Anxious to avoid a war that would destroy the entire planet, the major powers of Earth have come to an ingenious compromise. Each country sends a force of adaptable, self-programming robots to the surface of the moon to play out the conflict there and, hopefully, reach a mutually agreeable stalemate. But when the robots stop responding, it is up to Ijon Tichy to travel to the lunar war zone and discover what went wrong.
Tichy finds what he needs to know, but falls victim to an attack that severs the left and right sides of his brain: one of which knows nothing about the status of the moon, the other of which isn’t telling. Now Tichy finds himself at the center of a new sort of war of attrition, with each world power clamoring for his knowledge and each half of his stubborn brain clamoring for control.
Wry and action-packed in equal measure, Stanislaw Lem’s absurd, insightful sendup of the Cold War is required reading for any fan of science fiction. Here, “humor and a breathless pace create a delightful and thought-provoking read” (Publishers Weekly).
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I don't know what to do. If I could say "I'm miserable," it wouldn't be so bad. I can't say "We're miserable" either because I can only partly speak for myself even though I'm still Ijon Tichy. I used to talk to myself while I shaved but I had to stop because of my left eye's lewd winking. Coming back in the LEM, I didn't realize what happened to me just before lift-off. The LEM, by the way, doesn't have anything to do with the American NASA module manned by Armstrong and Aldrin to collect a couple of moon rocks, it was given the same name to disguise my secret mission. Damn that mission. When I returned from the Calf constellation, I intended to stay put for at least a year. But I agreed to go for the sake of mankind. I knew I might not come back. Doctor Lopez said my chance of survival was one in twenty point eight. That didn't stop me: I'm a gambler. You only die once. Either I come back or I don't, I said to myself. It never occurred to me that I might come back but not come back because we would come back. To explain I'll have to release some highly classified information but I don't care. That is, partly. I'm writing this too only partly and with great difficulty, typing with the right hand. The left I had to tie to the arm of the chair because it kept tearing the paper out of the machine. It wouldn't listen to reason, and while I was immobilizing it, it punched me in the eye. It's because of the doubling. Our brains all have two hemispheres connected by the corpus callosum or great commissure. Two hundred million white nerve fibers connect the brain so it can put its thoughts together but not in my case. It happened on that range where the moon robots tested their new weapons. I stumbled in there by mistake. I'd accomplished my mission, had outsmarted those unliving creatures, and was on my way back to the LEM when I had to urinate. There are no urinals on the moon. They wouldn't work anyway in a vacuum. You have a little container in your suit, just like Armstrong and Aldrin, so you can relieve yourself anytime, anywhere, but somehow I couldn't, not there in the full sun in the middle of the Sea of Serenity. Not far from me was a solitary boulder. I went over to its shadow. How was I to know there was an ultrasound-inducing field there? While I'm urinating, I feel this little snap. Like a crack in the neck, only higher, in the middle of the skull. It was a remote callotomy. It didn't hurt. I felt funny but the feeling passed and I continued on my way. The strangeness I attributed to an understandable excitement, considering all I had been through. The right hand is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain. That's why I said I was writing only partly. My right hemisphere obviously doesn't approve of what I'm writing. And I can't say "I'm writing"— it's my left hemisphere that's writing. I'll have to reach some compromise with the opposition because I can't sit forever with my hand tied. I've tried to appease it but nothing works. It's arrogant, aggressive, vulgar. Fortunately it can read only certain parts of speech, nouns mainly. I know this because I've been reading up on the subject. It doesn't understand verbs or adjectives, so while it's watching I have to express myself carefully. Will this work? I don't know. And why is it that all the civilized behavior is in the left hemisphere?
On the moon too I was supposed to land only partly, but in an entirely different sense, because it was before the accident, before I was doubled. I was supposed to circle the moon in stationary orbit, the reconnaissance to be accomplished by my remote, which even looked like me except it was plastic with antennas. I sit in LEM 1 and LEM 2 lands with the remote. Those war robots hate people. They will kill at the drop of a hat. At least that's what I was told. But LEM 2 malfunctioned and I decided to land to see what was going on because I was still in contact with it. Sitting in LEM 1, I suddenly had severe stomach pains, not in the flesh, that is, but by radio because, as I learned after landing, they broke LEM 2's hatch cover, grabbed the remote, and pulled out its insides. I couldn't disconnect because if I did, my stomach might stop hurting but I'd lose all contact with my remote and wouldn't be able to locate it. The Sea of Serenity, where the attack took place, is like the Sahara. Also, I got the wires mixed because even though each wire is a different color there are too many of them and I couldn't find the emergency instructions. Trying to find them with a stomachache made me so mad that instead of calling Earth I decided to land, even though I'd been warned I shouldn't do that under any circumstances. But retreat just isn't in my nature. Besides, the remote may have been only a machine stuffed with circuitry but I couldn't leave it in the clutches of those robots.
