Lem at Amazon

Stanislaw Lem at Amazon

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4.5714285714286 1 1 1 1 1 Rating 4.57 (14 Votes)

The last voluminous book about the adventures of Ijon Tichy tells a story that takes place in a near future. Earthly superpowers send their arsenals and arms factories to the Moon, so that they can evolve there by themselves, leaving the Earth in a state of peace and welfare. The fear of what had been born from these arsenals forces international organizations to send Ijon Tichy in a secret mission to the Moon.  Once there, the protagonist suffers from a strange accident:  his brain becomes callotomized, i.e. the two hemispheres of his brain are separated.  Tichy – in his psychical duality – becomes a puzzle to himself and his environment;  he is also a deponent of a mystery he remains unaware of, desired by all intelligence services of the world.

The plot of the Peace on Earth was not base on the political situation of that time - I usually tried to shield myself from such influences. Current information regarding growing tension between the Soviet Union and the United States had no effect on the process of writing. Only now we are aware of the fact that a nuclear conflict was much closer than we suspected - and of course I did not know it at that time. However even after the end of the Cold War the danger of a nuclear war is still high initiated - for example - by certain terrorist groups.

Lem's latest futuristic satire sends his redoubtable protagonist Ijon Tichy - hero of The Futurological Congress, among other works - to the moon, which has been given over to intelligent, self-evolving war machines in a kind of super-detente. Weapons are banned on Earth, while each nation's robot army runs an arms race on the moon. When the governments of Earth become concerned that the machines are planning an invasion of the mother world, the Lunar Agency dispatches Tichy and several remote-controlled robots to investigate.


I don't know what to do. If I could say "I'm miserable," it wouldn't be so bad. I can't say "We're miserable" either because I can only partly speak for myself even though I'm still Ijon Tichy. I used to talk to myself while I shaved but I had to stop because of my left eye's lewd winking. Coming back in the LEM, I didn't realize what happened to me just before lift-off. The LEM, by the way, doesn't have anything to do with the American NASA module manned by Armstrong and Aldrin to collect a couple of moon rocks. It was given the same name to disguise my secret mission.

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.

A version of this review appeared in print on October 16, 1994, on page 740 of the New York edition.