Literature: The Star Diaries
Another beautiful day in space.The Star Diaries
) by Stanislaw Lem
, often published together with their sequel Memoirs of a Space Traveller
, are supposedly the journals and travelogues of Ijon Tichy, a famous space traveller, recording his remarkable adventures exploring the cosmos.
Besides his identity as a pioneer of space exploration and an established travel writer, Ijon Tichy is an amateur scholar who moves in scientific circles both on Earth and around the Galaxy, and, if the need arises, an ambassador of humankind on the parquet of galactic diplomacy (he has even been known to serve his home planet as a secret agent in undercover missions); he is a noble soul wishing to go where no man has gone before, to push the limits of humanity’s horizon and bring the cosmos together in peace, as a brotherhood of all sapient civilizations.
That, or a charlatan and liar, who makes a living off bamboozling gullible Earth-lubbers with astronautical folklore and hair-raising tall tales too absurd to be believed by anyone with so much as a grain of common sense. Take your pick.The Star Diaries
(first edition in 1957, expanded in 1966 and 1971) consists of short stories
, all narrated by its personable Space Munchausen
. In the process, the book satirizes
countless science fiction tropes
, yet it also explores - in a comical guise
, but otherwise quite straightforward - many classical themes of science fiction; such as meeting and interacting with alien civilizations
, Time Travel
, Artificial Intelligence
, and the consequences of technological and scientific progress for humanity.
, Memoirs of a Space Traveller
(1982), also consists of short stories, but differs notably from Star Diaries
in that most of the stories are set on Earth and are also quite serious, even dark
(though not all of them). Mostly they feature Tichy, now a respected celebrity
, meeting eccentric scientists and inventors, and only a few deal with Ijon Tichy’s adventures with alien civilizations.
The Ijon Tichy character went on to star in three more satirical novels: The Futurological Congress
(1971), Observation on the Spot
(1982, no translation), and Peace on Earth
The Star Diaries provide examples of the following tropes:
- All Just a Dream: The Eighth Voyage.
- And I Must Scream: Particularly in the Twenty-Fourth Voyage, where an alien civilization's super computer, who they designed to be perfect and to organize their everyday lives perfectly, starts turning the aliens into shiny disks and arranging them in perfect geometrical patterns and sculptures. It's hinted they don't die in the process.
- Assimilation Plot: The Thirteenth Voyage has Tichy visit a series of societies by "The Great Architect", whom Tichy is supposed to meet. The last society is one where everyone is engineered to look exactly the same, and there's a lottery where everyone takes a different role in life (banker, janitor, wife, child, etc.) every week. This is the Architect's "masterpiece", because it eliminates identity, and thus eliminates death. Tichy then decides the Architect is completely off his nut, and runs away as fast as possible.
- Batman-Gambit: In The Star Diaries it's paired with a literal Paranoia Gambit. On an alien planet, an uber-computer creatively interprets its directives and turns most of the population into black disks. The survivors forbid him to kill any more people, thus he proposes that he will only do so with people who he is told to carry off. Guess what, in the next morning there are a lot more disks...
- Bio-Augmentation: Taken to the extreme in the Twenty-First Voyage, where the inhabitants of Dykhtonia, who initially were Human Aliens, have started to genetically reform their bodies in so many different ways that the form of one's body has become subject to fashion and politics.
- Casual Interstellar Travel: Exaggerated: Ijon Tichy once turned his rocket around and headed back several parsec because he had left his pocket knife in a spaceport cafeteria. (Turns out it was in his pocket all along.)
- Conflict Ball: Conflict in the 7º voyage could have been resolved in minutes if Tichy hadn't been one week beating up himself.
- Celibate Hero: Tichy is a bachelor and appears to have no interest in women.
- Dedication: Parodied. The book contains a foreword by Ijon Tichy's friend Professor Tarantoga. He ends it with saying that nobody helped him in his work, and listing those who set him back would take too much space.
- Doorstop Baby: The Twenty-Eighth Voyage reveals that Ijon was found by his father, Auror Tichy, as a Doorstop Baby in front of his spaceship cabin (complete with a note saying "It's yours"). He never found out who the mother was...
- Failure Is the Only Option: In the Twentieth Voyage, Tichy became the head of an organization from the 27th century that attempts to correct history and create a better world using time travel. However, every plan fails spectacularly due to a combination of mishap, incompetence, and malice resulting in a thoroughly fouled-up world — ie. the one we currently live in.
- Fun with Acronyms: Used quite often, especially in the Twentieth and the Twenty-First Voyage.
- Gone Horribly Right: In the 22º Voyage a missionary teaches a benevolent alien race about martyrdom. Aliens interpret the missionary wants to become a martyr and torture him to death to fulfill his desires.
- Another missionary succeeds so much in convincing another alien race that Sex Is Evil that they are in the danger of becoming extinct.
- Human Aliens:
- The Dykhtonians (Twenty-First Voyage) were initially this, before they started to redesign their own bodies by bioengineering. Throughout the story, Ijon Tichy often even calls them humans "for convenience".
