I learned of the novel and its author, Stanisław Lem, from the computer game with the same name by Starward Industries. The s retro-futuristic art style of the game piqued my interest. Fallout promptly came to mind. To avoid spoiling the story, I quit playing and read the book first.
The novel follows the crew of the spaceship Invincible as they investigate the fate of a sister ship that has disappeared on the remote planet Regis III, a desert world with a barren surface. To comprehend the spaceship and crew’s fate, more knowledge about the planet and its ecosystem is necessary. Astronautic Pilot Ghijahn, known as Rohan, narrates the story. Rohan grapples with the challenges of navigating the hostile and mysterious environment of this world, while also wrestling philosophical questions about reality, artificial intelligence, and the limits of human understanding.
What makes the story work is the hard science fiction combined with philosophical themes. While Lem takes care to explain the scientific concepts that underpin the narrative, he pays equal attention to the deeper philosophical thoughts.
Written in , some of the crew’s tech now feels dated. They use drones but print the photos in their map room, for example. Not how we imagine an intergalactic spaceship today. The book has the s vibe, despite lacking the retro-futuristic graphics from the game. This doesn’t detract from the story. On the contrary, it makes you wonder how future generations will look back on our space travel ideas.
I later found out that the story is often seen as a criticism of Communist society and its oppressive nature. However, I didn’t interpret it that way. To me, it’s a fun exploration story in deep space with some thought-provoking reflections.
The Invincible (ISBN 9780816491230) instantly established a place in my most favorite science fiction stories!
Let's play the computer game now, I guess?