I see that the more I explain, the less clear it gets. I should probably begin at the beginning. Except I don't know what the beginning was because most of it is remembered in the right hemisphere, which I can't get to now. There's a lot I don't remember, and in order to obtain even a little of that information I have to speak to my left hand with my right in sign language but it doesn't always answer. The left hand gives me the finger for example, and that's one of its more polite indications of a difference of opinion.
I'd like to give it a good smack but the problem is, while the right hand is stronger than the left, the legs are equal, and what's worse, I have a corn on the little toe of my right foot and the left foot knows about it. When that trouble started on the bus and I shoved my left hand forcibly into my pocket, its foot took revenge by stomping on the com so hard, I saw stars. I don't know if it's a loss of intelligence caused by the doubling but I can see I'm writing nonsense. The foot of my left hand is, of course, my left foot. There are times my unfortunate body falls into two enemy camps.
I interrupted my writing to kick myself. That is, my left foot kicked my right so it wasn't I, or it was only partly I, but grammar simply can't describe this situation. I started taking off my shoes but stopped. A person, even in such straits, shouldn't make a fool of himself. Was I supposed to twist my own arm to learn what the problem was with the wires and the emergency instructions? True, I had beaten myself in the past but the circumstances were different. Once in that time loop, when the today me was against the yesterday me, and once to counteract the poison of the benignimizers in that hotel in Costa Rica. I had beaten myself black and blue, but remained myself, indivisible. It wasn't so unusual. Didn't people in the Middle Ages flog themselves? But no one now can put himself in my shoes. It's impossible. I can't even say that there are two of me because there aren't. Or there are but only partly. If you want to know what happened to me, you'll have to read this whole story, word by word, even when it doesn't make sense. The sense will come, though probably not completely because you can get to the bottom of it only by callotomy, just as you can't know what it's like to be an otter, say, or a turtle without being turned into an otter or a turtle, and then you can't communicate it because animals don't talk or write. Normal people, of which I was one most of my life, don't understand how a split-brain person can be himself and look like himself and speak about himself in the first person singular and walk normally and talk coherently while his right hemisphere doesn't know what his left hemisphere is doing (except for mushroom barley soup in my case). Some say that callotomy must have existed in Biblical times because it is written that the left hand needn't know what the right hand is doing, but I always thought that was a figure of speech.
One character followed me for two months trying to wring the truth out of me. He would visit me at the most uncivil hours to ask me how many of me there really were. The medical textbooks I gave him didn't help him any more than they had helped me. I loaned him the books only to get rid of him. How did I meet him? I had gone to buy shoes without laces, the kind with Velcro on the top, because if my left side didn't want to go for a walk, it was impossible to tie my shoes. As soon as I'd tie a shoe, my left hand would untie it. So I went to buy a pair of running shoes with Velcro fasteners, not that I'm one of those jogging types, I just wanted to teach the right hemisphere of my brain a lesson because at that time I couldn't communicate with it at all and I was furious and covered with bruises. I muttered something to the salesman to excuse my erratic behavior which wasn't actually mine. Then, as he knelt before me with the shoehorn, I grabbed his nose with my left hand. My left hand, that is, grabbed his nose, and I tried to explain this to him, the difference, figuring that even if he thought I was deranged (how could a shoe salesman know anything about callotomy?) he would still sell me the shoes. No reason for a madman to go barefoot. Unfortunately the salesman was a philosophy student working part-time in the shoe store and he was fascinated.
"Mr. Tichy!" he now yelled in my apartment. "According to logic, you're either singular or you're plural! If your right hand is pulling up your pants and the left hand interferes, it means that behind each stands a separate half of the brain that thinks its own thoughts and refuses to cooperate with the other. Because hands and feet don't go around fighting each other on their own!"
That's when I gave him the Gazzanigi. The best research done on the split brain and the results of that operation are in Professor Gazzanigi's book, The Bisected Brain, published in 1970 by Appleton Century Crofts, Educational Division, at the Meredith Corporation, and may my brain never grow together again if I'm inventing Michael Gazzanigi or his father to whom he dedicated his monograph and whose name is Dante Achilles Gazzanigi, also a doctor (M.D.). If you don't believe me, go to the nearest medical bookstore and ask for a copy.
The man who hounded me asking over and over what it's like living as two learned nothing from me. All he accomplished was to drive both my hemispheres to unanimous fury because I grabbed him with both hands by the neck and threw him out the door. This brief armistice of my dissociated being sometimes occurs, but I don't know why.
