Just a reminder that during November, I’ll be reviewing short stories instead of novels. This adjustment will hopefully allow me to complete both the manuscript due December 1st and 50,000 words for National Novel Writing Month.
I have to admit that I picked up this book only as a favor to my friend Rob, who sent it to me months ago after I told him how much I loved the Stanislaw Lem Google Doodle. Go play with the doodle. I promise it will be more fun than this review, and if you disagree, well, that’s very kind of you, but you’re mistaken. Anyway, I played with it way back when it first came out, and I thought it was one of the greatest things I’d ever seen on the internet (to be fair, I am an infamously bad internet surfer). I posted about my experience, and Rob, who is apparently a huge Lem fan, sent me this book of short stories.
I didn’t like the cover. If you’ve been around here for a while, you know that covers are important to me, and a bad cover (or in this case, a cover that reeked of geeked-out testosterone) will put me off of a book for a long time. Fortunately, Rob lives on the other side of the country, so I didn’t have to face him and fess up about how I hadn’t read the book yet. Until a week ago, of course, when he was in town. I don’t know how the subject came up, but it did, and I had to admit that I not only hadn’t read it, I hadn’t even given it a fair chance. He was disappointed, and given the strangely numerous recent discussions I’ve had with people about giving a new author or genre a try, I made sure it was on my November list.
As it turns out, it’s not so much a collection of short stories as it is, well, a collection of short stories featuring the same two characters in a loosely related and shockingly compelling narrative. So instead of reading one story, I read three. And they were delightful. (I would have read more, but I have deadlines.) Strangely enough, these stories reminded me of Turgenev and Hemingway, two authors I was surprised to discover I loved when I was a teenager; although all three men write from tremendously different perspectives, they all manage to invoke a similar excitement in my brain.
I can’t figure out how to describe it really, except to say that it’s like a tuning fork is set off inside. Some element of these stories, of the way Lem writes, is so familiar…and somewhere deep inside, that familiarity sets off a chain reaction of happiness. But that isn’t the right word…they do make me happy, but it’s more complicated than that. They invoke a series of images from my past, moments that don’t seem connected to me, but they must be in some way because each of them resonates to the notes the stories play.
It isn’t the same feeling I get from reading a great book, although I can already tell that Lem is going to end up on my favorite authors shelf. I don’t expect most people would have the same reaction while reading his stories, although I hope that I’m not the only person to have experienced this unexpected world shifting while reading the right book…
To learn more about Stanislaw Lem, go here (and seriously, go play with that doodle).