- Parodied in the Twenty-Fifth Voyage, where a group of Starfish Aliens living on an extremely hot planet discuss the possibility of an intelligent species living in a lower temperature; the oldest one concludes that the existence of such creatures is impossible, and any other sapient species must be exactly like them.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: In the Eighth Voyage, Tichy represents Earth to petition for its admission to the United Planets. The members, who are highly advanced creatures are utterly disgusted and outraged by humans. In the end, it turns out that life on Earth was actually created by two crew members of an alien spaceship as some kind of sick joke.
- Individuality Is Illegal: On the planet of Panta, which Ijon Tichy visits on Voyage no. 13, identity has been abolished in favor of state-assigned social roles that rotate at midnight.
- The Munchausen: It is repeatedly alluded that certain "critics" of Ijon Tichy, the great pioneer of space exploration who knows the galaxy like the back of his hand, think that he is a great big old liar. And though Tichy repeatedly and indignantly rejects such insolent reproaches, it is lampshaded several times that he has not a bit of evidence for all his outrageously wacky adventures. (The later Ijon Tichy books however drop this aspect and everybody seems to take the factuality of his travelogues for granted.)
- Religious Robot: The robot monks of Dykhtonia. They are aware that if they connected to a robot with all the facts on religion they would become atheists, so they choose not to connect to other robots out of religious principle.
- Riddle for the Ages: In the Fourteenth Voyage, Tichy visits the planet Enteropia where there's an activity called "scruption". Tichy can't find out what it is, because the lexicon entries about it all just link to each other. On the planet, all of his attempts to learn more end in scandal. (Scruption is apparently something sexual, since you can't do it without a wife.)
- Robotic Reveal: Inverted in the Eleventh Voyage. Tichy, sent in a robot disguise to a planet inhabited solely by machines that are hostile to all humanity, discovers in the story's finale that there is no single robot around the place. All of the alleged machines are in fact secret agents like himself, who have been exposed one by one, and forced to keep up appearances. Furthermore: the computer mastermind behind this plot shows up to be merely a humble human gofer working for the agency responsible for sending all those people on a mission to that planet.
- Sex Is Evil:
- One of Tichy's ancestors, whose fate is recalled in the Twenty-Eighth Voyage, created a substance that made sex painful, so humanity wouldn't be controlled by carnal desires anymore. When he put it into the water supply of his city, he was lynched.
- Also, in the Twentieth Voyage, Ijon Tichy whines how ugly and misplaced human sexual organs are. It was his fault. Indirectly.
- Space Pirates: Ijon Tichy mentions that his grandfather made a committed attempt, but it didn't pay off.
- Starfish Aliens: Most of them — especially in the Eighth Voyage, which has Ijon Tichy mistake an alien ambassador for a soda machine.
- Tall Tale: Played with — it's never clear if Tichy "really" had all those wacky adventures, or whether he is just telling tall tales.
- Time Police: In the Twentieth Voyage, there is a "Chronicle Squad" with the task to hunt down corrupt and criminal time travellers.
- Time Travel: Ijon Tichy gets handed the Timey-Wimey Ball several times, the most amusing instance probably being the episode when Tichy, caught in a time loop, is banged on the head with a saucepan wielded by a future version of himself (then goes on to bang a saucepan on the head of a past version of himself). For a week.
- Unfazed Everyman: Ijon Tichy, as he presents himself.
- The Unreveal: What the heck is scruption?
Memoirs of a Space Traveller provides examples of the following tropes:
- Artifact Title: In-universe. "The Washing-Machine Tragedy" is a story (in the style of Zach Weiner) about two washing machine vendors trying to outcompete each other. Very soon their products cease to resemble "washing machines" completely.
- Bulungi: The neighboring nations Lamblia and Gurunduwaju in "Professor A. Donda".
- Famed in Story: From Memoirs of a Space Traveller onward, Ijon Tichy's celebrity status on Earth is well-established, and often forms a set-up for new adventures.
- Mood Whiplash: Purely satirical stories are followed by completely serious ones, about hard themes like the creation of a truly independent mechanical intelligence, or the horror of having an immortal soul without a body. Partially caused by the book being a collection of short stories written over a period of about twenty years.
- Robotic Reveal: In one story, the aggressive competition of two producers of washing machines leads to multitudes of intelligent, human-looking washing machines posing as people.
- Time Travel: A much darker example has a hapless inventor test his prototype time machine in Tichy's living room by a casual trip 50 years into the future - realizing too late that the trip actually will take him 50 years. And the machine has no emergency brake.
- Inside a Computer System: An interesting example in the first story: instead of people being trapped in a virtual reality, it's cybernetic brains created by a scientist. These are all hooked up to a large computer, which is creating their reality around them. Every brain is a different person: a beautiful girl, a scientist... and a madman, who thinks that paranormal stuff like prophecies or telepathy are the result of an error in the illusion that is his reality.
- Unwilling Roboticisation: Played with. In Dr. Vliperdius' psychiatric ward for robots, Tichy meets a robot friend of his who has developed a delusion that he was previously a human who one day woke up transformed into a robot, and that "they" have "stolen his body".
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: In one story, Tichy meets Decantor, an inventor who constructed an immortal soul. For that purpose, he had destroyed the body of his wife and kept her consciousness in a box, without any external stimuli. Tichy realizes that this is a fate worse than death and finally convinces Decantor that people don't want immortality; they just want to live.