Books: Aliens Fiasco

by Stanislaw Lem Translated by Michael Kandel Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 322 pages; $17.95

Stripped to essentials, Fiasco is simply another novel about earthlings attempting to contact aliens in outer space. Yet those who have read any of Polish Author Stanislaw Lem's numerous books know that even the most timeworn subject can be the occasion for fresh surprises. Lem's international reputation rests on two qualities rarely found together in one mortal: he is both a superb literary fantasist, a la Jorge Luis Borges and Italo Calvino, and a knowledgeable philosopher of the means and meanings of technology. Lem, 65, not only builds castles in the air, he also provides meticulous blueprints and rationales for their...