Technically the third in the four book series “From the Memoirs of Ijon Tichy” there doesn’t seem to be any holdover pieces of plot from whatever came before and one can, so it seems, approach it without any bloody idea of what happened previously.
This book is basically what would happen if Philip K. Dick decided to smack around Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. Complete with future jumping, the book spends it’s first half setting the stage of modern chaos and then after some futurological meddling transported to this nouveau utopia complete with excess, equality, and perhaps more importantly robots (in theory).
It is however important to note that this setting always remains only that. The book itself is played off as a diary so you are only ever get an almost medical description of what the world supposedly has to offer. But, Lem knows the secret of all Utopian literature: you have to look where the bodies are buried.
The world is itself transformed to a pharmacological hodge-podge of drugs specifically meant to fill and alter every void of human existence (real or imagined). The book runs from through it’s subject matter quickly, seemingly because it realizes how flimsy any Utopian world is going to be. It has it’s fun and while it’s entertaining enough, there is no real plot to speak of, which is really what I was looking for. Instead it’s a wandering exposition on a new world, up until the masquerade crumbles and he pontificates lightly on the fundamental failure of all ideology: It is simple. Nature, ours and the that of the planet we inhabit, are infinitely, relentlessly complex. This is a laudable and worthwhile conclusion to come to, it’s just not a particularly interesting one.
If you’re looking for a more serious, but infinitely more beautiful piece of Lem’s work I’d recommend his novel Solaris instead.
“What was civilization ever, really, but the attempt by man to talk himself into being good? Only good, mind you. The rest had to be shoved somewhere out of sight, under the rug. Which History indeed did, at times politely, at times police-ly, and yet something was always sticking out, breaking loose, overthrowing.”
― Stanisław Lem, The Futurological Congress