The Futurological Congress

Stanislaw Lem

translated from the Polish by Michael Kandel
Futura 1977
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996
Ijon Tichy, having returned to Earth from space, finds himself attending the Eighth World Futurological Congress, being held in a 106-storey hotel in Costa Rica alongside the Plenary Council of Student Protest Veterans, the Convention of Publishers of Liberated Literature, and a Philumenist Society meeting (collectors of matchbooks). This is a setting made for comedy. Here is Tichy observing the futurologists' debate:
Each speaker was given four minutes to present his paper, as there were so many scheduled — 198 from 64 different countries. To help expedite the proceedings, all reports had to be distributed and studied beforehand, while the lecturer would speak only in numerals, calling attention in this fashion to the salient paragraphs of his work. ... Stan Hazelton of the U.S. delegation immediately threw the hall into a flurry by emphatically repeating: 4, 6, 11, and therefore 22; 5, 9, hence 22; 3, 7, 2, 11, from which it followed that 22 and only 22!! Someone jumped up, saying yes but 5, and what about 6, 18, or 4 for that matter; Hazelton countered this objection with the crushing retort that, either way, 22. I turned to the number key in his paper and discovered that 22 meant the end of the world.

Meanwhile, political trouble is brewing outside the hotel. In an attempt to forestall a revolution, the government pumps benignimizers into the water supply and the hotel is accidentally bombed with hallucinogens. Tichy is transported to an even bizarrer future, where chemicals are used to simulate everything. This is the opening for Lem to launch into a barrage of neologistic puns and satirical invention:

And therefore we have the malingerants, fudgerators and drudge-dodgers, not to mention the special phenomenon of simulimbecility or mimicretinism. A mimicretin is a computer that plays stupid in order, once and for all, to be left in peace. And I found out what dissimulators are: they simply pretend that they're not pretending to be defective. Or perhaps it's the other way around. The whole thing is very complicated. A probot is a robot on probation, while a servo is one still serving time. A robotch may or may not be a sabot. One vial, and my head is splitting with information and nomenclature. A confuter, for instance, is not a confounding machine — that's a confutator — but a machine which quotes Confucius. A grammus is an antiquated frammus, a gidget — a cross between a gadget and a widget, usually flighty. A bananalog is an analog banana plug. ...

It's hard to place Lem as a humourist — a kind of cross between Jorge Luis Borges and Douglas Adams, perhaps. The Futurological Congress is possibly the most frivolous of all his humorous works, but it displays his usual dry, intellectual humour and is, after The Cyberiad, my favourite among them.

October 1996

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%T The Futurological Congress
%A Lem, Stanislaw
%M Polish
%F Kandel, Michael
%I Futura
%D 1977 [1971]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0860079287
%P 149pp