Tales of Pirx the Pilot
is a collection of short stories by Stanislaw Lem
, first published in 1968 in Poland, and was translated to English in 2 parts (Tales of Pirx the Pilot
& More Tales of Pirx the Pilot
The stories follow Pirx, a cadet at the "Institute", an academy for astronauts in the near future
, as he makes his way through the ranks of student, patrol pilot, and finally astrogator (read: captain of a spaceship)
.In this future, interplanetary spacetravel is already normal, and mankind has begun to colonize the solar system. The bulk of the stories are thus set either in solar space or on the moon, as "Luna" represents one of the most important bases of humanity. Later on in the book, Mars is also being colonized, and there are fleet bases in the constellation of Aquarius, implying that mankind is able to travel at least as far as 11 light years.
The main focus of the books is, unsurprisingly, on space travel and how mankind uses and is changed by it. Also, another main theme is how robots and computers act and evolve to help humanity with its travels between the planets.The future itself is described in rather gritty tones
, and tries its best to be realistic with the usage of science, which pushes it to the "Hard" side of the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness
Provides examples of:
- Absent Aliens: Played straight, subverted (maybe?) in "Pirx's Tale"
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Played with a lot. Computers and robots become more human over the course of the stories, up to and including human flaws. Played dead straight in The Inquest.
- All Just a Dream: In The Test, even though it's more of a simulation.
- And I Must Scream: A temporal version appears in "The Conditional Reflex": students of the Institute must pass a test where they have to endure sensory deprivation for as long as possible. After several hours, this becomes... troubling.
- Asteroid Thicket: Averted. In "Pirx's Tale" the spaceship Pirx is on was maneuvering in an asteroid cloud for several hours without actually seeing one asteroid.
- Continuity Nod: In "The Inquest" Pirx discovers a fly on his ship and mentions that he hates them. This is a nod to the very first story, where flies were responsible for some tomfoolery like almost crashing into the freaking moon.
- Crush. Kill. Destroy!: The robot in The Hunt seems to run on this - it was a mining robot before it broke down.
- Fate Worse than Death: The crew of the Blue Star/Korolian in "Terminus". The ship is hit by a meteor shower, destroying parts of it. Yet some of the crew manage to survive, trapped and separated from each other on different decks. They were still able to communicate with Morse code using the pipes, if only to tell each other they were slowly running out of air...
- And then it gets worse. The ship's robot somehow "catches on" the personalities of the dying crew and keeps them in its electronic brain. When Pirx, given the captain's chair on the refitted and renamed ship, encounters this robot, it beats out the Morse code as used by the said crew on pipes, while it's mending the pipes. And when Pirx tries to communicate with them they reply. He eventually orders the destruction of the robot due to the "total decay of brain function".
- First-Person Smartass: In "Pirx's Tale" Pirx himself is narrating, and shows off his snarky character.
- Fly Crazy: "The Test".
- Genre Shift: "The Conditional Reflex" is like a mystery story ON THE MOON!.
- Instant A.I., Just Add Water: Subverted, as the computers and robots usually show just one trait of human intellect at a time.
- Only Sane Man: Pirx has a streak of Working Class Hero-style common sense and decency which makes him appear as such throughout the tales.
- Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future: Navigation in space mostly consists of looking at trajectories and calculator outputs.
- The Plan: In "The Inquest", bordering on a Gambit Pileup and Take a Third Option. It's kind of hard to explain.
- Ridiculously Human Robots: "The Inquest" has some of them among the ship's crew. It's a test of their spaceman capability.
- Robots behaving surprisingly human is a central motif to at least two of the stories.
- Scenery Porn: The spaceport scene in "Terminus".
- Scenery Gorn: In "Ananke", the crashsite of the Ariel.
- Shout-Out: In "Pirx's Tale" the narrator mentions reading early science-fiction books and thinking they are absolutely ridiculous and unrealistic with their female alien spies, rebelling computers and evil alien empires. Could also count as a Take That to other Sci-Fi writers - the book in question sounds suspiciously like Asimov's Stars, like dust.
- Also, in "The Hunt" Pirx has to hunt a robot in a labyrinth, and the robot turns out to be more human than thought. It is pretty obvious though, as the robot is named "Setaurus".
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: For all the grit in the setting, the stories have a rather optimistic tone of mankind somehow getting on.
- Space Madness / Sanity Slippage: In "The Patrol" Pirx goes through one of those. He gets better, though.
- Starship Luxurious: The Titan in "Albatross".
- Two-DSpace: Averted. The protagonist navigates above the ecliptic in "Pirx's Tale".
- United Nations Is A Super Power: At least in space, as they supervise the most important projects and have the judicial power.
- Universal Universe Time: It's inverted, as every planet, moon and spaceship has its own time, often leading to extreme jetlags for the ships' crews.
- Used Future: So used there are shady South-American companies cashing in on the human garbage orbiting Mercury.
- Virtual Training Simulation: In "The Test". Pirx doesn't know about it, which is the point of the test (they're testing new pilots coping skills in an actual crisis situation).
- Wham Episode: "Albatross". Two fully staffed starships are lost in an nuclear accident, and all the protagonist can do is watch.
- Zeerust: The bigger computers still run on punchhole cards, and satellites communicate with Morse code.