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The Chain of Chance [Hardcover]

Lem Stanisaw
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Paperback 8.85  

Book Description

1 Jan 1978
Written in the style of a detective novel, "The Chain of Chance" is classic Lem: a combination of action, hard science, and philosophical investigation. An ex-astronaut is hired to look into the death of several wealthy businessmen. The authorities suspect a pattern, but neither the police nor a supercomputer enlisted for the investigation can crack the case. On a trail leading across Europe, the ex-astronaut barely escapes numerous attempts on his life. Having set himself up as a potential victim, he realizes that he may now be the target of a conspiracy--and that the conspiracy is not the work of a criminal mind, but a manifestation of the laws of nature. Certain patterns have begun to emerge from the chaos of modern society. Some of those patterns can be fatal. . .
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 179 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1st Edition edition (1 Jan 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151165890
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151165896
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14.5 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,055,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Stanislaw Lem is the most widely translated and best known science fiction author writing outside of the English language. Winner of the Kafka Prize, he is a contributor to many magazines, including the New Yorker, and he is the author of numerous works, including Solaris. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Probability Theory Of Murder 8 Feb 2009
By Pablo K
Format:Paperback
A brief and enjoyable enough narrative that blends a dash of sci-fi, a touch of detective novel, some probability theory and the odd existential crisis. Lem writes well, although there is a sense here that he has been made needlessly formal and dense by the translation.

Chain of Chance also suffers from being a bit too worthy, using its occasionally dense prose to show off some basic ideas of probability theory, some philosophy of mathematics, and the like. As with some other novels from the 1970s there is a somewhat out-of-place (and caricaturish) swipe at feminism. But the main thing that lets this down is the lengthy detailing of victims of the mysterious Substance X. The backgrounds are filled in at such arduous length principally to provide the ammunition for the probability theory climax. The effect, however, is of sorting through lengthy biographies in a medical library or in a pile of card indexes. So: pleasant enough, but not really anywhere near as good as Solaris.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Chain of quality 30 May 2014
By Zig
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I liked it a lot. Unusual idea. Lem is a source of ideas. Every book is special. A good read.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hidden gem 5 Jun 2007
By ANON
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I put off reading A Chain of Chance by Lem because the idea of a pseudo-science-fiction detective story didn't really interest me, but having read it, I would say it is one of Lem's finest works, drawing as it does on chaos theory and patterns in life and nature. I recommend this book, wholeheartily, but only to those already well versed in the world of Lem; his body of work is not really for those on the low end of the bell curve, but for people who want to, and need to be, challenged by new and innovative ideas.
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3 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book! 13 Oct 1997
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is one of the best books I've read. It's a superb science fiction mystery that pulls you along and you never know where it's going.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Lowbrow to Nobrow 14 Jun 2006
By a new Lem fan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I came across an excellent book From Lowbrow to Nobrow by Peter Swirski who I discovered later has written a whole bunch of books and articles on Lem. Chapter 6 in From Lowbrow to Nobrow is about Lem and Chain of Chance and I suppose I was lucky to read Swirski's chapter first because it really opened my eyes to this incredible book. I went to read Chain and Chance right after finishing the chapter about it and it was as good and amazing as I though it would be. I see that some readers have problems understanding what the book is about, if you read From Lowbrow to Nobrow you will find a way into Lem's book what will make you come back for more of Lem and Swirski. I'm hooked.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Butler Did It... Actually, Not This Time 11 July 2006
By J. Murray - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Fans of Lem's methodical and unique philosophical insights into psychology and humanity will not be disappointed by this novel. In that sense, along with the usual complex and precise, yet eloquent prose (I have the greatest respect for the translators of Lem's novels - that must be an art in itself), this is classic Lem. Throughout his catalog of fiction Lem seemingly wrote in two voices. One voice is exemplified in the Tichy novels where slapstick, as well as, more subtle, highbrow humor is blended seamlessly with the philosophical ponderings. The second voice is a drier one substituting exhaustive detailing and complex technical conceptual development in place of the levity. This book represents the latter. This iconoclastic novel stands the classic whodunit on its head in a way few writers would even dare. Lem uses the storyline as a device to explore a theme common to his work, but never as fully developed as it is here. He points to a common shortcoming of man's psychology; namely, that we tend to overestimate the influence of willful design in our lives, while failing to fully grasp the importance of random chance. Not Lem's best work and certainly not a novel for everyone, but still well worthy of 5 stars.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great find! 6 July 2009
By Austin Barry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I remember reading this story a very long time ago, and I remember the story clearly. I'm glad that this book is finally available. If you like a good mystery, even if you don't really like Science Fiction, then this book is for you. Like all good mysteries, it will keep you guessing right up to the last page though once you know the solution, every clue falls into place. It's also an exciting story.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lem's Drier Side 20 Mar 2001
By matthew s connors - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Though this lacks the jaunty tone of many of Lem's short stories or fictional essays, it still shares his disturbing habit of assualting your cerebrum in new and rather inventive ways. This book is sometimes as bizarre at is mundane, and this paradox is ultimately essential to the plot. But this book is enjoyed by a Lem fan, and I'm not sure that a reader unfamiliar with him will wait out the denoument...
5.0 out of 5 stars A mystery where all the clues want to get in on the act, and be mysteries too 11 Jun 2014
By Michael Battaglia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" there was a sequence that noted that the worst fear of a paranoid wasn't that all their fears were true and everyone really was out to get them, but just the opposite: that nothing at all was connected and the universe is just a string of random coincidences that we superimpose a kind of purpose onto to make ourselves feel better.

