Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review of Peace on Earth by Stanislaw Lem

Ahh, Ijon Tichy, Stanislaw Lem’s intrepid researcher, adventurer, interplanetary traveler, scientist, explorer, diplomat, and all-round science fiction jack-of-all-trades. In Peace on Earth (1986), one of Lem’s last novels, he returns for his last escapade.

The brave Tichy has been callosotomised (left brain hemisphere severed from the right) at the beginning of Peace on Earth. His right hand doing very different things than his left, and mouth occasionally spouting words a moment later he wished it hadn’t, he consults with the world’s experts, trying to bring some sanity back into his life. Mental certainty not the only thing lacking, there’s a certain portion of his memory that’s likewise missing—and it appears the intentional result of the surgery after a visit to the moon.

The moon in Peace on Earth is a special place. In an effort to avoid further world wars, Earth’s governments have agreed to divvy up the moon into sectors proportional to each country’s size, and there to continue researching and manufacturing WMDs, all traces of such weaponry removed from Earth. The trick is that no humans are allowed on the moon, either. All work automatized, the research is carried out by robots and special security functions designed to keep malign Earthlings from ever gaining access to the massive payload. Tichy’s surgery the perfect scapegoat (i.e. unable to report to Earth what exists on the moon, and therefore give certain people knowledge how to acess the weaponry), what he discovers there is amazing.

While Peace on Earth may at times be a bit too convoluted for its own good, there is no questioning Lem’s unique wit. As sharp as his younger days, it is on full display. The Cold War, particularly the arm’s race, square in his crosshairs, Tichy’s unfortunate mental condition spins him as the perfect go-between: “utopian” Earth and “utopian” arms production. Realpolitik sneaking its way into the conclusion, Lem shows where reality lies. All in all not Lem’s greatest work, but a snappy, snarky read that has lost little of its relevancy.

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