PEACE ON EARTH (Harcourt Brace, $19.95) is a belated parable of the cold war, written in 1987 by the distinguished Polish author Stanislaw Lem and only now being published in English (translated by Elinor Ford with Michael Kandel). Despite the grim subject matter, "Peace on Earth" shows Mr. Lem in one of his playful moods, as the intrepid first-person narrator Ijon Tichy - whose notable memoirs of "The Futurological Congress" first appeared in English in 1974 - travels to the moon to find out how the arms race is going up there.
It seems that the nations of the world have agreed, in the name of mutual security, to export their hostilities to our planet's airless satellite, where, thanks to automation, the war machines can continue their endlessly evolving game of thrust and counterthrust without anyone getting hurt.
When fears arise that the machines on the moon may be developing aggressive tendencies of an interplanetary nature, Tichy is dispatched to learn the truth. He returns somewhat the worse for wear, having had the hemispheres of his brain disconnected in a "remote callotomy" so that his right hand no longer knows what his left hand is doing. How everything works out for the best (if that is what it can be called) entails several twists of fate and plot that I have sworn to keep secret. But given the current debate about who did and who did not foresee the impending demise of the Soviet Union, I cannot resist quoting the prescient Ijon Tichy on the subject: "Even a fool could see that one didn't need a war, nuclear or otherwise, to destroy oneself; the rising cost of weaponry could do that quite nicely.