Characters Discussed


Gregory, a Scotland Yard lieutenant detective. Tall and lean, with a broad face, square jaw, and dark complexion, he lives in a mysterious rooming house, where barely audible noises at night disturb his sleep. The first case of his career involves finding the perpetrator of a series of apparently related crimes: Several corpses have been removed from mortuaries and strangely mutilated. A well-trained detective, Gregory must find a human cause for these events, but his odd methods of investigation and his passion for truth gradually convince him that these are “natural” reanimations of corpses rather than crimes. He then faces a paradox: Although he believes that there has been no crime, he must still act as if there has been. He cooperates with Chief Inspector Sheppard in fabricating an explanation in which there is a human criminal agent.


Sheppard, a Scotland Yard chief inspector. An older man with rheumatism, he is an eccentric, keeping pictures of executed criminals on the walls of his study. Sheppard directs the strange case, reluctantly giving it to the inexperienced Gregory. He follows Gregory closely, evaluating his work and sometimes criticizing his methods, especially when Gregory makes Sciss his main suspect. He offers a number of hypothetical explanations in which rational agents of various kinds figure. Finally, he provides a workable but fictional solution for the “crimes” that...

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The Characters

Stanisaw Lem uses his characters to manipulate the conventions of the detective plot and to toy with the reader. This playfulness directly serves Lem’s theme. Gregory proves a subtle and effective detective, yet his methods often seem incompetent. When the case is turned over to him, his first step is to play a game of his youth, taking random rides on the Underground. This action leads him to think, mistakenly, that he sees one of the reanimated bodies on a train. In fact, several times, Gregory takes a random direction that fortuitously leads him to an apparently significant clue which, in turn, proves to be a red herring for the reader. One purpose behind this aspect of Gregory’s technique is to show the reader that significant information about the case may be found as effectively by random search as by systematic search, for even though these “leads” prove fruitless, they are no more so, for his purposes, than the “real” ones.

Gregory tends to suspect the people that he encounters who seem to hold back information from him, and the only two suspects that he finds are Sciss and Sheppard. Each man has a murky private life about which he does not want to talk. Yet Gregory himself has such a problem. His landlord seems to spend the entire night in the room next door, making unidentifiable noises, and Gregory is irrationally reluctant to investigate these sounds that keep him awake most nights. As a result, he wants to keep this side of his...

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Engel, Peter, and John Sigda. “An Interview with Stanisaw Lem,” in The Missouri Review. VII (1984), pp. 218-237.

Lem, Stanisaw. Microworlds: Writings on Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1984.

Occhiogrosso, Frank. “Threats to Rationalism: John Fowles, Stanisaw Lem, and the Detective Story,” in Armchair Detective. XIII (1980), pp. 4-7.

Potts, Stephen. “Dialogues Concerning Human Understanding: Empirical Views of God from Locke to Lem,” in Bridges to Science Fiction, 1980.

Ziegfeld, Richard E. Stanisaw Lem, 1985.