The future Earth is borderline overwhelming for Bregg at first - if only due to the staggering changes in technology, everyday life and architecture, but what upsets him the most is the "betrization", a treatment given to all children that eliminates violent impulses, but also removes bravado and the courage necessary for risk-taking. The question of whether an utopia of safety and peace is worth sacrificing derring-do is but one of the book's themes.
This novel exhibits the following tropes:
- Alien Geometries: The first parts of the book, where Hal first steps onto the spaceship depot, are a confusing stream of consciousness because Hal is equally confused by the Bizarrchitecture surrounding him.
- Challenge Seeker: Hal is distressed when he finds out that space missions are considered pointless in the future - and he finds the arguments for that persuasive. At the end of the book, a fellow astronaut argues that their mission was never intended to have any practical purpose - it was done for the challenge.What can one get from the stars? And of what use was Amundsen's expedition? Or Andree's? None. The only clear benefit lay in the fact that they had proved a possibility. That it could be done. Or, more precisely, that it was, for a given time, the most difficult attainable thing.
- Cold Sleep, Cold Future: Astronauts who have completed a century-long interstellar exploration mission return to an Earth where violence and risk-taking is so foreign to the population that the returning astronauts are regarded as dangerous beasts.
- Contemptible Cover: On one edition◊, the artist seems to have taken the future people's perception of the protagonist as a beast overly literally.
- Crapsaccharine World A deconstruction deconstruction (or possibly an Unbuilt Trope, Lem being mostly unfamiliar with contemporary SF when he wrote the novel.) Unless you're a sentient AI.
- Fish out of Temporal Water
- Future Imperfect: Sort of. The protagonist goes to a theatre play set in the past (his own times), and comments on how wrong they got the customs.
- Future Slang
- Holograms: There are holographic 3-D photos, as well as holographic theater plays.
- No New Fashions in the Future: Averted. Future clothes are not sewn - they are sprayed on as quickly solidifying foam (and one-use; you simply tear off your clothes when you're bored with them and spray on new ones). Clothes are skin-tight and usually sparkly.
- No-Paper Future: Paper books are found only in antique shops. Instead, future books are recorded on tiny crystals and read on handheld devices (that very much resemble real-life e-book readers).
- Restraining Bolt: The betrization treatment, as well as a drug that inhibits sex drive, customarily taken for each date.
- Stupid Sacrifice: One of the most painful things about the future for Hal is that nobody goes on space missions anymore, because they decided they were pointless, ineffectual wastes of human life — and the cause to which Hal and his fellow crewmen dedicated 10 years of their life, alienated themselves from society permanently, and some even sacrificed their life to, was an useless effort.
- Time Dilation