Literature / Fiasco
is one of the later novels by Stanisław Lem
, and yet another concerning the issues of First Contact
. It is also the last time when we meet Pirx the Pilot
The story initially follows Parvis, a young pilot on the Saturn's moon Titan. In spite of multiple warnings against doing that, he ventures in his walker into the dangerous region of methane geysers to look for people who went missing there, among them famous veteran pilot Pirx. He fails, and is forced to use the emergency procedure of vitrification.
Many years later, a huge starship is sent to a distant system to carry out a historical mission: to contact an alien civilisation which was discovered there. During the launch preparations, the fatal geyser region of Titan is cleared, and bodies of those lost are uncovered. Only one person, however, can be brought back to life; his identity can be narrowed to no more than "either Pirx or Parvis". Regardless of who he is, the resurrected man joins the crew and plays a crucial role in the mission.
This title contains the following tropes:
- Continuity Nod: Parvis' mission to rescue the title character of Tales of Pirx the Pilot.
- Cool Starship: actually two, the smaller ship meant to do the diplomatic work, and a mothership that waits in a black hole's gravity well for its return. They use ramscoop propulsion and were launched from Titan by a battery of lasers.
- Deus Est Machina: The Digital Engrammic Universal System (called the General Operational Device in the original) from Fiasco. One character notes that the acronym was probably intentional.
- Distant Prologue
- Do a Barrel Roll: to deal with the Quintan anti-spaceship weapon, the ship does a barrel roll through a sun's corona.
- Earth-Shattering Kaboom
- First Contact: With the Quintan civilisation. Two words are enough to describe the result.
- Fun with Acronyms: The Digital Engrammic Universal System (called the General Operational Device in the original), the ship's quantum computer.
- Genre Shift: The sci-fi story suddenly switches to some extracts of an adventure novel the main character is reading in the story.
- Human Popsicle: The vitrification.
- Humans Are Bastards: Even if unintentionally.
- Humongous Mecha: The walkers, which actually are construction vehicles.
- Kill Sat: The humans try a big stick when speaking softly failed. Just, so to say, overdo it in scale.
- Master Computer: DEUS/GOD.
- Minovsky Physics: The properties of black holes. Human ability to grasp them turns out to be major plot device.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: It can be said of the whole crew, but the P in particular.
- Noble Profession: The Jesuit priest is the voice of conscience in the crew. The fact that Lem set a priest in such a role marks the change that happened over the years in his writing; some of his earlier works had noticeable jabs at religion.
- Only Sane Man: Dual role — the P (who seems to have the practical common sense of Pirx) and the Jesuit priest. Though the former's good ideas turn out to have unintended consequences...
- Reality Ensues
- The protagonist gets to drive a Humongous Mecha, which, contrary to its typical unrealistic depictions in other media, complies to the laws of physics. It takes a lot of time to speed up or to slow down, when walking fast you need a huge arc to turn around, and the acceleration of the appendages is limited by design, otherwise a sudden movement would lead to significant structural damage. It's a heavy construction equipment after all, not an acrobatics platform. Driving it feels almost like driving an ocean liner.
- Vehicles used in dangerous environments feature an emergency cryonic device, to preserve the people until help arrives and can dig them out. Instead of being a slap-on-the-wrist Human Popsicle, it is definitely not nice. To preserve the brain mostly intact, it has to be frozen with liquid nitrogen from all sides as quickly as possible, so tubes crash violently through the face and the jaws, to inject liquid nitrogen, shattering most of the skull in the process (while the victim is still alive and awake). All blood and other bodily fluids are quickly and violently purged from the body, to prevent crystallization. Even many decades later, when the technology for revival exists, it is not an easy task. Most of the victims do not survive at all, and the one they can save (in a very controlled, low-gravity environment), still requires extensive surgery, long recovery time, and suffers from severe memory loss.
- The explorers arrive to a star system showing signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. Having only guesses and assumptions about the society and culture of the inhabitants, all attempts at communication end in misunderstandings.
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The novel can be described as an in-depth exploration of the concept of Epic Fail -— so many completely avoidable and generally meaningless failures happen there.
- Starfish Aliens: The Quintans. Discussed once the humans force them to open contact by emitting images of humanoids on clouds. The real shapes of the aliens are revealed only at the last moment. Mentally, they are staunchly isolationist, but the reason for that is hardly inhuman: the humans conclude they're divided into two blocs locked in a cold war, and the governments of both cover up their arrival in fear of it being exploited by the other bloc.
- We Can Rebuild Him: The P is a Composite Character in a most literal way — there's two bodies in good shape, enough material for one man, but at the cost of dismantling the other body. He's got quite an identity problem afterwards.
- We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill: Humans come in peace to establish contact with Quintans. The aliens are passive-aggressive about the idea. The humans insist.