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4.2285714285714 1 1 1 1 1 Rating 4.23 (35 Votes)

"Return from the Stars" tells the story of an Astronaut returning to Earth after a long flight.  Because of Einstein's time paradox one and a half centuries have passed on Earth.  The Astronaut tries to understand and accept the unfamiliar Earthly civilization that gave up risk for the sake of safety and prosperity.  We are presented with a fascinating vision of “Earth as an alien planet” - in order to live there, the protagonist has to experience anew the problems of the meaning of existence, good and evil, freedom and captivity, aggression and love.

 

After 10 years in space, astronaut Hal Bregg returns home to find that, in accordance with the laws of Einsteinian relativity, 127 years have elapsed on Earth.  Confronting what is essentially an alien culture, Bregg finds himself puzzled and dismayed by various developments, including Earth's dependence on robots and a medical procedure administered to every human that effectively neutralizes all aggressive impulses.

As always, Lem is dealing with an interesting theme in an absorbing was.  First-rate in all aspects, Return from the Stars is more intellectual science fiction from a very gifted writer.

Lewis Beale, Philadelphia Inquirer
I have some reservations about this book because of sentimentalism and the brawn of its characters. Besides I recognize some traces of Remarque. An author cannot help his characters - only because he likes them. The romance could have ended just like in the novel but under one condition - the heroine should have been a more expressive character. I still consider the idea of "betrization" to be an interesting concept, however I slightly oversimplified its realization. My ambiguous feelings toward this book can be seen in the fact that I gave permission for translation and foreign editions.

"As a doctor, I really have nothing more to tell you, Bregg; however... "

He hesitated.

"Yes?"

"You are coping in our . . . present way of life?"

"Muddling along."

"Your hair is gray, Bregg."

"That means something?"

"Yes. Gray hair signifies age. No one turns gray now before eighty, and even then, rarely."

Astronaut Hal Bregg has just returned to Earth after an exploratory mission to Arcturus and points beyond. But while only ten years have passed for him, 127 have gone by on Earth—and the planet to which he has come home has changed so utterly as to be virtually unrecognizable. Cars and planes have been replaced by gleeders and ulders; you can still get coffee for breakfast, but instead of eggs or toast the choice is among ozote, kress or herma. People, too, have changed. A chemical process called "betrization," now mandatory for all children, has all but eliminated mankind's aggressive impulses, producing a race of mild-mannered, casually ineffectual pleasure seekers who react to Bregg's exploits with mind-boggling indifference. "Everything is now lukewarm," an aged physician tells the bewildered Bregg.

Stanislaw Lem's novel Return from the Stars dates from 1961, the year of Solaris, and begins with precisely the same effect of mystery, of (in Darko Suvin's helpful phrase) estrangement. The plot is startlingly conventional: the hero returns from a faster-than-light journey of great hardship and danger to a world a century in his future; how will he cope? The opening chapters of this first-person narrative present the new world in a way that constantly breaks the norms of realism. You don't know where you are, as the hero doesn't; you perceive a world through it's baffled glimpses, distortions, inability to make sense. 'The girl, wearing a bright dress that was quite ordinary, which encouraged me, held a bouquet of pale pink flowers; nestling her face in them, she smiled at the boy with her eyes. At the moment I stood before them and was opening my mouth to speak, I saw that she was eating the flowers — and my voice failed me. She was calmly chewing the delicate petals.' The known is constantly, jarringly, juxtaposed against the unknown: made strange. And it is not explained. Normally in the genre a helpful voice would now tell you that in fact she was eating the latest confectionery from Alpha Centauri, and the strange would become acceptable, realistic. Here, not. The reverse of this shock is also available: 'I kept going in the same direction. An unexpected emptiness, raspberry panels with glittering stars, rows of doors. The nearest was open. I looked in. A large, broadshouldered man looked in from the opposite side. Myself in a mirror. I opened the door wider. Porcelain, silver pipes, nickel. Toilets.' This is an uncomfortable tour de force, brilliant, uneasying, vertiginous. But what the book goes on to be about is a theme about which the realistic novel knows everything: romantic love. The hero realises that most of the strangeness of this world is because all impulse to violence has been removed from the inhabitants by drugs. They are completely peaceful, and he, and the 'courage' that sent him into space, are obscene. In the middle of this realisation he falls — violently, as we say — in love. Thus the two normal attributes of fictional heroes, a capacity for romantic love, and heroism, are foregrounded against this bizarre, pacified society, and examined as manifestations of violence.

So, while this future is a world turned upside down, we can live in it as readers because it reverses what we know well. And, knowing the central concerns — violence, love — so well, we can see them for another first time. This is a remarkable book: Astounding Science Fiction, one might say; but, since it is a love story, we know, somehow, where we are.

The Literary Review, Tom Davis