The good science fiction does not tell stories about future, it only uses the fantastical setting of the days to come and the potential hidden in technology and our own bodies to put a mirror in front of the present society and dissect it; examines its fears and deviations and asks questions about our own nature.
Disclaimer for anyone interested. The Star Diaries is not really a plot driven story or even collection of short stories as I originally expected. It made me feel cheated at first but once I accepted it for what it is and just allowed to immerse myself in smooth words of Stanisław Lem, my opposition melted away. The idea for The Star Diaries is extremely interesting. It is collection of voyages of a great cosmic explorer Ijon Tichy. The book is edited as if it was a real publication from the future, with footnotes giving the context of certain events, references to other future science journals and editorial notes.
Lem’s writing marks the merging point between satire and philosophical dispute. The absurd scenarios and planets that Tichy faces during his voyages are characterised by the highest sort of absurdity, reminding me of a similar in that way Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. However, unlike in Adams’ classic, Lem intertwines the comedy with disturbing visions of society. Probably my favourite is the Eleventh Voyage in which Tichy infiltrates the planet ruled by speciesist totalitarian robot regime where nobody could be trusted; very neat little parable about fear and paranoia. The Twentieth Voyage alone needs a special recognition as it was one of the cleverest things that I have read in a long while.
All of it would not work as well if it wasn’t for the protagonist. Ijon Tichy is a perfect access point into this bizarre world. He is sober minded and open to everything, calmly facing every obstacle on his way, no matter how dire is the danger. He reacts accordingly and despite being from the future he is so natural in his needs; it helps to strip the story from the alienation of the future and make imposed moral dilemmas very accessible.
I am extremely curious to see an English translation of this book as I imagine that the process of translating it must have been fascinating. Stanisław Lem was a fantastic wordsmith, creating unique nomenclature for every world that Tichy visited.
This book celebrates the art of weaving words and invites readers to ponder on questions about morality and humanity and the flexibility of what is considered normal. It does it in a subtle manner, gently with a dose of absurdity and humor that mark the great mind of the author.
Four out of five calculators.