An astronaut returns to Earth after a ten-year mission and finds a society that he barely recognizes.
Stanisław Lem's Return from the Stars recounts the experiences of Hal Bregg, an astronaut who returns from an exploratory mission that lasted ten years—although because of time dilation, 127 years have passed on Earth. Bregg finds a society that he hardly recognizes, in which danger has been eradicated. Children are “betrizated” to remove all aggression and violence—a process that also removes all impulse to take risks and explore. The people of Earth view Bregg and his crew as “resuscitated Neanderthals,” and pressure them to undergo betrization. Bregg has serious difficulty in navigating the new social mores.
While Lem's depiction of a risk-free society is bleak, he does not portray Bregg and his fellow astronauts as heroes. Indeed, faced with no opposition to his aggression, Bregg behaves abominably. He is faced with a choice: leave Earth again and hope to return to a different society in several hundred years, or stay on Earth and learn to be content. With Return from the Stars, Lem shows the shifting boundaries between utopia and dystopia.
Fourteen years after his death, the universe is still struggling to catch up with the vast creative force that was Stanisław Lem. And for my money, it won't be surpassing him anytime soon…Enjoying the genius of Lem requires readerly dexterity and a willingness to go wherever the author takes you…These marvelous, absorbing and often hilarious books make our weary universe seem pale and undistinguished by comparison.
The Washington Post
In a cycle of melancholy sci-fi novels written in the late nineteen-fifties and sixties —Eden, Solaris, Return from the Stars, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, The Invincible, and His Master's Voice—Lem suggested that life in the future, however remote the setting and however different the technology, will be no less tragic. Astronauts disembark from a spaceship into the aftermath of an atrocity; scientists face an alien intelligence so unlike our own that their confidence in the special purpose of human life falters. Lem was haunted by the idea that losses can overwhelm the human capacity to apprehend them.
The New Yorker
The release of these new volumes seems to expand the possibilities of what a university publisher can do.
The writing is leisurely and elaborate, with a lot of gorgeous descriptive set-pieces….Atypical work from a master, but carried off with characteristic panache.
Lem's thought-provoking, reissued 1961 classic explores the questionable utopia that has emerged on a vivid future Earth through the eyes of an astronaut recently returned from the Fomalhaut star system, 23 light years away.
Philosophy to me is just another genre; religion another; in the end we only have stories. And in this realm Lem never failed me, and never failed science fiction. There was never a dull Lem book, and at their best they are superb.
Kim Stanley Robinson