My reactions to this book were fairly scattered because I felt like it addressed numerous themes and did so in interesting and unusual ways, but I wasn’t sure that I had the necessary context to be able to fully realize what these themes were referencing or cross-referencing in the real world.
Throughout the book there was a sense of justified antiauthoritarianism, most obviously in Lem’s depiction of King’s and other authority figures. In general, robots in positions of authority were ignorant and gullible, never wholly capable of committing good or acting out of anything other than their own self-interest. This is exemplified during the story called “The Fifth Sally or the Mischief of King Balerion,” when the King trades bodies with other people from the kingdom and completely abuses the privileges that that affords him, only to wind up repenting with a taxing job which, Lem editorializes, “was Justice done.” Although this thematic dissidence is so obvious and consistent, making it almost not worth analyzing, it is remarkable within the framework of Soviet-occupied Poland, where Lem would surely have been considered revolutionary if he had expressed his discontent with totalitarianism and brute force in a more covert manner.
One thing that definitely struck me was what an unusual and interesting hero Trurl proves to be – I think he is certainly presupposed as a hero in many of these stories, and his unheroic acts are frequently a result of ignorance or accidence. In “The Seventh Sally” Trurl comes across a planet with a single lonely and despairing individual on it, Excelsius the Tartarian, rule of Pancreon and Cyspenderora (**sidenote: how do these crazy names translate in Polish? are they just as odd?). Excelsius requests the restoration of his former position. “Trurl had no intention of complying with this request of Excelsius, as doing so would bring about untold evil and suffering, yet at the same time he wished somehow to comfort and console the humiliated king” (162). Trurl’s motives are good, but his actions propel us into one of the most profound conflicts in this novel: the question of what makes a being living. This was by far my favorite part of the book because it raised really significant questions that can be applied at all levels of our own terrestrial reality, but through a whimsical fictional framework. Trurl ends up creating a miniature world, a model of Excelsius’s world with all of its qualities in place, only scaled down. Klapaucius, upon being told of this by Trurl, is infuriated and aghast. He argues that Trurl “took an untold number of creatures capable of suffering and abandoned them forever to the rule of a wicked tyrant” (168). Trurl feels that the scale of the civilization, and the fact of it having been programmed entirely by him, disqualifies it from being treated with the same degree of humanity and existential consideration as a civilization on, say, Earth. Klapaucius embodies the equitable perspective of a radical animal rights activist – he argues that the citizens of the civilization are able to suffer, they live out full lives regardless of their scale, they are self-organizing, and above all, they are their own reality, no matter how or why they originated. “A sufferer is not one who hands you his suffering that you may touch it… a sufferer is one who behaves like a sufferer!” Klapaucius argues.
I thought this whole passage had two major earthly implications. One, that on a fundamental level, all of Earth and all of humanity, is merely electrons in space, but that this in no way renders us irrelevant or less significant or less alive. Two, the ending – that as the creation, we have the power to take our creator captive. That the agency that our very existence imbues us with is enough for empower us to be the rulers of our own humanity.