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Mortal Engines

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3.81  ·  Rating details ·  2,189 ratings  ·  128 reviews
These fourteen science fiction stories reveal Lem’s fascination with artificial intelligence and demonstrate just how surprisingly human sentient machines can be. “Astonishing is not too strong a word for these tales” (Wall Street Journal). Translated and with an Introduction by Michael Kandel.
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published 1993 by André Deutsch (first published 1964)
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Average rating 3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,189 ratings  ·  128 reviews


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David Katzman
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Another fascinating book by Lem. I generally have little interest in short stories. I prefer longer narratives that I can really invest in. And when I realized these were short science fiction stories, I was skeptical that he would pull it off. Science fiction requires world building (as does fantasy) and integrating character into an unfamiliar universe takes time, which short stories don't afford. Lem solved that issue by writing short stories that are far more like fables or parables. Most pr
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Niina
I tried to like this, I tried real hard, and even though it seemed like the stories were getting better closer to the end, the best I can say about this is that it was okay in the end.

The first thing to remember as starting with this book is that these short-stories are just stories, stories and tales, which, by nature, are passed on from one person and generation and culture to another, which transform and change as they are told. This works as both an excuse and a reason to make the stories w
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Simona Bartolotta
3.5

Deeper than the fabulistic façade might lead you to think. And to me, the last two tales might jut be worth the entire collection.
ambyr
I had fond memories of the The Cyberiad, but I still did not expect to love this as much as I did. The fairy tales for robots that make up the bulk of the collection are charming and hilarious (and occasionally heartbreaking), but it's the final novella"The Mask," with its fascinating exploration of gender and self-determination told in lush prose, that really makes the collection for me. (The other novella, "The Hunt," was the one low point for me--it's not bad, but the writing is clunkier than anything ...more
Leander
Jan 11, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
On some level, something must have gotten lost in translation from Polish to German, Lem being a hailed SciFi author and all. The significantly higher ratings in Eastern European seem to indicate that possibility. While the first story was still kind of whimsical, the ones after grew increasingly bland and formulaic. They read like run-of-the-mill fairy tales for toddlers with the added twist that most of the nouns are either replaced or prefixed with a term from chemistry, metallurgy or pre-IC ...more
Shabbeer Hassan
An eclectic collection of stories mixing in elements of fantasy, hard sci-fi and tonnes of invented names, which would even give Alastair Reynolds a headache! A definite read for anyone who would like to stretch their imaginations.

My Rating - 4/5
Robyn Blaber
More genius from Stanislaw Lem. I'm not a huge fan of short stories, but these take the reader to places that I think no one has ever been. Half fairy-tale, half science-fiction, these stories these stories entertain while shoring up our science vocabularies.
Amis Thysia
I thoroughly enjoyed the conceptual aspects of this collection; the two last, longer stories (The Hunt, The Mask) in particular looked at some interesting ideas, portrayed in a unique way, while the first 2/3 of the book flips classic fairy tales on their head in a pleasingly creative and entertaining manner. Based on content alone, the stories probably deserve a 4* rating - I'm proud to have this on my bookshelf and will keep a close eye out for more of Lem's work in future.

It isn't
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Karolina
Jan 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The most funny and charming book I've read recently.
Jerry
Jul 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first half were stories in the vein of The Cyberiad; the second half were an Ijon Tichy story (The Sanatorium of Doctor Vliperdius); one Pirx the Pilot story (The Hunt, which I’ve already read somewhere), and one non-series story, The Mask.

The Cyberiad-style stories are in the style of fables, but fables of a machine culture and their god-like computer/robots who have created various aspects of the universe. Such as “Uranium Earpieces”:


Once there lived a certain engineer-cos/>
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Adrian Hon
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's hard for me to explain how impressed I was by this book. I've always been a fan of Lem since reading The Cyberiad, and the sheer range of stories and skill he displays here is staggering. The Three Electroknights, Uranium Earpieces, and Automatthew's Friend are among the funniest short stories I've read, sci-fi or not – certainly the equal of Douglas Adams.

