Review: Tales of Pirx the Pilot

Tales of Pirx the Pilot is a collection of short stories by a giant of SF, Stanislaw Lem.  It’s the first Lem I’ve read, and definitely held my interest in many ways.  Lem does a great job of moving the tropes of being a working pilot into an SF world.  The jargon and technology is all extrapolated, but the feel of being a line pilot is very contemporary.

“Contemporary” has a bit of a timeless connotation here.  Lem wrote most of these stories before I was born, but the rhythms of flying for hire echo through the blog posts I read today about flying for the airlines.  One can see the details and assumptions that underlie them come from the 1960’s, but the beat is clearly timeless.

The stories themselves look like pulp science fiction from afar, but when the reader engages, they turn out to be a door into another more timeless fictional tradition.  There are stories that turn on the workings of a predicted technology, but this isn’t hard SF.  There is the wonder of faraway places and other planets (or moons, anyway), but the stories are all very human.  There’s a ghost story in here, and a locked room mystery. The trappings are rockets and astronauts, but the stories are all about people who are pilots.  Or people who are long distance truckers.  Or people who are sailors on wooden ships.  Or 21st century container ships.

Pirx and his fellows are not the first ones into a new world, but the ones who make a living travelling that world and seeing the odd corners of it. Consequently these are moody universal tales of walking the mundane unknown.


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