My Three Wishes
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“Dream in the Night”, Alphonse Osbert, 1895
Fiction

My Three Wishes

Stanisław Lem
Reading
time 12 minutes

A year ago, I was approached by the Munich-based publisher Matthes und Seitz with a request for an answer to the following question, which they had put to various well-known figures, mainly West Germans: how would I react to the news that aliens from outer space had landed on the planet Earth? I didn’t want to take part in their survey, so I wrote back explaining that I don’t believe such an event is at all possible, and I’d rather not make up my own reaction to an impossibility. The publisher included a photocopy of my letter in a book containing the responses to the question, which was very funny, considering that everyone else they had asked had provided an answer, and the only person to have refused was the writer who makes a living out of science fiction. So began my collaboration with this publisher, who in early spring this year came up with another survey. This time they included plenty of people from outside Germany too. We were asked to reveal our three most personal wishes, regardless whether or not they could possibly come true, and so we were in the position of a child with a fairy godmother. My answer was published in a book titled Inseln im Ich: Ein Buch der Wünsche (“Islands in Myself: A Book of Wishes”). It was sincere enough for me to publish it now, translated back into Polish (as I wrote the original version in German). I should add that this gave me my first taste of the problems that usually fall to the lot of my translators, because while they work themselves to death translating my Polish neologisms into foreign languages, this time I had to devise equivalents in Polish for the things I had made up in German.

***

To take full advantage of the right I’ve been given to have three wishes come true, I shall start with a plain impossibility, and shall finish by plumbing the depths to produce the most impossible wish imaginable. This advance warning might sound surprising, because things that are impossible aren’t usually ranked on a scale. But that’s an error arising from the appalling lack of a general theory about how dreams come true, and thus a theory for which the border between the feasible and the unfeasible is a mere trifle. This will be shown in my effort below, which covers various degrees of impossibility.

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My first wish is fairly modest. It involves the gradual elimination of telling lies in political and public life. Lying flourishes in both democratic and totalitarian states – in the former lies are given the same rights as the truth, and in the latter the government propagates them, with censorship in a supporting role. My wish can be fulfilled without directly infringing on these circumstances. All that’s needed is a two-way connection between public lie-telling and the liar. As a result, they will reveal their intentions to the community they’re

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The Hunt
i
Drawing by Marek Raczkowski
Fiction

The Hunt

Stanisław Lem’s Unknown Story
Stanisław Lem

Racing across mountains and remote backwoods, a solitary figure is on the run from a team of heavily armed hunters. Will he manage to get away? This translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones was specially commissioned to coincide with the first publication in “Przekrój” Quarterly of this previously unknown story by the great master of science fiction.

He’d run about a mile by now, but wasn’t even hot yet. The pine trees were sparser here. Their tall trunks shot up vertically, at a sharp angle to the sloping hillside veiled in gloom, out of which he could hear, now softer, now louder, the rushing of a stream. Or maybe a river. He wasn’t familiar with this area. He didn’t know where he was running to. He was just running. For a while now he hadn’t seen any blackish traces of bonfires at the small clearings he’d passed, or scraps of coloured packaging, trodden into the grass, drenched by the rain and then dried by the sun over and over again. It looked as if no one ever came out here, because there weren’t any roads, and the vistas on view from the open spaces weren’t interesting. There was forest everywhere, with green splashes of beech trees, then a darker and darker colour towards the peaks; the only thing that showed white against it were the insides of snapped tree trunks. The wind had toppled them, or they’d fallen from old age. Whenever they blocked his path, he focused his eyesight keenly to see if it was worth the effort of jumping over, or if it might be better to push his way underneath, between the dry, broom-like branches.

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