But then you have King Globares and the Sages, and in particular, The Hunt and The Mask, each serious masterpieces in their own right.
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Dave Quam
Not my favorite Lem, but there’s definitely some good material in here, especially in the first 11 robot fairy tales.
Joel
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was really excited to read this. One of the masters from the golden age of science fiction, who I'd somehow managed never to read! Alas. Most of the stories in this book are childish fables. The translator/editor says in the introduction that he wanted to collect Lem's stories about robots, but for the most part the only distinguishing robotic characteristic of these characters is that they're made of metal; were it not for references to rust here and there, they might as well be human, or som ...more
James F
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, fantasy, world
Fourteen stories about robots, translated from Polish. The first eleven are from a collection called Fables for robots; like the stories of The Cyberiad they are short satirical parables or fairy tales set in a world inhabited by robots and are just fun to read. The twelfth story features Ijon Tichy, and the thirteenth is a story of Pilot Pirx, two characters who appear frequently in Lem's writings. The last and best story is a stand-alone, "The Hunt", which is more serious and recalls themes from Solaris.
Alan Fay
Mar 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Borrowed from Bill. It's Borges meets Katamari Damacy. ;D

It's a lot of fun to read; many stories are told like myths or fables, except they involve strange robot alien space race kind of fellas.
John Wagner
Dec 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant collection of short stories, all of which share the theme of robots. Some are deep and dystopian, and echo the mood and feel of "Solaris". Others are just plain silly. This exposed me to a mirthful side of Lem I didn't know existed.
Blue Kim
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Uneven, as it is an arbitrary collection of short stories and novellas. But a couple of the works are nothing short of revelatory.
tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE
review of
Stanislaw Lem's Mortal Engines
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - July 28, 2015

I suppose, strictly speaking, this isn't 'a bk by Stanislaw Lem' insofar as it's a collection of short stories by Lem, united by the theme of robots, chosen by the translator, Michael Kandel, at the prompting of the publisher, Harvest/HBJ, so that there cd be a Lem bk in English that hadn't previously existed in Lem's language, Polish. I wdn't exactly say that that negatively effects the collection but it does result i
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Ian Russell
This is my first read of Lem. A colleague who reads a lot of Sci-fi mentioned some names but Lem was the only one I remember. When I saw Mortal Machines was on offer for 99p, I thought, why not? Well, here’s why not,

The collection of short stories begins with a set featuring robots, though they could easily have been written as elves, white knights, fairy kings and hobbits in gingerbread houses, they had so little to do with scientific and technological robotics; they are simple fant
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Nathan
Sep 14, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
First of all, I want to show some appreciation for the translator. It must have been so difficult to translate this book, especially replacing all it's made-up-but-realistic-sounding words with something that works in English. Even the poetry, that was really excellent. (disclaimer, I do not know Polish, but I don't think it's an easy language to translate into English or any other Romance language at the best of times).

The book its self:
I wasn't enjoying at first. I found the
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bartosz
Nov 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
Wanting to get away from English literature for a bit I decided to go through my Stanisław Lem backlog. I picked Fables for Robots, more or less at random.

Fables for Robots is a book that combines aspects of traditional fables with science fiction.

Conceptually, the stories are written as if presented from a "robot mother" to a "robot child" - the denizens of the stories are themselves robots. Robot kings, robot knights, robot inventors (that invent other robots or machines!), robot
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Nigel McFarlane
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
A collection of playful robotic fairy tales by the great Stanislaw Lem. There are a lot of them: one wonders what possessed him to write so many as to become a veritable Hans Christian Andersen of the robot world. The stories are by turns, epic, wonderfully daft, and profound. My particular favourite is the shipwrecked robot, whose electric friend argues with impeccable logic that, since he faces an inevitable lingering death in the hot sun, his best course of action is to drown himself immediat ...more
Jos
Fables for Robots features 13 short stories which supposedly are fairy tales about robots and for robots. Only one story has a human in its cast. In a few other stories, humans are mentioned, usually in a derisive or hostile fashion ("Bleichlinge").

