RETURN FROM THE STARS, A NOVEL BY STANISLAW LEM

Hello dear readers and fellow bloggers. How is life treating you? Today I'm back with another reading recommendation. Now, some of you may remember that I love science fiction. Since I have discovered Stanislaw Lem, a Polish author of science fiction, I've just kept reading more of his works. I have  already reviewed three Lem's novel on this little digital place of mine: Eden, The Invincible and Solaris. Today I will review the fourth: a novel about a man who returns from the stars only to find his home changed so much,  it doesn't feel like home anymore. Titled Return From the Stars and published in 1961, this novel tells a story of an astronaut returning home to Earth after more than a century.
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Honestly, I'm surprised this novel is not better known or more praised. Return From the Stars in an amazing book. The writing is absolutely captivating. What particularly impressed me is how it felt like several novels within one novel. The protagonist of this novel is an astronaut who has returned to Earth from the starts (meaning the outer space) after a period of more than a hundred years. Hal, a former astronaut, finds the Earth greatly changed. So, changed that Hal experiences severe cultural shock. Tennessee Williams said it best- Time is the greatest distance. Lem excelled at both creating this new world and describing Hal Bregg's reaction to it. What was a decade for Hal, was more than a hundred years for people on Earth. 

There are other members of the crew that have returned, but initially Hal is alone. The combination of cultural shock and isolation doesn't make it easy for the protagonist, but this contrast makes for some vivid descriptions. Hall Bregg only meets one of his former crew members after a period of time. He is facing the world alone at the start- and it is a strange new world.  Described as two meters tall, Hal towers over the people he meets, but their differences do not stop there. Hal shocks everyone and his initial efforts of communication with other Earthlings are clumsy. To him they seem terribly passive. Something has changed, the human kind is not the same. Hal can feel it even if he cannot put his finger on it. However, Hal is about to find out what is the one thing that changed the human society forever. 

Hal attends the party where he meets a girl who seems drunk, but soon he realizes that she is not. That is just how everyone looks to him- drunk or passive. The girl invites Hal  home and he accepts, albeit surprised. This book was written in 1961 but even today it is not exactly common for someone to invite someone they don't know home (or it shouldn't be).  Finally, a piece of puzzle is resolved. The dramatic change in human behaviour is caused by a medical procedure that eliminates violence. At her home, Hal realizes why it is not uncommon for a girl to invite a man she just met over- there is this procedure that everyone undertakes, every human living on the planet, making them incapable of any act of aggression or violence. Once the girl learns that Hal has not undergone this procedure, she is terrified of him and he soon leaves because he doesn't want to make her uncomfortable. Hal found out something new and now he seems determined to figure out how this new  world functions. 

Hal ventures on his own to research this new Earth. With time he learns more about the way things function. The girl provided him with some basic information but when he checks into hotel he soon learns more. He can stay in the hotel as long as he likes. The future world is almost an utopia. There is a sum awarded to him even if he chooses not to work. Hal eagerly explores this new world. Many things seem ideal, but viewing them from Hal's perspective it is hard to see whether this world is really an utopia. 

Moreover, Hal understandably finds it hard to adapt to this utopia. Taken that it is an utopia- it still not certain whether this is the case or is the new Earth really a dystopia. Lem has a wonderfully complex approach to the future. Instead of imagining just the good or the bad, the shows the reader both and that makes the world he created seem very realistic.  The Earth has become a place with no risks but also a place that is restricted. For Hal, Earth is no longer the home planet he has left more than a hundred years ago. 

The most significant change is that of human society. The human kind itself has changed, choosing to undergone a procedure called betrization, that makes them incapable of harming anyone, be it an animal or another person. Robots do all the dangerous or difficult jobs. The consequences of betrization, a procedure designed to neutralize all aggressive impulses are far-reaching. This is not a cosmetic procedure but rather one that completely changes humans as such. It makes people avoid all risks and as such it numbs their desire to explore and do research. Nobody wants to venture into space anymore. The space travel could become of interest only to historians. How can Hal truly belong into this world? 

Hal soon meets some interesting characters from his past. So, there are some regressions and references to the past. Moreover, this story is not completely linear. Hal often remembers his space travel adventures- and some of these memories weigh hard on him. There are some traumatic memories as well. There were moments when Hal experiences something like PTSP thinking about his space day and past. Indeed, I couldn't help thinking that Hal really has PTSP. Lem does a great job of creating a credible psychological portrait for the protagonist. Taken that this book was written and published when the study of PTSP wasn't as developed as today and when there was still so much we didn't know, that is especially impressive.  Hal is not a war veteran but he has spent a decade in the space- under supreme pressure. While in space, Hal was responsible for lives of his crew.  His mission was a dangerous one- as is to be expected. Space travel and exploration is not for the faint of heart.  On the other hand, Hal still has the desire to explore the space within him. In other words, Hal is torn and that makes him wonderfully human. When Hal meets a member of his crew, they get into heated debates over whether the new life on Earth is completely wrong or not. This happens in many other literary dystopian novels I've read, there is often a debate between characters. What I found ingenious is that here as a reader you are not really served with any answers. Is new Earth good or bad? The writer doesn't give it you a straight answer. 

