Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Lem apparently became disheartened with the writing of fiction in the 1960’s, in part because of his disgust with the genre of science fiction itself. Particularly with Solaris (1961; English translation, 1970), he had established himself as a master in this field, even though he felt an increasing repugnance for it. With The Chain of Chance, however, he developed what, in a sense, is science fiction of a different kind—a fiction, that is, which deals with problems produced by scientific discovery in the contemporary world and which depends for its intellectual content on those problems and on their solution. The Chain of Chance begins as an apparently straightforward private-eye detective story, soon seems to become a story of international intrigue, and finally is found to be an account of the solution of a scientific mystery—all of this on behalf of Lem’s explication of a profound statement about the nature of reality and the social state of the modern world. Because it is this kind of novel, it may disappoint readers who wish to place it within the narrow confines of the genres of detective, espionage, or science fiction. Those who read to challenge their intelligence, however, will be rewarded by Lem’s brilliant handling of scientific data and ideas, and the development of their philosophical implications.