What Lem has done here, reminds me of Calvino. Specifically, his Invisible Cities which isn’t a positive in my book. Each story is in an intellectual exercise, a play on words. In short: form but – at least to me – no function. I couldn’t
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Eero
Oct 25, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In my youth Lem was one of the few science fiction writers translated to Finnish (along with Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury, etc. - basically single books from selected big names). Then I read Solaris, The Futurological Congress, Return from the Stars or whatever it's English title is, Invincible, Cyberiad. Also I remember finding an English translation of Pirx stories and enjoying it immensely. With that history I should have liked this collection more than I did. However I pretty much dropped it aft ...more
Zach
Aug 19, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite some fun stories, this collection suffered from problems that felt inherent to the experimental format of the robotic fable. Even when a story is successful as an example of what a robotic creation myth might sound like, that story isn't necessarily a compelling read. While appreciating the stories, I sometimes felt like I had read too many alternatives fables without the takeaways of traditional fables.

The last two stories are almost novellas and a break from the fable forma
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Tarash_bulba
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
All short stories with the exception of the last 2, read like old folktales or some kind of fantastic children stories ("basme" in my native language) but replacing heroes, monsters, foreign mythical lands and damsels in distress with robots, space stuff and strange planets. They are quite fun and well written if you like that kind of stuff (and I do, because it brings back memories of when I was small boy discovering books for the first time).
The penultimate story reads a bit like some ac
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Michael
Lesser Lem. Although always an entertaining writer, this collection of stories does not equal his best work. There is still plenty of ingenuity and humor but other story collections are superior.
There is an interesting introduction by the English translator of this book, Michael Kandel. There is some biographical material and a discussion of other books of Lem.
Most of the stories are fanciful robot versions of fairy tales, amusing and clever. Probably every Lem admirer will find valu
...more
Halan Torres
Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I tried to like this, I tried real hard, and even though it seemed like the stories were getting better closer to the end, the best I can say about this is that it was okay in the end.

The first thing to remember as starting with this book is that these short-stories are just stories, stories and tales, which, by nature, are passed on from one person and generation and culture to another, which transform and change as they are told.
Andrej
Dec 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another compilation of Lem's collected stories.
Though it is expectedly filled with paradoxes and absurdities, in several of them you can see a glimmer of philosophical lucidity (King Globares and the sages, The sanatorium of Dr. Vliperdius).

Great stuff, and in addition, the foreword of Michael Kandel offers great insight and interpretation of Lem's "inner workings" and it's similarity with Soviet Science Fiction overall.
Erik
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Weird fairy tales and medieval stories with robots and dense prose.

Less hit and miss, and more meh and miss. Theres some good ideas and creativity on display, but theres a lot of lattice around those ideas. The shorter stories are generally better.

Some of this was a real trudge, not sure if its the translator or what.
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Stanisław Lem (staˈɲiswaf lɛm) was a Polish science fiction, philosophical and satirical writer of Jewish descent. His books have been translated into 41 languages and have sold over 27 million copies. He is perhaps best known as the author of Solaris, which has twice been made into a feature film. In 1976, Theodore Sturgeon claimed that Lem was the most widely read science-fiction writer in the world.

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“Science does not concern itself with those properties of existence to which ridiculousness belongs. Science explains the world, but only Art can reconcile us to it. What do we really know about the origin of the Universe? A blank so wide can be filled with myths and legends. I wished, in my mythologizing, to reach the limits of improbability, and I believe that I came close. You know this already, therefore what you really wanted to ask was if the Universe is indeed ludicrous. But that question each must answer for himself.” 2 likes
“True, the imperfection of biological evolution’, I began, but he didn’t let me finish. ‘Imperfection?!’ he snorted. ‘Droppings! Trash! An outright botch-job! If you can’t do something right, you shouldn’t do it at all!’ ‘Not that I want to make excuses’, I said quickly, ‘but Nature, don’t forget, worked with what it had at hand. In the primordial sea …’ ‘Garbage floated!!’ he roared so loud, I winced. ‘Isn’t that right? A star exploded, planets formed, and from the dregs, which couldn’t be used for anything, from those gobbets and scraps life arose! Enough, no more! No more of these pudgy suns, inane galaxies, this mucilage that has a soul – enough!” 1 likes
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