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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 Cars and planes have been replaced by gleeders and ulders; you can still get coffee for breakfast, but instead of eggs or toast the choice is among ozote, kress or herma.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.

The story of the traveler returned to an alien home was probably old in Homer's day. But in the hands of Stanisław Lem, it doesn't show its age. Lem, the playfully brilliant. Pole who may well be the best science-fiction writer working today in any language, is a prolific satirist/philosopher/novelist whose quirky, blackly humorous stories have earned him a vast following in Europe. The crisp new English translation of "Return From the Stars," which he wrote in 1961, is bound to enhance his growing reputation in the United States. A fast-paced, occasionally moving and hugely entertaining mini-Odyssey, it is among the most accessible of Lem's works. Hal Bregg's initial astonishment, brief stab at rebellion and final grudging acceptance of a not-very-brave new world mirror our own reactions. Lem—with characteristic deftness, attention to detail and stylistic virtuosity creates a society whose mores and mechanics may seem baffling at first but, in the end, not strange at all.

Allan J. Mayer, Newsweek 30 June 1980