The young philosopher then telephoned me in the middle of the night, hoping that half-asleep I would spill my incredible secret. He asked me, ignoring the colorful language I was hurling at him, to place the receiver first to the left ear then to the right. He said it wasn't his questions that were idiotic but the state I was in, which defied all anthropological and existential concepts of man as a rational being conscious of his own rationality. He'd probably just finished his finals, that philosophy student, because he threw Hegel at me and Descartes (I think therefore I am, not we think therefore we are), and Husserl and Heidegger, to prove that my condition was impossible because it contradicted the greatest minds who for thousands of years, beginning with the Greeks, studied the conscious ego, and here comes someone with a severed commissure of the brain, as fit as a fiddle except his right hand doesn't know what his left hand is doing, likewise with the legs, and while some experts say that he has consciousness on the left side only and that the right is a soulless computer, others believe he has two consciousnesses but the right one can't speak because the Broca's area is in the left frontal lobe, but a third group proposes two partially separated egos. "You can't jump off a train in pieces," he yelled at me, "or die in pieces, and you can't think in pieces either!" I stopped throwing him out because I felt sorry for him. In his desperation he tried to bribe me. Eight hundred and forty dollars, he swore that was all he had, what he'd saved for a vacation with his girl, but he was prepared to part with it and with her as well if I told him who was thinking with my right hemisphere when I didn't know what it was thinking. I sent him to Professor Eccles, an advocate of left brain consciousness who believes the right side doesn't think at all, but the student didn't buy that, knowing that I had painstakingly taught sign language to my right hemisphere. He wanted me to go to Eccles and tell him he was wrong. The student now read medical papers instead of going to his classes in the evening. Learning that the nerve pathways are crossed, he searched through the fattest textbooks to find out why in the hell that crossing happened so that the right brain controls the left half of the body and vice versa, but of course there was no answer to that question. The crossing either benefits us as human beings, he reasoned, or it doesn't. He read books by psychiatrists and found one who said that consciousness is in the left hemisphere and the subconscious in the right, but I was able to get that notion out of his head. I had read more than he, naturally. Tired of struggling with myself and now with this student burning with the thirst for knowledge, I left, I fled to New York — and jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
I rented a studio apartment near Manhattan and took the subway or bus to the public library to read Yozatitz, Werner, Tucker, Woods, Shapiro, Riklana, Schwartz, Szwarc, and Shvarts, and Sai-Mai-Halassza, Rossi, Lish-man, Kenyon, Harvey, Fischer, Cohen, Brumbach, and about thirty different Rappaports. Almost every trip caused a scene, because I pinched the prettier women, particularly blondes. It was my left hand of course that did the pinching but try to explain that in a few words. Now and then I was slapped in the face, but the worst part was that most of the women accosted didn't seem to mind at all. On the contrary they considered it an overture, a pass, which was the last thing on my mind.
I could see I was getting nowhere trying to extricate myself single-handed from this nightmare, so I finally contacted a group of leading authorities in the field. These scientists were only too happy to study me. I was examined, x-rayed, scanned, subjected to positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, covered by four hundred electrodes, strapped to a special chair, and asked to look through a slit at pictures of apples, dogs, forks, combs, old people, tables, mice, mushrooms, cigars, glasses, nude women, and babies, after which they told me what I already knew: that when they showed me a billiard ball so that only my left hemisphere could see it and at the same time put my right hand into a bag with many objects, I wasn't able to choose the ball, and vice versa. They said I was an uninteresting case, but I said nothing about the sign language. I wanted, after all, to learn something about myself from them; I didn't care about adding to their knowledge.
I turned then to Professor'S. Turteltaub, a loner, but instead of shedding light on my condition all he did was tell me what a pack of wolves, thieves, and parasites all the others were. Thinking his contempt for them was on scientific grounds, I listened with interest, but Turteltaub, it turned out, was angry only because they had rejected his project. The last time I saw Drs. Globus and Savodnisky, or whatever their names were — there were so many of them — they were offended when I told them I was seeing Dr. Turteltaub. They informed me that he had been expelled from their research group on ethical grounds. Turteltaub wanted to offer murderers sentenced to death or life imprisonment the chance to submit to callotomy instead. He argued that since callotomization was performed only on severe epileptics, it was not known whether the effect of cutting the commissure would be the same in normal people. And a normal man sentenced to the electric chair for murdering his mother-in-law, for example, would certainly prefer to have his corpus callosum cut. But Supreme Court Judge Klössenfanger spoke against this, because if Turteltaub murdered his mother-in-law in cold blood, that could be the decision of his left hemispherealone, the right hemisphere knowing nothing about it, or knowing and protesting but being overruled, and if the murder occurred anyway after such an inner conflict, it would be difficult indeed to condemn one hemisphere while exonerating the other. In effect fifty-percent of the murderer would be sentenced to death.
Excerpted from "Peace On Earth"
Copyright © 1987 Stanislaw Lem, Kraków.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
The Lunar Agency,
About the Author,
Connect with HMH,