The Star Diaries

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Another beautiful day in space.

The Star Diaries (Dzienniki gwiazdowe) by Stanislaw Lem, often published together with their sequel Memoirs of a Space Traveller, are supposedly the journals and travelogues of Ijon Tichy, a famous space traveller, recording his remarkable adventures exploring the cosmos.

Besides his identity as a pioneer of space exploration and an established travel writer, Ijon Tichy is an amateur scholar who moves in scientific circles both on Earth and around the Galaxy, and, if the need arises, an ambassador of humankind on the parquet of galactic diplomacy (he has even been known to serve his home planet as a secret agent in undercover missions); he is a noble soul wishing to go where no man has gone before, to push the limits of humanity’s horizon and bring the cosmos together in peace, as a brotherhood of all sapient civilizations.

That, or a charlatan and liar, who makes a living off bamboozling gullible Earth-lubbers with astronautical folklore and hair-raising tall tales too absurd to be believed by anyone with so much as a grain of common sense. Take your pick.

The Star Diaries (1976[1]) consists of short stories, all narrated by its personable Space Munchausen. In the process, the book satirizes or parodies countless science fiction tropes, yet it also explores - in a comical guise, but otherwise quite straightforward - many classical themes of science fiction; such as meeting and interacting with alien civilizations, Time Travel, Artificial Intelligence, and the consequences of technological and scientific progress for humanity.

The Sequel, Memoirs of a Space Traveller (1982), also consists of short stories, but differs notably from Star Diaries in that most of the stories are set on Earth and are also quite serious, even dark (though not all of them). Mostly they feature Tichy, now a respected celebrity, meeting eccentric scientists and inventors (making the title somewhat non-indicative), and only a few deal with Ijon Tichy’s adventures with alien civilizations.

The Ijon Tichy character went on to star in three more satirical novels: The Futurological Congress (1974), Observation on the Spot (1982, no translation), and Peace on Earth (1987).

The Star Diaries and Memoirs of a Space Traveller provide examples of the following tropes
  • And I Must Scream: Particularly in one story, where an alien civilization's super computer, who they designed to be perfect and to organize their everyday lives perfectly, starts turning the aliens into shiny disks and arranging them in perfect geometrical patterns and sculptures. It's hinted they don't die in the process.
  • Assimilation Plot: One story has Tichy visit a series of societies by "The Great Architect", whom Tichy is supposed to meet. The last society is one where everyone is engineered to look exactly the same, and there's a lottery where everyone takes a different role in life (banker, janitor, wife, child, etc.) every week. This is the Architect's "masterpiece", because it eliminates identity, and thus eliminates death. Tichy then decides the Architect is completely off his nut, and runs away as fast as possible.
  • Bio Augmentation: Taken to the extreme in one story's aliens, who start genetically reforming their bodies in so many different ways, that in the end they start treating the whole thing almost like fashion.
  • Celibate Hero: Tichy is a bachelor and appears to have no interest in women.
  • Dedication: Parodied. The book contains a foreword by a character called Professor Tarantoga. He ends it with saying that one helped him in his work, and listing those who set him back would take too much space.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: In one story, Tichy becames the head of an organization from the 27h that century that attempts to correct history and create a better world using time travel. However, every plan fails spectacularly due to a combination of mishap, incompetence, and malice resulting in a thoroughly fouled-up world—ie. the one we currently live in.
  • Famed in Story: Especially from Memoirs of a Space Traveller onward.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Used quite often.
  • Human Aliens: Parodied in one of the stories, where a group of Starfish Aliens living on an extremely hot planet discuss a possibility of an intelligent species living in a lower temperature; the oldest one explains that the existence of such creatures is impossible, and any other sapient species must be exactly like them.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: In the eighth voyage, Tichy represents Earth to petition for its admission to the United Planets. The members, who are highly advanced creatures are utterly disgusted and outraged by humans. In the end, it turns out that life on Earth was actually created by two crew members of an alien spaceship as some kind of sick joke. Fortunately, it's All Just a Dream.
  • Mood Whiplash: Purely satirical stories are followed by completely serious ones, about hard themes like the creation of a truly independent mechanical intelligence, or the horror of having an immortal soul without a body.
  • The Munchausen: Ijon Tichy to his readers.
  • Robotic Reveal: Inverted in the eleventh voyage. Tichy, sent in a robot disguise to a planet inhabited solely by machines that are hostile to all humanity, discovers in the story's finale that there is no single robot around the place. All of the alleged machines are in fact secret agents like himself, who have been exposed one by one, and forced to keep up appearances. Furthermore: the computer mastermind behind this plot shows up to be merely a humble human gofer working for the agency responsible for sending all those people on a mission to that planet.
  • Sex Is Evil: One of Tichy's ancestors created a substance that made sex painful, so humanity wouldn't be controlled by carnal desires anymore. When he put it into the water supply of his city, he was lynched.
  • Starfish Aliens: Most of them. One particularly funny moment has Ijon Tichy mistake an alien ambassador for a soda machine.
  • Tall Tale: Played with—it's never clear if Tichy "really" had all those wacky adventures, or whether he is just telling tall tales.
  • Unfazed Everyman: Ijon Tichy, as he presents himself.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: In one of the stories, Tichy meets with an inventor who created an immortal soul. However, for that, the body has to be destroyed, and the soul is kept in a box, without any external stimuli. Tichy realizes that this is a fate worse than death. He tells to the inventor that people don't want immortality; they just want to live.
  1. The first English edition. The first Polish edition was in 1957, but the book was expanded with two subsequent editions up to 1971.