The Chain of Chance

By Stanisław Lem

Rating: 3 stars

An ex-astronaut, some would say washed-up ex-astronaut, has turned detective in this novel, in which a number of men of a similar background and physique have all died in the same area. Our narrator (who I don’t think is ever fully named) is involved in the investigation to try and solve the mystery.

There is a sort of ‘feel’ to East European/Russian novels (SF or not) that I’ve read of this period and The Chain of Chance fits into it. The book feels very impersonal, especially in the early sections where this narrator is driving around Rome with electrodes attached to his chest, wearing a dead man’s clothes, for no obvious reason. The plot is mostly infodumped on us as the narrator goes to seek the assistance of a French computer scientist in the middle of the book and we get a bit more warmth being injected into the protagonist at this point. Once I got through the infodump, I started to care a little about him and feel that his world was more than just monochrome and emotionless and I was somewhat drawn into the mystery, but even the solution to that feels very Eastern bloc with the idea that everything is chance.

The scene in the airport with the girl was quite random and didn’t really fit with the rest of the book. It seemed like it was just there to inject a bit of action into an otherwise dry story. For me, it felt too jarring to do that properly, though.

So an odd book. It’s the third Lem novel that I’ve read, after Solaris and Tales of Pirx the Pilot and probably the one that I’ve enjoyed the most, but that cold, impersonal feeling is still there. I probably won’t read any more of his work, I think (although maybe I’ll give Pirx another go).

Book details

ISBN: 9780515051384
Publisher: Jove Books
Year of publication: 1976

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