Synopsis fail: if you despise sci-fi, why are you writing about sci-fi?


La voce del padrone

So today, I was browsing the Italian Kobo site, since they have a promotion going on awarded books. A lot them were translation from English, which I avoid, so I looked for anything that wasn’t originally written in English. I was intrigued by the cover of La Voce del Padrone (English title: His Master’s Voice, by Stanislaw Lem), so I clicked on it and read the synopsis.
Oh, boy. Oh, the salt.
Don’t you just hate it when a synopsis is completely unable to tell you what the book is actually about? You know, what the plot is? It was so egregious, I just have to share.

Note: this is a classic sci-fi novel, from the same author of Solaria. It was written in 1968, but apparently never translated into Italian until this year.

Note 2: this synopsis was used on the Italian publisher’s site (in a shortened version) and on the Kobo site. Goodreads has a much better one, but it’s impossible to say if it was put on the site by the publisher.

“Before Stanislaw Lem wrote his masterpieces, the sci-fi imagery was hostage of its own perishable excesses, that is to say, of extraordinary devices, of sidereal and unfailingly menacing abysses, of mathematical abstrusities. It was an enjoyable arsenal, but technological innovation and real science – not the fantastical one – quickly made it obsolete. Lem, instead, managed to build perfect narrative machines that don’t get old, and thus he granted science fiction a place within Literature.”

So. Many. Terrible. Things. I. Hate. In. Two. Sentences (it was 2 in the original Italian). To whom is this book even marketed? Isn’t it marketed to sci-fi readers? It’s sci-fi. You can’t sell sci-fi to pretentious assholes who think sci-fi is – le GASP!! – not True Literature. This sci-fi book synopsis was written by someone who thinks sci-fi doesn’t deserve to be considered Literature. Imagine the disconnect. Because True Literature is Serious Business, and apparently imagination and space exploration and whatever aren’t. Also: the ghost of Mary Shelley, Patron Saint and Founder of sci-fi, is going to haunt this guy’s nightmares. I am not going to subject you to more of this flowery, ridiculous prose, but I’m leaving you this:

“Of course, the novel’s plot is still put into motion by the mystery of a message from space, like in a genre novel, but the main focus remains the overwhelming scenario that is created in the effort to decipher the message itself.”

Because genre novels are bad and they stink. Holy Mother of Salt, I don’t know what I hate more about this: the fact that it shits on hard sci-fi authors (who definitely don’t write about fantastical science), the fact that it shits on soft sci-fi authors (guess what, you can explore a number of human issues even when the narrative context is made-up?? Who knew?? I must wonder what this guy thinks of, I dunno, Greek tragedies, or the Odissey, or the Divine Comedy, or Paradise Lost), or the fact that it doesn’t actually explain what the plot is more than “it starts with a message from space”. No, seriously. It’s much longer than this, and completely, utterly useless. The only thing it says about the actual plot is the same thing you can understand from reading the cover, where it’s written, “who’s sending us messages from space?”


Captain Clo


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