conveys real complexity in the robot's sense of its own life. One of the story's many readings is a warning that, even if the feelings are carried in metal cases, they're as real to the minds feeling them as ours are to us. Creating a mind that can feel such feelings imposes a responsibility on the creator - a responsibility not met in this chilling story.

This is Lem at his best, and his best is very good. The happy satire of the first stories is some of Lem's most amusing. The conjecture in the last story is some of his darkest. The set as a whole shows Lem's range as a writer, even within the constraints that unify this wonderful collection.

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"Fables for Robots," plus three "bonus" stories 26 Nov. 2007
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The title of this assembly of stories is the translator's clever triple pun: an allusion to Othello, "mortal engines" are manmade, impermanent, and sometimes deadly machines--robots, to be exact. Included are all the tales from Lem's "Fables for Robots" and three other stories ("The Sanatorium of Dr. Vliperdius," "The Hunt," and "The Mask") that double the size of the book.

The fables are like--well, fables. That is, the prose style resembles Aesop or Andersen ("Once there lived..."); the narrative recounts long-ago events; and each tale presents a message--or, at least, a lesson for us humans disguised as a moral for them robots. These eleven shorts recall Borges (or even Poe) at his most playful, but read in sequence they tend to become a tad formulaic (several robots are sent on a mission; each fails, but the last one succeeds). And if you're a lover of science jokes, these stories will be your playground; Lem packs references to chemistry, physics, geology, computer science, and electronics--often in the same sentence: "self-motes came from distant lands, like the two Automatts, vector-victors in a hundred battles, or like Prostheseus, constructionist par excellence, who never went anywhere without two spark absorbers, one black, the other silver; and there was Arbitron Cosmoski, all built of protocrystals and svelte as a spire...."

If, like me, you prefer a little more story and a little less pun, you'll find that the gems of the book are the three bonus tracks. The last two, in particular, are among the best I've ever read by Lem, and have nothing in common with the fables other than the automaton theme. "The Hunt" is a rollicking adventure story featuring Lem's famous alter ego, Pirx the Pilot, on a mission to destroy a homicidal robot. "The Mask" may well be the best Lem story I've read: the haunting stream-of-consciousness of a robot who, like an otherworldly Tristram Shandy, narrates its own birth, consciousness, self-realization, metamorphosis, rebellion, and--above all--its futile pursuit of love. The opening pages have a deceptively languid pace, until the robot sheds its "mask" (in a surprisingly squeamish scene) and, during the ensuing chase, reveals its lethal assignment. These last stories are worth the price of the whole book.
18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5 stars are not enough! 6 Jun. 2001
By Rhys Hughes - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is surely one of the greatest collections of 'linked short-stories' ever written -- it matches Calvino's COSMICOMICS and Borges' LABYRINTHS. Lem is a total genius. A writer of playful little fables that are also philosophically profound (and logically consistent). This book is a brilliant companion to Lem's THE CYBERIAD, with which it shares many themes and ideas. Lem has a beautiful style: he can make engineering terms sound poetic. His rigorously modern metaphors are as original as those of J.G. Ballard, but more varied and lyrical. For Lem, the Periodic Table is an unwritten poem. This book is the final and true ode, and each line is a fantastic, fabulous, incredible story. I give this book 200,000,000 stars. And that's only because I'm not feeling so generous today. It probably deserves A GOOGOLPLEX (1 to the power of 100 raised to the power of 1 to the power of 100) of stars. At least.
Hilarious but a little weird 22 April 2009
By Israel Ramirez - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Because of the very vivid storytelling, years after I have read these tales, recalling them still makes me laugh. Reading about these robots allows us to see ourselves in a new light. Robots with feelings. Robots with desires and dreams. Robots that love, lie, and struggle for a better life, made me gain a better appreciation for my own humanity. Some of the gags may seem familiar, like robots encountering a human and finding out that everything they imagined about humans is wrong. Styles vary from fairy tales to conventional short story, to parables. Not all of the stories are equally good; I didn't like the one about Honest Annie very well as it was too didactic for my taste.
Lem is one of the greatest sci-fi writers in the world 15 Nov. 2014
By siorka - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lem is one of the greatest sci-fi writers in the world. A classic and a must-read for everyone who loves this genre.
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