Sunday, January 18, 2009
Now who the hell wrote that story about ….
I’m half-remembering an old SF story, which I’m half-remembering was even discussed here at the Valve - or was it over at CT? - about a scientist who builds what is basically a machine for interpreting all of literature. The joke being that this machine-product interpretation isn’t ultimately interpretable - surveyable - by mere mortals. So what’s the point, from our perspective? (A bit like finding out that the answer to the question was 42, per Douglas Adams.) Does anyone remember who the author is, and what the title is? I’m sure it’s early 20th Century, nothing very recent.
Are you sure that this isn’t the short story about the guy who decides to preserve musical scores by transcribing them into the DNA of insects and larger animals? In that one, evolution (very unrealistically) quickly turns his benign creatures into claw-and-fang killers, like ordinary animals, and when he plays the musical score back by feeding their DNA into the transcription machine, it comes out as horrible noise. Was it that one?
If I recall correctly, this is from Stanislaw Lem’s The Cyberiad.
Nope. That one is PK Dick. “The Preserving Machine”. Good story, though.
Sounds like something Jorge Luis Borges would write.
The Preserving Machine is a collection of stories, and nothing in the Wikipedia suggests the same plot. Could this be something by Calvino?
Nope. It’s definitely a story of that title, in that collection. (Wikipedia oughta know better. I’m surprised.)
It is a little Calvino-esque, though I think far too sci-fi to have actually been written by him. You may be thinking of the machine in If on a winter’s night a traveller, which “writes” literature by assembling words, sentences and paragraphs into books within certain parameters, supposedly negating the need for authors. As you would expect, the resulting books are appalling.
That’s a good guess, Evie. But I know that one and it isn’t the one I’m thinking of. Maybe I just dreamed the one I’m thinking of.
"If I recall correctly, this is from Stanislaw Lem’s The Cyberiad. “
I guess it could be Cyberiad. I should go look at that one again. But somehow I think I remember it being something else. Something I didn’t read as part of a whole book. I’m sure Trurl and Claupatious, or whatever their names are, weren’t directly involved.
No, the story from The Cyberiad was “Trurl’s Electronic Bard”, about a machine designed to write poetry.
You’re looking for Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers, unless you were thinking of something predating 1995.
This rings a bell with me too, but distantly, and I’m only salivating a little bit. I don’t think Calvino, or Lem; I think Asimov, but I can’t remember which one. I’ll see if I can dig something up.
“Klapaucius” was the second one’s name.
Well, I haven’t read Galatea, but I liked Three Farmers.
"Trurl’s Electronic Bard” was a great story, but I agree that it doesn’t sound like the one John describes.
It does sound Lem-y, though, doesn’t it?
Weirdly (given that I can’t remember who it’s by) I have a strong sense of it having written by a British writer who wasn’t primarily an SF writer. (Like the Edward Gorey joke about not remembering which book a quote comes from, but it had a green cover and the quote was on the bottom half of a left-hand facing page. A peculiar sort of literary synaesthetic certainty.)
I thought it might be one of Asimov’s Multivac stories; but a quick scan through them doesn’t throw up any likely candidates.
Clarke’s ‘The Nine Billion Names of God’ ?
No, not Clarke’s story. John, if you ever figure out what story you’re thinking of, I hope you let us know b/c it’s been nagging at me.