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Creator / Jacek Dukaj

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Jacek Dukaj (born 30 July 1974) is a Polish novelist, mainly associated with Science Fiction genre. His works explore philosophical themes by building vast, complicated fictional worlds based on certain worldviews (e.g. the philosophy of Aristotle). This results in each of his books being nothing like previous ones, as physical, political, social and linguistic aspects of the world change with each work. Like Stanisław Lem (who is often cited as one of Dukaj's inspirations), he frequently invents new words to describe beings and ideas from different realities. His books are notable for overwhelming the reader with many unexplained concepts and neologisms, thus presenting the fictional world as a riddle to solve. Dukaj's favourite topics include space exploration, aliens, transhumanism, parallel worlds, alternate history, cybernetics, virtual realities and scientific progress.

His protagonists often struggle with their identity, typically (but not universally) starting as weak or broken, but slowly gaining strength and rising as powerful leaders, sometimes reaching A God Am I status. Many of them are or become Transhuman.

Dukaj’s works are yet to be fully translated into English (as of 2015, The Old Axolotl is his only novel published in both Polish and English), but if you’re curious, you can read more here.

His works include:

  • Xavras Wyżryn (1997)
  • In the Land of Unbelievers (2000)
  • Black Oceans (2001)
  • The Plunderer's Daughter (2002)
  • Extensa (2002)
  • Other Songs (2003)
  • An Ideal Imperfection (2004)
  • Ice (2007)
  • The Crowe (2009)
  • King of Pain (2010)
  • The Old Axolotl (2015)

His work includes examples of:

