Speculative and Reflective
The author I will be going over the works of in this writing is the Polish science-fiction and philosophy writer Stanislaw Lem. Combining these two topics of interest, Stanislaw Lem usually writes speculative as well as reflective writings concerning both our day and the future that awaits us. Of course, he is not as boring of an author as to only write about these but they are the selling point of his work.
Hardships Early on
He was born in 1921’s Lwów, in the middle of a war between his province’s proprietor Poland and Russia. The same area is today known as Lviv and is currently fought over between Russia and Ukraine. The Russian Revolution was a big source of hardship for him as he was from a family that was considered bourgeois. This only got worse after 1941 as his province was taken over by NAZI Germany due to his Jewish family.
The speculative side of his work is usually handled within space-related technological concepts and the parts that I deemed reflective are mainly about the condition of intelligence and interpersonal communication. Most of his work is presented in the form of science fiction but his portfolio also includes essays and non-fiction philosophy pieces.
Best Stanislaw Lem Books
|Solaris||9.56/10||179 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Ijon Tichy Series||9.88/10||4 Books||Check Price On Amazon|
|The Cyberiad||9.72/10||314 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|The Invincible||9.68/10||233 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
|Tales of Pirx the Pilot||9.62/10||218 Pages||Check Price On Amazon|
We are starting this list with the most renowned and the best selling one of Stanislaw Lem books. It revolves around the concept of discovering extraterrestrial life and it does so in a completely unique way. He considers the possibility of other living forms in the universe being inherently different from us. We are keen to imagine aliens as distorted humans or animals yet could not they very well be completely unfamiliar?
The story kicks off with astronomer/scientist Kris Kelvin landing on the planet of Solaris which is covered in an ocean with no mass of land that can be seen. Kelvin is shaken to his core when out of nowhere, his mind is intruded by a new or suppressed memory of his old lover who has been long since dead. Still, the terror of this is nothing when compared to the terror Kelvin feels when he realizes these memories are created by the planet they are standing on.
Tale of Future
What is really interesting in this book for me is that the author manages to handle very personal concepts like our perception of reality and the human experience in such a distant, almost fantastic setting. It is reminiscent of a fairy tale of the old, only laced with an imagination of the future. Not only is this book an excellent source of entertainment, but it is also very thought-provoking and might just change your understanding of some things.
Second on our list we have what would be considered the best Stanislaw Lem book series by many, Ijon Tichy Series. It is basically a more mature, more well-rounded, and well-seasoned version of the “Prix the Pilot” series that I will talk about further into the list. It is made up of mostly comedic pieces and the slight shift to satire as the topics get closer to politics and faults of our society is very much appreciated by me.
Ijon is a simple man. He wears an ironed shirt every morning -or whatever the morning’s equivalent for space is- and he ties his tie the same way, every day. Yet he also has a heart burning with curiosity, the desire to explore all he can. As he goes on in his adventures he makes sure to protect these fragile parts of him with complete boldness and self-assurance.
Reflections of the Author
For all its worth, I think this series is the clearest reflection of the author himself. Not only do the author and Ijon Tichy somewhat resemble each other, the adventures Ijon goes to and the overall flavor of the stories almost draw out a full map of the writer’s personality. This along with the sheer quality of entertainment the books provide make Ijon Tichy the undeniable best Stanislaw Lem series in my eyes.
The third piece I’ll go over in the search for best books by Stanislaw Lem is The Cyberiad. It is a collection of short fiction with a narrative that ties all the individual pieces together and is also the subject of some of them. It is a short, humorous read that also subtly introduces philosophic and scientific ideas in its parts.
Divine, Robotic Comedy
In the beginning, there were two robot/cyborg entities named Trurl and Klapaucius. They are the narrators that I talked about and they play a very theatrical role to serve their purpose. Like theatrical narrators, their existence is subtly satirical and the only purpose of their personalities is to create a good story as they interact with each other.
What Sitanslaw Lem does with this one of his most popular books is something I’ve hardly seen a similar of. It is a sort of divine comedy that achieves its purpose with only two cute and ambiguous creatures. Lastly, you might have noticed I did not mention any story specifically and that is only because of how excellent each story is.
Next up on our list we have The Invincible, one of the top rated Stanislaw Lem books. It is a science fiction masterpiece that at first glance can seem very much like a space romp. At heart, it is a futuristic horror story that includes key aspects of Lovecraftian fiction. It was initially published as the titular story in a Lem collection but it has later been translated to different languages and published as a book.
The story starts with the spaceship “Invincible” on a planet that does not seem much more than a desert, Regis III. The crew is dutied with investigating the disappearance of their sister crew and their spaceship “Connor”. Both of the ships were equipped to almost perfection and both crews are very much capable and experienced spacemen. Yet, something might have brought Connor down and if that is the case, the Invincible isn’t safe too.
The Unknowns of Space
Very much like the best Stanislav Lem book Solaris, this book fiddles around the fact that space is vast and there are more than likely things we won’t have a clue of at first. This time around, however, space offers us a much more terrifying and threatening “thing”. It was very refreshing for me to read a space horror piece that was not just about almost non-sense aliens.
Tales of Pirx the Pilot draws attention to itself by having the first place on the list of best-rated Stanislaw Lem books. It is also one of his most successful ones with having sold over one million copies worldwide. As you can guess from the title, it is a collection of short stories and it has a central narrative that connects the stories to the author’s other collection The Cyberiad.
Pirx is a private spaceship pilot with an absent mind and a heart full of wonder and amazement. He is not really much of anything when it comes to capability but he has a ship and that’s all he needs to ride straight into cosmic adventures. The adventures are, for the most, part mysteries but I feel like the main event of the book is the pilot himself anyways.
