Jon J Muth’s adaptation of “The Star Diaries”

We are thrilled, as Jon J Muth is a renowned author of graphic novels and the recipient of many awards. His work based on one of Tolstoy’s stories was called “quietly life-changing” by the New York Times Book Review.

Delicately washed panel artwork by Caldecott Honoree Muth (Zen Shorts) underscores the hilarity of late Polish author Lem’s short story, originally published in 1957. Unable to repair his spaceship’s rudder alone, astronaut Ijon Tichy enjoys a “modest supper,” works some calculations, and heads to bed. (Readers will note with amusement the spacecraft’s cozy domestic fixtures: striped pajamas and pink oven mitts, an overstuffed armchair and fully equipped kitchen.) He’s awakened by another astronaut (“We’re going out and screwing on the rudder bolts”), but as there is no other astronaut—Tichy is the only one aboard—he dismisses the second as a phantom. Slowly the situation becomes clear: Tichy has entered a time loop, and the other astronaut is Tichy himself, as he exists 24 hours in the future. Lem follows the idea into absurdity as the Tichys multiply (“I saw my Monday self staring at me… while Tuesday me fried an omelet”), then descend into slapstick chaos, beginning to “quarrel, argue, bicker, and debate.” Though the multiple iterations may feel chaotic for some, Kandel’s translation and Muth’s art imbue the original with a crystalline, humorous clarity and delight. Ages 8–12. (Oct.)
Stanislaw Lem, illus. by Jon J Muth, trans. from the Polish by Michael Kandel. Graphix, $19.99 (80p) ISBN 978-0-545-00462-6

Solaris opera, directed by Detlev Glanert

solaris opera glanert
Photo from the opera “Solaris”, directed by Detlev Glanert, premiered at the Bregenz Festival (2012).

I was close to the circular chamber from which corridors branched off like the spokes of a wheel. As I was passing a narrow side hallway leading, I think, to the bathrooms, I caught sight of a large, indistinct figure that almost merged into the background.

I stood rooted to the ground. From the far end of the side passage a huge black woman was coming towards me with an unhurried waddling gait. I saw the whites of her eyes glinting and at almost exactly the same moment I heard the soft slap of her bare feet. She had nothing on but a skirt that glistened yellow, as if it were made of straw. She had massive pendulous breasts, and her black arms were as thick as a normal person’s thighs. She passed three feet from me without so much as a glance and walked off, her elephantine rump swaying like one of those steatopygic Stone Age sculptures found in anthropological museums. At the place where the corridor curved, she turned to the side and disappeared into Gibarian’s cabin. When she opened the door, for a split second she stood in the brighter light coming from inside. Then the door closed softly and I was on my own. I took my left wrist in my right hand and squeezed with all my might, till the bones cracked. I looked around distractedly. What had just happened? What had that been? All at once, as if I’d been struck, I recalled Snaut’s warning. What was it supposed to mean? Who had that monstrous Aphrodite been? Where had she come from? I took one, only one, step towards Gibarian’s cabin, and froze. I knew only too well I wasn’t going to go in there. I sniffed the air with flared nostrils. Something was wrong, something was out of place. That was it! I’d instinctively expected the distinct, repulsive odor of her sweat, but even when she passed a couple of feet from me I hadn’t smelled a thing.

“Solaris”, translated by Bill Johnston

A Kingdom in the Box

Will Right, the creator of The Sims game, was inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s “The Cyberiad”.

cyberiad stanislaw lemThe “Seventh Sally or How Trurl’s Own Perfection Led to No Good” tells the story of Trurl the Constructor, who during one of his sallies met a frustrated king. The grumpy monarch has been deposed by his subjects because of his purported cruelty and left alone on a desert asteroid.  Trurl wanted to cheer his up and decided to build a special toy for him: a miniature kingdom to rule.

And so, rolling up his sleeves and summoning up all his mastery, Trurl built the king an entirely new kingdom. There were plenty of towns, rivers, mountains, forests and brooks, a sky with clouds, armies full of derring-do, citadels, castles and ladies’ chambers; and there were marketplaces, gaudy and gleaming in the sun, days of back-breaking labor, nights full of dancing and song until dawn, and the gay clatter of swordplay. Trurl also carefully set into this kingdom a fabulous capital, all in marble and alabaster, and assembled a council of hoary sages, and winter palaces and summer villas, plots, conspirators, false witnesses, nurses, informers, teams of magnificent steeds, and plumes waving crimson in the wind; and then he crisscrossed that atmosphere with silver fanfares and twenty-one gun salutes, also threw in the necessary handful of traitors, another of heroes, added a pinch of prophets and seers, and one messiah and one great poet each, after which he bent over and set the works in motion, deftly making last-minute adjustments with his microscopic tools as it ran, and he gave the women of that kingdom beauty, the men—sullen silence and surliness when drunk, the officials—arrogance and servility, the astronomers—an enthusiasm for stars, and the children—a great capacity for noise.

Trurl equipped the miniature kingdom with knobs to adjust and control that allowed to issue edicts and regulations — so that the monarch would feel at home again.

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