The Star Diaries – Stanisław Lem (1976)


“As you know, I’ve set myself the very enjoyable task of reading all of Stanislaw Lem’s speculative fiction that’s available in English. And since I love doing things chronologically, I’ve started with The Star Diaries. You can follow along here as I make my way through his oeuvre. It’s going to be a wild ride, people. (*oh, and spoilers) . The Star Diaries is, indeed, the story of “that hapless Candide of the Cosmos,” Ijon Tichy, as the back cover copy calls him. Flying all around the universe in his beat-up rocket, encountering strange civilizations and even stranger practices (like reducing oneself to atoms at night and reconstituting oneself during the day), and even moving back and forth through time, Tichy ultimately tells us more about our own species than any other. After all, The Star Diaries can be read as one long, though extremely entertaining, diatribe against the human race- its penchant for brutality and cruelty, its obsession with the ‘new,’ its naively arrogant belief that it knows best how to shape its own destiny and change history ‘for the better.’ This shouldn’t be surprising, given Lem’s own experience as a child in Poland during World War II. His use in The Star Diaries of alien civilizations, temporal transportation devices, and other science-fictional elements is perfect for making us look at ourselves in the mirror without even realizing it. Add to this his wry, ironic humor, which Michael Kandel captures brilliantly in his translation, and you have a collection of stories that get to the heart of what makes us human and make us stop and think about how other species might see us, if they even bothered to swing by the boring backwater outpost called Earth. Of the twelve voyages collected here, the Eight, Eleventh, and Twentieth have to be my favorites. I may have found the first of these particularly interesting because it reminds me so much of the very first episode of Star Trek: TNG: ‘Encounter at Farpoint.’ Remember when Q drags Picard and some of the crew into a raucous ‘courtroom’ and tries to make him take responsibility for all of the evils of the human race? Well, Lem’s story (which came first) is a more detailed, complicated, and hilarious version of that. Ijon Tichy, at first honored to act as Earth’s delegate to the United Planets, soon finds himself in a gigantic hall filled with tentacles and unintelligible languages and, above all, a palpitating hostility. One by one, alien species stand up and read from books that mention the bit of cosmic splatter known as Earth. Humans, and their planet, are seen by many as beneath recognition, brutal, violent, greedy, disgusting, and not worthy of membership in the United Planets. …”
SF Intranslation
W – The Star Diaries
W – Ijon Tichy
NY Times: A master of science fiction—and more (Aug. 29, 1976)
amazon

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