Despite the massive success and the fan acclamation that it has, I think Tales of Pirx the Pilot is a mediocre book at best. It lacks the philosophical subjects the author generally touches on in his books that make him who he is. Not only that but the writing was a bit dry and the mysteries could not really manage to amaze me when the truth behind was finally revealed.
Next up in our list of the best Stanislaw Lem novels, I will go over Eden. It is a first-contact story that perfectly represents the pessimistic look of the author on the subject. There is no guarantee that if we ever get in contact with extraterrestrial intelligence, they will at least be as civilized as us. For all we know, every other species in the cosmos could be a threat to us and even to themselves.
If the spaceship you are on ever ceases to function, you would be lucky to land on a planet before you suffer a horrible death. Yet if you ever land on a planet as scary as the six astronomers in this book get stranded on, you might just be better off. Everything seems unexplainable and creepy on the planet of Eden, from the scientifical conditions of the planets to its monstrous residents.
I am sad to say that Eden was the biggest letdown that the author put me through. From a contextual perspective, it lacks the heart of what makes Lem’s stories great just like Pirx the Pilot. As for the quality of the writing itself, the storyline is all too stale and the author seems to have not given attention to character development at all. It is a mediocrely written story that only explores a single basic concept.
Return From the Stars handles a scenario that sounds very unrealistic yet could be a reality in just a few centuries. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity suggests that time, as we know it, can be experienced relatively depending on certain circumstances. For example, the faster an object moves or the stronger it is pulled by a gravitational force, the slower it “travels” through time. An object like an astronomer rapidly orbiting inside a star’s gravitational field.
The story mainly revolves around PTSD which was a basically unknown and unstudied disease at the time of the book’s writing. More specifically, it is about the American astronomer Hal Bregg who went on a space mission that would take ten years for him but one-hundred and twenty-seven years on Earth. Unsurprisingly, nearly nothing is the same. Not the cities, the food, the art, and not even humans.
Return From the Stars easily has a place among the best novels by Stanislaw Lem. The character creation and development of Hal Bregg are exquisite, especially considering the time he was written. More so, the new and changed Earth has so many highly intriguing structures set in place that I feel bad for not being able to explain them in every little detail. A masterpiece for sure and definitely an undiscovered one for the general public. Perhaps it was too ahead of its time.
His Master’s Voice could be the one with the most unique story in this Stanislaw Lem books ranked list. Imagine a book about aliens but there are no aliens! No, that’s not it. Okay, imagine if we could communicate with aliens! Hmm, not quite there. How about this, imagine aliens sent us a message and we couldn’t decipher it so we just decided to move on. Yeah, that is exactly what this book is about.
The book is solely focused on the effects that knowing there are others out in space would have on us. Of course, the general public is completely oblivious about the situation but events and thought exercises are supplied by the twenty-five hundred scientists who collectively tried to decipher the message. If you are still not impressed with the plot just think about how many major religions and ideologies would be obsolete with a change like this.
His Master’s Voice could easily be my personal best Stanislaw Lem novel if only it were not so focused on its philosophy. The questions asked and the arguments given are extremely valid so do not get me wrong. It is just that a brilliant novel needs more than just a brilliant idea. That’s the whole point, for ideas to be processed through the thoughts and emotions of the characters as well as the events that shape the story. Not an Edgar winner so to say but definitely a really good book.
The book Fiasco takes its readers by surprise with its optimistic and even utopic setting. It takes place in a time one century later from the publication of the book in 1987. Humanity is thriving, to say the least. We have expanded our horizons over to different planets and moons we have colonized, we are so advanced that interstellar travel is a common practice for everyone, and most importantly, humanity is in peace and union.
Almost as if the author is taking revenge, we are greeted with a new civilization straight out of the depths of the abyss. The civilization in question is made up of the planet Quinta’s residents though we do not really know what they look like. What I will tell you about them is that they are the personifications of anti-life, at least life as we know it. More importantly, they display a consciousness almost the exact opposite of ours.
Some conundrums I have been exposed to in this book were surprisingly brand new for me. You don’t expect to discover philosophy in my opinion, it’s just there for flavor. Yet, in what is maybe his best book, Stanislaw Lem presented me with such questions about consciousness, life, and purpose that I was left in awe and with no other option than to keep on reading the book until its end.
The last piece among our Stanislaw Lem book reviews is Memoirs Found in a Bathtub. A novel that catches your eye by being no more than the long diary of a long-dead man. And just let me say that if you are thinking this is just the usual “recalled story” trope, you are dead wrong. It is the story of a man so lost in his pursuit of even the smaller purpose that he even loses his sanity.
When our unnamed, rookie secret agent protagonist walks into the Pentagon-like military bunker for his first day on the job, he must have been very cheerful. Of course, it is always hard to find your way around the workplace in the first few days of a job no matter how much military training you have received. So acceptably, the protagonist is having a hard time finding the person who will give him his duties.
Almost As Good as Kafka
Very Kafkaesque and reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, this is a highly nerve-racking and smile-cracking read. The narrative is almost in the tone of an anxious dream where everything is faded and unimportant while the only thing you can think of is that something is horribly wrong. Absolutely one of the best Stanislaw Lem books, but I would not really recommend it to someone who is not familiar with either Lem or Kafka. I think it would just be too much.
I believe Stanislaw Lem is an unappreciated gem who unluckily has been out of the scope of mainstream media. His work still stands sturdy even after all the years past. This is especially fascinating considering only the best science fiction pieces can stand the test of time with our ever-advancing technology and constantly changing understanding of it. His work is simply priceless. May he rest in peace.
Robert is a science fiction and fantasy geek. (He is also the best looking Ereads writer!) Besides reading and writing, he enjoys sports, cosplay, and good food (don't we all?). Currently works as an accountant (would you believe that?)