Reviews of Star Diaries, the (1957)
Review by clong (2007-08-14)
The Star Diaries has obvious similarities with Lem's The Cyberiad, which I had enjoyed immensely. Yet overall I found it a far less enjoyable read.
As in The Cyberiad, we have a protagonist who bumbles from largely unrelated incident to incident, often bringing his own troubles on himself. Some of the incidents are humorous, others (especially the last written) serve as opportunities for more biting satire on the foibles of mankind, often personified by alien races.
In The Cyberiad, the balance of light hearted whimsy to more biting commentary was just right. In The Star Diaries, the philosophizing pretty much overwhelms the entertainment. The comparison to Swift is an obvious one, and my reaction to this book is similar to my response to the last section of Gulliver's Travels, which I always found overly bleak.
Lem engages in his typical clever wordplay, punning, and egregious acronym creation. Translator Michael Kandel appears to have handled well the considerable challenges this poses for the translator, but clever wordplay isn't nearly enough to carry the book.
(This review refers to the 1976 version titled “The Star Diaries”)