cover image Return from the Stars

Return from the Stars

Stanislaw Lem, trans. from the Polish by Barbara Marszal and Frank Simpson. MIT, $17.95 trade paper (312p) ISBN 978-0-262-53848-0

Lem’s thought-provoking, reissued 1961 classic explores the questionable utopia that has emerged on a vivid future Earth through the eyes of an astronaut recently returned from the Fomalhaut star system, 23 light years away. Due to time dilation, 127 years have passed on Earth when Hal Bregg returns from what he experienced as a 10-year mission. Through a series of intense vignettes, Bregg learns about the changes that have arisen in his absence: wall-size televisions, spray-on clothes, new slang, and, to Bregg’s horror, government-imposed “betrization,” a biological process that suppresses violent impulses. The unintended consequence is a nearly emotionless populace averse to risk-taking, exploration, and even sports. Though Bregg rejects his superiors’ suggestion that he attend a reorientation program, he struggles to reintegrate into society, becoming increasingly disturbed. Bregg is especially shocked by the behavior of women, who innocently invite him home with them. Aggression unchecked, he abducts a married woman, Eri, who is too passive to fight back. The racial and sexual politics have not aged well, and Lem’s language is often misogynous, but the moral dilemmas and exploration of complacency and violence still resonate. This will appeal to readers who like heady science fiction laced with social commentary. (Mar.)