‘The First Sally (A) or Trurl’s Electronic Bard’ by Stanisław Lem, translated by Michael Kandel

Pulling together my own personal anthology of short stories made me think for the first time in a really long time about the world literature textbook I had in my first year of high school, which is when I first started reading literature from a lot of different places and not just those interminable books about boys and their dogs they make you read in middle school (Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller). It was in this textbook, which I loved, that I came across Stanislaw Lem, through his story ‘The First Sally (A) or Trurl’s Electronic Bard’. I thought it was so hilarious that I immediately borrowed The Cyberiad from the bookstore where I worked. (I was surprised they had it, because it was a bookstore in a suburban mall full of Oprah’s picks and true crime and Christian books.) I was more into the absurd as a teenager than I am now, but I have a lot of nostalgia for the adventures of Trurl and Klapaucius, two robotic engineers who go on adventures across the universe. And literature-writing machines, the subject of this story, have been on my mind since I read John Seabrook’s piece in the Oct 14 New Yorker, ‘The Next Word: Where will predictive text take us?

First published in Polish in 1965. First published in English in The Cyberiad – Fables for the Cybernetic Age, Secker and Warburg, 1975. Currently available from Penguin Modern Classics, 2014

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