It is impressive how many things Lem predicted in terms of technology, for example reading books on tablets. Lem's predictions of the future developments are amazing. He was able to predict so many future developments and it makes for an interesting read.  I thought that would be it, you know, the study of Hal's life in this new Earth, in other words a dystopian or if you will- an utopian novel. However, that's only a part of what this book is about because this is where the book started to get really interesting. I tell you, this novel kept throwing surprised on me and I loved it. It kept bringing moments from Hal's past and shedding more light on the protagonist. It's not a strictly linear novel nor does it focus only on the dystopian society. There is a personal element to it as well. Just when I thought that was about it, the protagonist falls madly in love with Eri and then there is this whole romantic story. I don't think Lem wrote such a complete romantic story before. It's like additional novel within this novel. It's quite dynamic and Hal does crazy things because of his love for Eri. Without too much spoilers, we could say that love changes Hal's view on many things.


Here is what the author said about this book:
...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.


I can definitely recommend this novel. The plot is so written, it makes for a captivating read. In addition,  the characters are well developed. There are so many nice details to treasure in this book. It is a complex work. Nothing is black and white. For example, there are wonderful poetic descriptions of space travel in this novel, but space exploration as such is not idolized. The author makes it known that space travel as such is dangerous. It goes into detail describing some of the past Hal's 'space travel' experiences, one of them being paranormal (this made me think of Solaris). There is also an obvious philosophical aspect to the novel. Lem (through the eyes of Hal) questions this future society. Hal cannot feel at home at this new Earth, but he is not completely closed minded about it. That's the wonderful thing about this novel. We have a protagonist Hal Bregg that grows as a character and evolves. His love for Eri makes Hal want to understand this (to him alien) Earth. Indeed, there is a well written romantic story within this novel. I don't remember seeing a female character playing such an important role in Lem's novels before. Eri definitely plays an important part in this novel (and in Hal's life) so that was interesting. Without her, Hal would be lost in this new world. Eri is quite a strong character. Lem said that the female character could have been better developed (or in his words more expressive), but to me Eri seemed real and expressive enough (especially compared to other female characters of that era).  I quite enjoyed reading about this strong female protagonist. All in all, this was a rich story and I enjoyed it a lot. Highly recommended to lovers of science fiction and dystopian literature. I gave this novel a five star mark on goodreads and I really think it deserves it. I cannot wait to read more of Stanislaw Lem. 

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Thank you for stopping by. Have you got any reading recommendations to share?

Comments

  1. Definitely, interesting about the author's perception of the future and how spot on he is. I will have to look into this one. Thanks so much. Awesome outfits, too. Love the long skirt in the wild flowers!

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  2. This novel is so intriguing. The author does have a way of capturing the future. Much of it sounds what our nation is going through now with the stimulus and all. There are jobs, but no one wants them. Love the lovely pink maxi skirt. Thanks for the review.

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  3. No conocía al autor pero la verdad me dejaste con ganas de leerlo . Y creo que lo hare cuando termine lo que leo. Gracias por la reseña . Te mando un beso

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  4. The book sounds really good. I love your outfit, you look amazing!! xx

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  5. Your review of this books has certainly piqued my interest. I'm not the biggest fan of science fiction, but this sounds like an interesting read, and one I might like! Thank you for sharing yet another in-depth review, Ivana xxx

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  6. Nikad nisam čula ni za autora ni za ovaj roman, potražiću ga ovih dana. :)


    http://www.couture-case.com

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  7. I'm a fan of Lem's writing, but haven't seen this book - I'll keep an eye out for it. Excellent review, Ivana!

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  8. This author and book are new to me but the story sounds captivating. It's interesting how you mentioned that it seemed like it was several novels within one novel. Thank your for the detailed review. I will add this to my ever growing reading list.

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  9. Although it's different from the kind of books I usually read it sounds like an interesting one and it's great you enjoyed it so much!

    Hope your week is going well!

    Away From The Blue

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  10. Suas postagens são ótimas, estou seguindo seu blog e curtindo bastante!! Parabéns!

    Meu Blog: Brenda Soares

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  11. Thanks for the beautiful post!

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  12. This sounds like such an incredible story and a great read- thanks for sharing this, babe!


    -Ashley
    Le Stylo Rouge

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  13. The story sounds interesting and your review only makes me want to pick it up as soon as I can.
    xoxo
    Lovely
    www.mynameislovely.com

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  14. Hola Ivana, I hope you're having a good week so far! I hope that new painting goes really well :)

    I remember your previous reviews linked to this story! I'd say the plot of this one may have a few connections with the times we're facing but in an explossive way! By the way you have a great selection of editions, you're really good at picking covers that look appealing in the bookshelf. I liked that you mentioned that nothing is black and white, and that's how things should be since life has a lot of shades, not only one reality or certain truth.

    Marvelous photos at the fields and take care!
    Pablo
    www.HeyFungi.com

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  15. The story sounds fantastic, thank you for sharing it with us.
    Brazilian lace wigs

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  16. It is amazing you read a lot of science fiction books!! A library near my home doesn't have Return From Stars, so someday I would love to read the book in English. You are so beautiful in the flower garden<3

    akiko

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  17. This comment has been removed by the author.

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All your comments mean a lot to me, even the criticism. Naravno da mi puno znači što ste uzeli vrijeme da nešto napišete, pa makar to bila i kritika. Per me le vostre parole sono sempre preziose anche quando si tratta di critiche.

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