Return From the Stars

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
I can't quite put my finger on it, but something seems to have changed ever since I've been here last time.

A 1961 Science Fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem, Return From the Stars tells the story of Hal Bregg, an astronaut who, after completing a 10 years long exploratory mission, returns to Earth where - due to Time Dilation - 127 years have passed in the meanwhile. Of course, technology and society changed immensely in the meanwhile, and the arriving astronauts find themselves classic Fishes Out Of Temporal Water. Hal Bregg is one of the few who decides to integrate himself into modern society on his own instead of being subjected to a long preparatory (and propaganda-sprinkled) educational course.

The future Earth is borderline overwhelming for Bregg at first - if only due to the staggering changes in technology, everyday life and architecture, but what upsets him the most is the "betrization", a treatment given to all children that eliminates violent impulses, but also removes bravado and the courage necessary for risk-taking. The question of whether an utopia of safety and peace is worth sacrificing derring-do is but one of the book's themes.

Tropes used in Return From the Stars include:
  • Alien Geometries: The first parts of the book, where Hal first steps onto the spaceship depot, are a confusing stream of consciousness because Hal is equally confused by the Bizarrchitecture surrounding him.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water
  • Future Imperfect: Sort of. The protagonist goes to a theatre play set in the past (his own times), and comments on how wrong they got the customs.
  • Future Slang
  • Holograms: There are holographic 3-D photos, as well as holographic theater plays.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: Averted. Future clothes are not sewn - they are sprayed on as qucikly solidifying foam (and one-use; you simply tear off your clothes when you're bored with them and spray on new ones). Clothes are skin-tight and usually sparkly.
  • No-Paper Future: Paper books are found only in antique shops. Instead, future books are recorded on tiny crystals and read on handheld devices (that very much resemble real-life e-book readers).
  • Restraining Bolt: The betrization treatment, as well as a drug that inhibits sex drive, customarily taken for each date.
  • Stupid Sacrifice: One of the most painful things about the future for Hal is that nobody goes on space missions anymore, because they decided they were pointless, ineffectual wastes of human life -- and the cause to which Hal and his fellow crewmen dedicated 10 years of their life, alienated themselves from society permanently, and some even sacrificed their life to, was an useless effort.
  • Time Dilation