With that said, let's go watch one of Lem's characters try to solve a mystery! Ha-hah!

I came to Lem mostly through his more SF oriented work (Solaris, Pirx the Pilot, etc) and no matter what the topic there's a certain sensibility that keeps creeping through, a refusal to accept the previously accepted, a probing and questioning tone that stops just short of cynicism and a dark, dry humor that must be a beast for the translators to capture properly. Most everything, no matter how absurd, is played absolutely straight-faced, and you're not sure if you're supposed to laugh or he's just daring you to think that this is funny.

This one is barely SF, although elements keep cropping up here and there. Our main character is a former astronaut that winds up becoming a private detective, if detectives can call themselves that before they solve any cases. A number of middle-aged men have wound up dead, some going completely insane first, all of which seem to follow a certain pattern of visiting hotels and spas before their untimely demises. Is it a serial killer, a mad scientist, a terrorist group testing out a technique before seeking the real targets? Everyone has the dots connected but the picture doesn't make any sense and its up to our hero to recreate the pattern as best he can in the hopes of triggering what killed the other men and with luck not himself in the process. Along the way he converses with various experts who have their own theories, all of which could be true and false simultaneously and very few seem to explain "why?"

This is a talky book, mostly consisting of characters debating their points with each other Asimov-style, with occasional detours into stream of consciousness (the somewhat bravura beginning sequence, where his thoughts skitter along with a ragged intensity, aware of the possible danger if unaware of the source and trying to be on guard by not being on guard) and action (a rather terrifying terrorist attack that may or may not have anything to do with the possible going-ons), which at times can feel like the prose equivalent of a one-room play. It's to Lem's credit that he makes the chatter interesting enough and the central mystery intriguing enough that your attention doesn't flag too much during this version of "CSI: Amateurs", which is fine because it's about the only thing the book really has going for it in terms of heft. If you aren't invested in wanting to find out the ultimate solution to the mystery at hand then you're pretty much here for the travelogue.

Yet he does fill it out in ways that make the book spread out beyond its pages. Our former astronaut is a failed astronaut due to allergies and the slight desperation of that missed opportunity does color the narrative. A brief discussion of astronauts having to deal with the rest of their life failing to live up to the glory of being in space is handled so succinctly and deftly that it conveys the emotion other writers would use to fill up an entire book (and one did, see Dan Simmons' "Phases of Gravity", which is quite good in itself, if the complete opposite of this). The terror attack is truly frightening, both in the seeming randomness of it, and the bloody confusion and chaos that follow, eerily presaging images we see probably too often in our own present day.

But it's still a book that can be read in a scant few hours and lives or dies based on the outcome of its mystery. The explanation here may not satisfy everyone but Lem was never setting out to be the next Agatha Christie, his mysteries come wrapped in theories and ideas, with the conclusion here seeming to be that in a world grown increasingly more complex, we find the patterns that we want to see as a way of convincing ourselves that we have some measure of understanding how this world operates, and its' the thinking that we know what we're seeing that only proves how blinded we've become.
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