• Stanislaw Lem's Tales of Pirx the Pilot

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    "Hold it. If I dream about someone, ask that person a question, I won't know what that person has said until he has said it. Yet that someone is a product of my brain, a brief and momentary extension of it. It happens almost every day, or rather every night - in dreams, when the self splits up, divides, and begets pseudopersonalities. These dream persononalities can be invented, or taken from real life. don't we sometimes dream of the dead? Carry on conversations with them?"
                                                                                    ........from "Terminus" story

                                                             -cover of American edition of Pirx-

    I've come late to Stanislaw Lem. Although I read Solaris in my youth the novel is overshadowed by the great Tarkovsky film adaptation. Now, after reading Tales of Pirx the Pilot and The Invincible I'm glad that I waited. Lem, a polish writer who lived a full and eventful life, writes the kind of science-fiction adults want to read. And although he draws a good deal from the hard-sci-fi tradition (one that emphasizes the science in science-fiction), he has such a talent for writing about important ideas without losing the fact that people, their desires, dreams, fears and mistakes, are at the center of science. Too often sci-fi writer forget this and end up writing page after page of their science essay on "hyper-realities" or "nano technology". The technology is interesting, yes, but it's questions about the motives behind creating the tech and how it affects people that are more important. And that's what Stanislaw Lem does so well: he wants to try to work out how people and technology affect each other, especially technology and/or beings that are alien.

    Tales of Pirx the Pilot (check out the beautiful Turkish cover for the book above) was written in the middle of his career in 1973. Lem grew up in Poland and went through the Soviet takeover there. Much of his notion of government and bureaucracy comes from this experience. The character of Pirx, a loner with no family or sweetheart is a kind of everyman fool thrust into strange situations that are highly stressful. He has to use common sense to solve problems that others, because of their rigid scientific perspectives, fail at. Pirx is also a very funny character one that I think is probably autobiographical.

    "With the exception of two or three short stories I am not too happy about this book. The first reason for its weakness is the similarity to a typical Bildungsroman. However a Bildungsroman  has to be a novel with an "epic breath" and a broad social and historical background, while in the tales of the brave Pirx the Pilot the general perspective is rather narrow - the hero is isolated, has no friends or relatives. My initial intention was to write or two short stories only. Other stories appeared quite unexpectedly and there was no way to retroactively equip Pirx with a decent family. So the elements that are quite natural in a short story in series show some artificiality. But today I still like Ananke  and Terminus."

                                                  -Stanislaw Lem, from the official website

    Tales of Pirx the Pilot consists of 5 novelettes (slightly longer that a short stories) which start with Pirx in the Flight Academy and end with him taking over command of his own ship. All of the stories are interesting, but the final story is a real work of art. "Terminus" shows Pirx dealing with an obsolete ship which has a very ancient robot taking care of the atomic reactor. Lem's depictions of the ship and it's history (and Pirx's reaction to them) are masterful. But it's the robot (named Terminus) and how Pirx interacts with him that are remarkable. Here is a short reading of one of the Pirx/Terminus scenes from the book.

    Audio Book selection "Terminus" by Stanislaw Lem by rickygrove

    I thoroughly enjoyed Tales of Pirx the Pilot and have Lem's More Tales of Pirx the Pilot on order so I can read "Ananke". I also urge you to go to the Stanislaw Lem official website to learn more about this remarkable author.

    Quick note on The Invincible: this novel was an exciting account of a rescue mission to another planet where the rescuers discover that their is an alien presence that exists as an extreme threat to them. Lem handles this fairly worn theme with panache. Again, his emphasis on character leads to some remarkably poetic moments. This is an engrossing novel, but not quite up to the depth of the Pirx stories. Still, highly recommended. Love the Czech cover for this enjoyable novel.

    (covers and quote taken from Stanislaw Lem's official site: http://english.lem.pl
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