Written over a period of approximately two decades, The Star Diaries constitutes a diverse collection of comic tales playing on the full range of world travel literature and of science fiction’s reworking of that literature, while adding much that is Lem’s own to an already rich tradition. Suggestive at one moment of Marco Polo’s accounts of cultural discovery, at another of the pure fantasy of Sinbad’s voyages, and at still another of the acerbic satire of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, these tales exhibit a variety of styles and purposes reflective of Lem’s multifaceted genius.
One story, “The Seventh Voyage,” exemplifies the book’s exuberant diversity. The story relates Tichy’s attempts to repair the rudder of his spacecraft after an accident in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. Although traveling alone, Tichy discovers that the repair job requires the cooperative efforts of two people, an indication of technological human’s lack of foresight. He finds himself with multiple opportunities to solve his problem, however, when he falls through one after another of the 147 gravitational vortices in the local space-time continuum and encounters diverse other versions of himself. At each new encounter, Tichy exhibits a different way in which humanity’s mixed rational and emotional nature prevents productive cooperation, and it is only when two child Tichys ignore the alternating violence and committee-directed stagnation of the adult Tichys that the repair work is completed. A brilliant parody of tales of paradoxical time travel, like Robert A. Heinlein’s “All You Zombies,” “The Seventh Voyage” is also a sly commentary on human social deficiency.
In “The Eighth...
(The entire section is 712 words.)