Stanisław Lem
Astronauci (The Astronauts) (1951)
This review is based on the German translation Die Astronauten by Rudolf Pabel.
Reviewed: 1995-07-28

Arguably, Stanisław Lem is the best SF author to date. His first novel, Astronauci, doesn't justify this reputation, though. The edition I read featured an introduction by the author himself, written for the eighth Polish edition in the mid-1970s. Here Lem states that nowadays we probably look upon this novel with similar feelings as we look upon the works of Jules Verne. The science is bad, the author's idea of the state of human affairs by the year 2000 is beautifully naïve, the scientists are nerdy but bestowed with super human knowledge, requiring the introduction of a more simple-minded character to serve as an intermediary between the protagonists and the reader.

In the year 2003, in the course of a geoengineering project of such scale it would make the late Stalin flinch, a device of extraterrestrial origin is found in Siberia, which proves that the famous Siberian meteorite of 1908 was in fact a spaceship from our neighboring planet Venus. Since there are reasons to suspect that the Venusians are about to launch an invasion of Earth, the first ever spaceship of humanity, carrying an international crew, is sent to explore Venus, make contact with its inhabitants, and ensure through peaceful means that there will be no invasion.

Already in this early work Lem excels at describing the artifacts of an utterly alien civilization. Large passages of the novel show the explorers stumbling through a beautifully described but truly incomprehensible world. This is a recurring motif throughout many of Lem's SF novels. Here the humans manage to snatch at least a glimpse of comprehension before they return home. The end of the book is an undisguised appeal against the absurdity of Mutually Assured Distruction.

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