Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: The Star Diaries

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, July 6, 2001

His also was an apparatus for tapping the energy, so often wasted, of little children, who as everyone knows cannot sit still for a minute. That device consists of a system of cranks, pulleys and levers situated in various places about the dwelling and which the children push, pull and move in the course of their play, unaware that they are thereby pumping water, washing clothes, peeling potatoes, generating electricity, etc.

Ijon Tichy travels undercover to an all-robot world, and joins an organization to clean up world history through time travel.

RecommendationPossible Purchase
AuthorStanislaw Lem
Length288 pages
Book Rating6

Things go crazy right from the start. His spaceship runs into a series of gravitational vortices, at relativistic speeds, resulting in massive time anomalies in his ship. It could be a blessing in disguise: the reason he couldn’t get out of the way was that a meteor had shattered his drive regulator and part of his rudder. He could no longer steer his ship. He had a spare rudder, but couldn’t install it: it was a two-man job, and he was alone. So when other versions of him start appearing on the ship, all he should need to do is team up with one of them, fix the rudder, and leave the gravitational vortex field.

“Where’s the Friday me?” I asked, returning. The Thursday me methodically cracked an egg with a knife and poured its contents onto the sizzling fat.

“Somewhere in the neighborhood of Saturday, no doubt,” he replied, indifferent, quickly scrambling the egg.

Problem number one, that he only had one spacesuit, was easily circumvented by having himself wear it, and when he went through time would be carrying it, thus duplicating it. The real problem came when he tried to give orders to himself; turns out he doesn’t take orders from anyone. A general brawl breaks out:

“You, Wednesday!” called the one in the spacesuit. “Hold back Thursday, help me!”

For the Thursday me was indeed trying to tear the spacesuit off him.

“Give me the spacesuit!” bellowed the Thursday me as he wrestled with the other.

“Get off! What are you trying to do? Don’t you realize I’m the one who should have it, and not you?!” howled the other.

“And why is that, pray?”

“For the reason, fool, that I’m closer to Saturday than you, and by Saturday there will be two of us in suits!”

“But that’s ridiculous,” I said, getting into their argument, “at best you’ll be alone in the suit on Saturday, like an absolute idiot, and won’t be able to do a thing. Let me have the suit: if I put it on now, then you’ll be wearing it on Friday as the Friday me, and I will also on Saturday as the Saturday me, and so you see there will then be two of us, and with two suits… Come on, Thursday, give me a hand!!”

After that gets straightened out, he goes undercover. A ship’s computer has mutineed and started its own colony, reproducing itself on a previously uninhabited planet. The insurance company paid the shipowner’s claim, and now believes that the ship, it’s computer, and all its progeny belong to them. Ijon Tichy disguises himself as a robot and goes to investigate.

On another voyage, he heads to a planet where the government irrigation agency has refused to give up power, and has irrigated beyond all needs, to the point where the people live in water, and are jailed (in dry cells) if they violate the love of water.

After his “modern” voyages, he comes back from the year 2166 to recruit himself as a member of THEOHIPPIP. THEOHIPPIP is Teleotelechronistic-Historical Engineering to Optimize the Hyperputerized Implementation of Paleological Programming and Interplanetary Planning. History, you see, is all in a mess what with all the Sunday afternoon time travelers. The mission of THEOHIPPIP is:

“…For World History to be regulated, cleaned up, straightened out, adjusted and perfected, all in accordance with the principles of humanitarianism, rationalism and general esthetics. You can understand, surely, that with such a shambles and slaughterhouse in one’s family tree it’s awkward to go calling on important cosmic civilizations!… If need be, alterations will be made even before the rise of man, so that he arises better.”

All of these are parodies or satires of various political movements or maneuverings, or social psychology. From the inability of Ijon Tichy to work together with others exactly like him, to the planet of the fearful robots, and the planet of the out-of-countrol bureau of irrigation, his visions of human madness are both funny and instructive. Stanislaw Lem is a fascinating satirist, and this, while not one of his best works, is still a brilliant work.

The Star Diaries

Stanislaw Lem

Recommendation: Possible Purchase

If you enjoyed The Star Diaries…

For more about Stanislaw Lem, you might also be interested in Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, Stanislaw Lem dies, The Cyberiad, and The Futurological Congress.