  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Aliens in the short story In partibus infidelium.
  • A God Am I: Words spoken by Benedykt Gierosławski at the very end of Ice are basically this.
  • All Theories Are True: The main premise of most of his works.
  • Alternate History: Ice, Xavras Wyżryn, and others. Godwin's Law of Alternate History is in effect.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Benedykt Gierosławski after he becomes unfrozen at the end of Ice.
  • An Ice Person: Filip Gierosławski in Ice.
  • Armor-Piercing Question and Armor-Piercing Response: The last sentence of Ice in original Polish. Co teraz Lód dla mnie?, which could be translated as What is Ice now for me? as well as What do I care of Ice now?. Answer the protagonist gives? Me.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Many of Dukaj's protagonists. Special mention goes to Adam Zamoyski from An Ideal Imperfection.
  • Author Vocabulary Calendar: Whenever Dukaj comes up with a fun new word, or cool alternate (usually antiquated) spelling, he WILL shove it down your throat. No mercy.
  • Brain/Computer Interface: In Black Oceans and several short stories.
  • Celibate Hero: Benedykt Gierosławski, most of the time, though the book stays purposefully ambiguous whether or not he and Jelena had sex in Transsiberian Express... or even whether Benedykt KNOWS whether they did. He finally gives in to temptation in von Azenhoff’s brothel.
  • City Noir: Arguably, the nameless city in Wroniec (The Crowe) after the eponymous bird takes over.
  • Creator's Oddball:
    • The Crowe is a dark fairytale with a child protagonist, which stands out among Dukaj's adult-centered, hard SF works.
    • For comparison, The Iron General is technically fantasy, but written in very much the same hard SF mindset as all the rest of Dukaj's stories.
  • Deal with the Devil: Young Adam agrees to sacrifice his magical storytelling powers in order to get his father back in The Crowe.
  • Death Is Not Permanent: One of the side effects of mysterious Ice, Nikola Tesla being the most prominent example.
    • An Ideal Imperfection begins with a character assassinated twice in a row. Afterwards he appreciates the artfulness of the assassination method.
  • Defictionalization: The grammatical gender Dukaj invented for post-human post-gendered beings in An Ideal Imperfection has become quite popular among Poles who identify as non-binary.note  This is colloquially known as "dukaisms". The irony lies in that Dukaj, although (unlike many other writers) he avoids politicising, can be described as mildly conservative — he's just the only one in recent history of the Polish language to care about coming up with grammar for that. And to his credit, he apparently approves, having published his heretofore undisclosed notes for the benefit of all whom it may concern.
  • Democracy Is Bad: In An Ideal Imperfection Adam Zamoyski argues that democracy is against the laws of physics - people are not born equal and those who are stronger and more intelligent will always rule over others.
  • Designer Babies: The Plunderer's Daughter has artificially created minds implanted into fetuses. They are fully conscious and can manifest outside the womb as holograms.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Paweł Kostrzewa from the short story The Line of Resistance. It turns out to be the most difficult goal of his life. For that matter, there is a whole branch of industry devoted to fabricating meanings for people's lives.
  • Disappeared Dad: Gierosławski's father in Ice. Finding him is one of the protagonist's main goals.
  • Disposing of a Body: Somewhat played for laughs in Ice with one of the body-carriers fainting. Also subverted since the goal is to resurrect Tesla, not get rid of the body.
  • Door Stopper: Most of his novels are several hundred pages long. Polish edition of Ice reaches the page count of over a thousand.
  • Dystopia: Almost every single world created by Dukaj turns out to be this in some way.
  • Endless Winter: In Ice. Political factions all around the world, but especially in Russia, take opposite sides on the issue whether to fight the winter or to keep it as long as possible and milk it for profits.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: On the Trans-Siberian Express in Ice.
  • Everything Is Online: In Black Oceans, quite literally. Also in An Ideal Imperfection, to the point that the fact that characters suddenly find themselves offline becomes a plot point.
  • Fake Memories: One of the indications that a character has undergone Mind Rape in Black Oceans. Also possibly what happens to Benedykt Gierosławski in Ice, although it's hard to determine since it's not sure if real memories even exist without the Ice.
  • Fisher King: In the novel Inne pieśni (Other Songs), people called kratistoi influence everything from weather to humand minds by sheer power of will. In fact, they are so powerful that when any of them physically moves (e.g. to another city), their kingdom moves as well.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Adam Zamoyski in An Ideal Imperfection.
  • Flesh Golem: Mad scientist called Piegnar tries to create those in Ice. Apparently, he succeeded as flesh golems attack Benedykt Gierosławski shortly before he meets with his father.
  • For Science!: Why Benedykt Gierosławski performs a couple of morally questionable acts (such as corporate espionage) in Ice.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: The Crowe.
  • Good with Numbers: Benedykt Gierosławski.
  • Harmless Freezing: Well, not exactly harmless, but much less harmful than it should be when Benedykt Gierosławski freezes himself while fighting Frankenstein-like creatures near the end of Ice.
  • Historical Badass Upgrade: Nikola Tesla in Ice (as if he needed that in the first place). He even comes back from the dead.
  • Human Popsicle: Using slightly different technology:Adam Zamoyski in An Ideal Imperfection.
  • Impossibly Cool Weapon: Revolver that glows in the dark and shoots bullets that freeze the target on impact. Named Archmaster.
    • Subverted in that it is Awesome, but Impractical, because the freezing effect also causes severe frostbites on the user's hand. It's kinda hard to hit anything when your shooting hand is frostbitten, right? But it's still the only weapon capable of wounding the Ice itself.
    • The protagonist of Other Songs gets two, one is a dagger he gets through black-market weapon dealers, imbued with a poison so potent it can one-shot an elephant, the other a sword made of essence of corruption forged specifically to take on an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Interdimensional Travel Device: Several in short story collection In The Land Of Unbelievers.
  • Inside a Computer System: The story Irrehaare is set within a Virtual Reality MMORPG overtaken by a powerful script-running griefer, causing the trapped players to run a guerrilla campaign spread over multiple servers against him and his bots.
  • Loss of Identity: An extreme case can be found in Ice, where the protagonist claims that he does not exist. Although this may seem paradoxical, his reasoning is quite logical: he's pathologically ashamed, forced to constantly react defensively to other people's actions in order to avoid more shame, so he can never act the way he wants. So does he really exist? He finally overcomes his emotional problems after confronting his father and from that point forward he can exist again.
    • Happens to an extent in Hieronim Berbelek's backstory, who retained his memories, but his entire force of will was broken and he was reduced from a powerful military commander to a lowly merchant.
  • Madness Mantra: Inversion: Hieronim Berbelek counts to stay sane.
  • Mechanical Evolution: Found in Perfekcyjna niedoskonałość (An Ideal Imperfection) in form of terrifying Wars: Pocket Dimensions full of ever-evolving killing machines.
  • Mind Virus: A strange one in Black Oceans causes telepathy.
  • Mood Whiplash: Lovemaking scene in Extensa suddenly ends with protagonist’s wife hitting her head on a rock and dying.
  • Neural Implanting: Notably in Black Oceans.
  • Nikola Tesla: One of the main characters in Ice.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Hilariously, the default method of interacting with one of the computers in An Ideal Imperfection.
  • Privately Owned Society: Slowly becoming reality in short story The Line of Resistance.
  • Random Number God: Probability and unpredictability are one of Dukaj’s favourite themes.
  • Rasputinian Death: Soldier who protects Marina in Black Oceans. Also, Rasputin himself in Ice.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Short story The Heart of Darkness is Joseph Conrad's famous novel ON ANOTHER PLANET. With Nazis.
  • Resurrection Sickness: Experienced by Angelika in An Ideal Imperfection.
  • Science Hero: About 80% of Dukaj's protagonists.
  • Self-Serving Memory: Ice argues that every memory is like that: our memories are altered, created or deleted to fit our present state of mind.
  • Starfish Aliens: Many, many kinds. Special mention goes to skoliodoi in Other Songs.
  • Take Over the World: What Benedykt Gierosławski is hoping to achieve in the final chapters of Ice. And the book strongly suggests that he will succeed.
  • Technology Porn: By the trainloads.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Black Oceans.
  • The Singularity: The protagonist of Perfekcyjna niedoskonałość (An Ideal Imperfection) lives in a world after one. This is probably the most notable case, there also are many others.
  • The Tunguska Event: What set in motion the events of Lód (Ice). It turns out to be a meteorite made of so-called tungetitium, element not found on Earth with unique, world-changing physical properties, which makes it extremely valuable.
  • Thriller on the Express: About one-third of Ice.
  • Victory Is Boring: for the gamer protagonist of The Line of Resistance. Because of that he's constantly on the verge of suicide.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Some of Dukaj’s work are almost incomprehensible if you don’t happen to be a philosophy major. Most require at least a decent understanding of physics, mathematics and/or anthropology.
  • What Could Have Been: An Ideal Imperfection was supposed to be part one of a trilogy, but the author has since lost interest and moved on to other projects. There is also a chapter from Black Oceans that was posted online as a teaser - but this chapter is nowhere to be found in the published book.
  • Wham Line: In Ice, "I am Nikola Tesla".
  • Word of God: Mostly averted. Dukaj usually refuses to explain his works, even putting a statement to this effect on his official website. He famously made an exception for short story Medjugorje which he felt got somewhat confusing by the end.
  • Worldbuilding: AW HELL YEAH. Dukaj is known for things like building rich and unique universes for purposes of a single short story, or setting a single novel in a world that could accommodate several story cycles.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: King of Pain in one of the short stories suffers from a brain mutation that causes constant, neverending pain.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: Many times, especially in Irrehaare.