... this is a truly excellent book. Lem is an outstanding and unusual author and this book is one of my favourites by him. Some of Lems books are humourous or even 'silly', but you will generally find more serious themes hidden in the depths. Fiaso is not one of these, it is pretty much serious from top to bottom. Especially the ending, which hopefully you will be lucky enough to discover as Lem intended rather than reading it from a web review, or the back of the book as an even earlier reviewer mentioned (the copy I have has no text on the back). If you are seeking a more humourous Lem read then try The Futurological Congress or The Cyberiad. Everyone who purports to like Science Fiction should read at least one Lem book, Fiasco would be a good one.
If you read any book from this author, you will completely change your oppinion about SF genre in literature.I understand, people who think that SF is complete trash, pulp, call-it-what-you-want, literature, because i was one of them, untill I read "SOLARIS". I was shocked, amazed,and intellectualy shaken. Whole new horizon of thinking opened in front of my mind. "FIASCO" was the second, and the situation was the same. Buy this book, and you will find a lots of stuff to feed your mind with there.
In my opinion, this is the best of Lem's books, but they're all excellent. "Fiasco" deals with how humans react to something TRULY alien. I learned more about mankind from reading this one book than I have from years and years of learning history.
I approached reading this book with the images of the film "Solaris" (also based on a novel by Lem) in the eyes, especially recalling the extreme slowness. For this reason, I was expecting a book with slow rhythms and I wasn't surely denied, but "Fiasco" is something different. The slowness of the action is not an end in itself, but it is due to the long digressions and explanations in which the characters linger. In front of them the story runs almost completely in background. Initially this puzzles you, especially when you meet digressions that have nothing to do with the rest of the book (like when the characters tell stories or read a book), then you enter the rhythm and you appreciate the study done by the author on the most strictly scientific and anthropological parts (even if they refer to aliens). The overall impression is of being in front of a science fiction treatise, in which a lover of this genre, especially one who writes as well as reads it, can draw on to broaden their horizons and their knowledge in this field. The book is, in fact, interesting and if you read it you definitely learn very much. The action, as mentioned, is little, the characters are sketchy and sometimes act making extreme decisions, so that what they do has no real meaning, as if it were subservient to the purpose of the writer to create certain situations that will enable them to investigate other aspects of his "treatise". As a result of all this, some parts (especially those on speculations about the political situation of the aliens) are sometimes tedious, while others are extremely interesting (the science part). The few scenes, where the characters actually move, seem sometimes added to duty, as if they were fake, but some are remarkable, especially the finale. The last pages catch you completely, and although things happen slowly, they force you to go on until the ending. The latter is, in my opinion, perfect.
This is a typical Lem 'space opera'. As in several of his books, Lem warns us about what technology without foresight can lead to. The book depicts an alien civilization which has fallen into the trap of its own cleverness: through a frenetic arms race, it has turned over control of its destiny to its military devices, and, locked in a deadly embrace, is unable and unwilling to open itself up to a 'first contact' mission of Earth... Unlike 'Solaris', where the 'alien' cannot be understood at all, here we are given definite hints at the motivations of the unseen 'others'... The guesses at the 'others' motivations are thus necessarily coloured with all the emotional baggage that the Astronauts brought with them. The result is the Fiasko. Incidentally, a story of quite similar atmosphere can be had from the other side of the Atlantic, and that's the 'Anvil of Stars' by Greg Bear. Now, comparing 'Fiasko' and 'Anvil' is like comparing '2001' and 'Star Wars', but if you like this book, you may like the other, too.
This book supports my view that great intelligence does not necessarily go hand in hand with great common sense. I can't help but think that if mankind ever does come into contact with a race of intelligent beings from another planet, then we are unlikely to deal with it any better than the crew of the Hermes in this book.
Some may find the science in the book a little too excessive but I personally found it to be one the books charms. Lem puts forward a number of interesting and educated theories as to how we may eventually cross the expanses of space. If you enjoy Astronomy and Physics(as I do) then you will definitely like this book.
After countless readings, Fiasco is the best SF title out there. I don't even think of this work as SF - the early jungle sequence and Titan construction segue into the conclusion leaving me thinking that what Lem is writing about isn't exactly what Lem is writing about at all. Invincable, Pirx, and Cyberiad may be his best known works, but this is Lem's masterpiece. If you don't have it - buy it.
As a regular reader of rational sci-fi I don't know why I haven't read this remarkable epic before. I have read most of the other sci-fi classics but this is my first Stanislaw Lem book. I was aware of Solaris but only recently realised that it was written by Lem. Fiasco is an amazing story which can be taken at different levels and depths. It uses the scenario of alien contact as an examination of the human condition. Some readers might form the view that the first chapter of the book is almost irrelevant to the main theme which doesn't get going until chapter 2. Another observation is that, apart from a holographic character in the artificial sequence used by Gerbert to distract himself onboard the Eurydice, there is no female character in the entire book! Lem has a remarkable descriptive style which is exemplified in a number of sequences in the novel, e.g. the vivid description of the geyser formations in the doomed attempt by the striders to penetrate the Depression on Titan, and the holographic recreation of the search by the Spanish explorers in the old American Midwest. These are distinctive pieces in their own right but, ironically, oddly out of place and probably superfluous to the main strand of the novel. Also Lem employs a technique reminiscent of the film 2001 where a lot of continuity is left out and the reader is suddenly transferred to a new situation sometimes separated by large time spans and has to quickly assimilate the new state of affairs often through clipped dialogue between the protagonists or by short retrospectives.
Undoubtedly the main character is Parvis or Pirx who comes to be called Tempe but the other characters are reasonably developed, particularly Steergard the tormented Captain of the Hermes. However, Tempe's development is uneven and it's not until the end of the novel that you get a fuller insight into his character. Again there are significant sections on philosophy throughout the book e.g. the development of intelligence in the Galaxy and the opportunity for contact, or the propulsion method used for near light-speed travel. Furthermore, there are long information or explanatory entries such as the technique used to excite the black hole Hades to allow the Eurydice to experience vast time contraction so that only two weeks elapses for its crew whereas years have gone by on the Hermes during its return journey to Quinta. This also allows the Eurydice to return to Earth only 8 years after it originally departed. There is also a long sequence of interrogation dialogue between Steergard and DEUS, the supercomputer, towards the end of the novel. Some readers may choose to skip all of these lengthy hard going pieces without really detracting from the experience of the story.
Lem has deliberately made some of the actions of the `envoys' on the Hermes preposterous and outrageous, as a means of illustrating the extreme behaviour of humans once committed to a course of action where the leadership will not withdraw even although that is the obvious choice. Finally at the risk of displaying anthropocentric behaviour, I doubt that the life-form of the Quintans as depicted by Lem would be capable of achieving intelligence. A well-crafted thought provoking work that stands out in serious sci-fi. Read it!