The Star Diaries

by Stanislaw Lem (tr. Michael Kandel)

Rating: ★★★★

A glorious, wide-ranging futurological satire. Lem's Gulliver is one Ijon Tichy, an unassuming character who does his best not to inconvenience any of the locals as he travels across the universe in both space and time, stumbling into all sorts of dire straits, which at least rid him of the need to make up ridiculous cock-and-bull stories to explain what he's been up to.

The overriding theme of the satire is man's self-image and ambition, from daring to dream that we might be allowed a seat at the table of interstellar government, to liberating eugenics, to mastering time and placing a bureaucracy of man in charge of remaking the world. Excepting only the Twenty-First Journey, which waffles on a bit, these stories are filled with morals without being tediously moralistic. Lem (via Kandel) glimmers with wordplay and charming bits of silliness throughout, mixing novel thoughts with social commentary.