Book Review – “Mortal Engines”

If you know any robots that need to grow up to be good citizens, these stories should help guide them on their way.

General Information

Title: Mortal Engines
Author: Stanislaw Lem
Original Publication Date: 1992 collection of material published from
1971 to 1976.
ISBN: 0-15-662161-4
Cover Price: $8.95 US
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All of these short stories deal with robots in some capacity. The
first eleven are “Fables for Robots,” the twelfth (“The Sanitarium of
Dr. Vliperdius”) is a visit to a robot sanitarium, the thirteenth
(“The Hunt”) is about tracking down a dangerous robot, and the
fourteenth and final story (“The Mask”) is a new spin on the
Frankenstein story.

High Point

“Uranium Earpieces,” the second story.

Low Point

“The Sanitarium of Dr. Vliperdius.” This story has no plot; a guy
(Ijon Tichy, a character Lem used in other stories) visits insane
robots, learns about their psychoses, and then goes home. It seemed
pretty pointless.

The Scores

The guy wrote fables for robots. I’ve never seen fables targeted at
anyone but humans before. The fact that his main characters are all
robots are all robots also gives him the freedom to do things with his
characters that other authors haven’t done. That’s original
enough for a 5 out of 6; it’s not a perfect score, since some of the
morals are very similar or identical to traditional fables.

The imagery was very good. I rarely had difficultly
imagining these very bizarre worlds that were being created. It
wasn’t as detailed as Tolkien’s work, but it had the details it
needed. I give it 5 out of 6.

The stories told were usually excellent. The story chosen as
the low point has no plot, though, which was somewhat disorienting. I
give it 5 out of 6, because 13 out of 14 short stories were very well

The characterization was clear, but almost always one
dimensional. This is perfectly understandable in fables, since the
characters often represent a particular mindset, and don’t have any
other defining characteristics to get in the way. I give it 3 out of

The emotional response is excellent. Some of the stories are
poignant, some are hilarious, and others have wonderful twists at the
end. I give it 6 out of 6.

The editing was pretty good. There were no wasted words,
which is good when you’re dealing with short stories. The scenes
included were all essential for moving the plot along (with the
exceptions of every scene in “The Sanitarium of Dr. Vliperdius”) and
they were always well transitioned as the story progressed. I give it
6 out of 6.

Overall, this was a very good collection. I was somehow
expecting more, but that’s probably because I loved The
Futurological Congress
so much, and this didn’t quite measure up
to that standard. (That was my first exposure to this author.
Mortal Engines was my second.) I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, Mortal Engines receives 34 out of 42.

Additional Notes and Comments

My next few book reviews will almost certainly all be textbook
reviews, since that’s all I can really make time to read before the
term ends. (I’ll still slip in comic reviews, since I can read those
while sitting in the doctor’s office after getting my allergy shots
every week.) The next textbook reviewed will be An Introduction
To The Standard Model of Particle Physics
by W. N. Cottingham and
D. A. Greenwood. Other potential future reviews are listed here. You
can reach me in the comments here, in an e-mail, or by ICQ (my number is
24893016) if you want to place a request for May’s review(s).

2 replies on “Book Review – “Mortal Engines””

  1. Feel I should say at least something. :)
    The only Lem I’m familiar with is Solaris. I take it that the translation from Polish -> English went much better than the translation from Polish -> French -> English?

    I’ll have to go pick this up – heard lots of things about it over the years, due to the subject matter (“fables for robots”).

    • Re: Feel I should say at least something. :)

      The only Lem I’m familiar with is Solaris. I take it that the translation from Polish -> English went much better than the translation from Polish -> French -> English?

      I was shocked at how well the translation worked. Some of the fables have punchlines that are puns based on cliches, and they work in English in the context of the story. Either the Polish and English languages share cliches, or the translator did an amazing job.

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