The Chain of Chance
Friday, June 11, 2010 1:53:51 PM
"The Chain of Chance" also riffs on the detective genre, featuring as its main character a paunchy middle-aged American former astronaut who is seeking to "solve" a series of unexplained and mysterious deaths of paunchy middle-aged men. I don't want to say more than that.
The story-telling in the book is somewhat "clunky" at times - it was annoying how much of the narrative was "unloaded" all at once in a long section in the middle of the book. (Another reviewer appropriately calls it a "data dump.") That flaw notwithstanding, there's no doubt the Lem is a masterful storyteller, the plot is quite clever, and I was truly riveted by the last 25 pages. I thought that the ending was "a real corker"!
But what really makes "The Chain of Chance" a notable book is Lem's authorial voice - he is a bona fide twentieth century European intellectual, a survivor of World War II in Poland, a witness to the political, scientific and technological revolutions of modernity. The novel was originally published in 1975, and is saturated with a mid to late 20th century weariness, reminiscent of Camus or Boll, perhaps. (No coincidence that the action of the novel takes place amidst the great faded glories of Naples, Rome and Paris.) There's an atmosphere of unease, almost dread, a kind of bleak acceptance of the uncertainties of the present. There's no doubt that this is "literature," if you know what I mean.
"Nonchalantly, the conversation turned to the tribulations of the world. Not nonchalantly, really, but in a mood of surrender now that Europe's eternal mission had come to an end. . . . Europe had survived, but only in an economic sense. Prosperity had been restored, but not the feeling of self-confidence. It was not the cancer patient's fear of malignancy, but the awareness that the spirit of history had moved on, and that if it ever returned it would not be here. . . . McLuhan's prophecies were coming true, but in an inverse sort of way, as prophecies have a habit of doing. His global village was already here, but split into two halves. The poorer half was suffering, while the wealthier half was importing that suffering via television and commiserating at a distance. That is couldn't go on like this was everwhere taken for granted, but it went on just the same."