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Lem and Szulkin

I had suspected for some time now that the Cosmic Command, obviously no longer able to supervise every assignment on an individual basis when there were literally trillions of matters in its charge, had switched over to a random system. The assumption would be that every document, circulating endlessly from desk to desk, must eventually hit upon the right one. A time-consuming procedure, perhaps, but one that would never fail. The universe iteself operated on the same principle. And for an institution as everlasting as the universe - certainly our Building was such an institution - the speed at which these meanderings and perturbations took place was of no consequence.

Watching Piotr Szulkin's nuclear holocaust film O-Bi, O-Ba - The End of Civilization I was strongly reminded of Stanislaw Lem's Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, his post-apocalyptic retelling of The Castle. On a further reread, I found many similarities.

Both works present a survivalist population living in an underground bunker after some sort of catastrophe has destroyed civilization and made life above-ground untenable. In Memoirs, it is a strange substance from space, like an abiotic bacteria, that reduces all paper to dust almost overnight, and the central government and military leadership of America retreat to their carved-out-mountain bunker. A few generations later, the survivors have developed a paranoid hysteria about protecting The Building from the enemy and his spies, who they assume must be everywhere.

In O-Bi, O-Ba, it was a nuclear war, that occured one year before the time the story takes place, and two thousand people managed to get to this particular underground shelter.

Both bunkers are in the control of paranoid miliary commanders who will invent conflict as they find it necessary. In Memoirs:

Your mission. Conduct an on-the-spot investigation. Verify. Search. Destroy. Incite. Inform.

And in O-Bi, O-Ba, the main character's commander:

I wish we had a police force here. You'll never grasp principles.

But more importantly, life in both bunkers is completely dedicated to a mythological entity. In Memoirs, there is talk of vast inter-galactic intrigue (completely non-existant) and a remote Anti-Building, the fictional enemy's base. In O-Bi, O-Ba, there is an enemy, the Booroos, who most likely does not exist either. Sometimes this comes through as practical scheming - in Memoirs the main character is searching for the plans that describe his mission and it is finally explained to him that there are millions of contradictory plans, and no one knows which one is "real" - if that can even be said of any of them. In O-Bi, O-Ba, the leaders spread a rumour of an Ark that will be coming to rescue them all and take them somewhere safe, then officially deny it and try to repress it. The main character admits that in order to get the people to initially flee to the bunker they started the rumour:

All rational, official methods proved useless. There was only one choice left: invoking a myth, faith, manipulation.

While simultaneously their PA system in the public areas constantly repeats the message:

The Ark does not exist and will never arrive. Don't believe in hearsay, witchcraft and superstitions.

But most of the time the deception regarding these myths goes well beyond shrewd manipulation, and into self-delusion territory. In Memoirs, the main character meets a fellow spy who has become cynical of their mission, and finds that he doesn't even care if the enemy exists any more, he just wants something to do:

"So you're not a spy?"

"Who says I'm not? Who says I am? Give me something spiable, why don't you!"

While in O-Bi, O-Ba, a character is caught planting taunting flyers allegedly from the enemy Booroos. He explains that he does it to give the target of the flyers meaning in his life:

I plant the Booroo trash just out of concern for him. Now that the Booroos are missing, he has lost track of life, you see? I found him wasting away daily, so I hit upon the leaflet stuff. Now look how happy it's made him. He is fighting the Booroos again.

And among the true believers in both bunkers, their mission eventually becomes a religious devotion. In Memoirs, we are told:

But I tell you there is no solution, no equation, no destruction, no instructions, no evil - there is only the Building - only the Building -

And in O-Bi, O-Ba, a character who thinks he has found a special way of surviving long enough to greet the Ark has also built an altar to it, and has his own prayer:

The Ark of brightness - redeem us.
The Ark long awaited - redeem us.
The Ark of all hope - redeem us.
The Ark of eternal happiness - redeem us.
The Ark of the hidden heart - redeem us.
The Ark of brightness - arrive.

Even the top commander in the bunker, who made the original decision to create the Ark myth, ends up a believer:

Soft, promise me you will take me to the Ark, to the aeroplane. Promise you will take me from here, Soft, please, please, let's fly together.

Aside from the general environment and myths, there is an interesting parallel between the two works that stands out. In both there is a scene where the main character winds up in the bunker's library, which is an otherwise rare event in post-apocalyptic stories. In Memoirs, Custodian Ninth Degree Antheus Kappril gives us a tour of the Building's archives, which contains only books about spying and codes, interrogation and torture. In O-Bi, O-Ba, the librarian explains (in hushed tones, because "The Booroos are eavesdropping.") that they only have books on the Booroos, and all other books have been taken away - ground up and used as food additive.

Both stories end with the main character approaching a passage to the outside world filled with blinding light. In Memoirs, he turns away from it and retreats back into the building, while in O-Bi, O-Ba he walks out into the lethal surface world.