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The Chain of Chance

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  1,155 ratings  ·  88 reviews
Written in the style of a detective novel, The Chain of Chance is classic Lem: a combination of action, hard science, and philosophical investigation. An ex-astronaut is hired to look into the death of several wealthy businessmen. The authorities suspect a pattern, but neither the police nor a supercomputer enlisted for the investigation can crack the case.

On a trail lead
Paperback, 179 pages
Published March 28th 2000 by Northwestern University Press (first published 1976)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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 ·  1,155 ratings  ·  88 reviews

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Jun 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was my first Lem, and I picked it up "by chance" as it were, at a used book sale a few months ago. I don't usually read "speculative" fiction, but Lem is considered to be one of the genre's great masters, perhaps best known for "Solaris" which has twice been made into a film.

"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
"Solaris" was much stronger, but this story is a treat anyhow. More than anything, it emphasizes the power of thought and what deductive thinking can do, if in the "hands" of an intelligent man. The book is SF more through its proposition, than its execution, but it's nonetheless written beautifully and presents a strong lead character and an exciting plot line.
Lukasz Pruski
Feb 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
The world mainly knows Stanislaw Lem as a science fiction writer. Wikipedia says that toward the end of the 20th century he was the most widely read science fiction writer in the world and that his books were translated from Polish into over 40 languages and sold over 45 million copies. His famous novel "Solaris" was adapted for movies three times. However, saying that Mr. Lem was a science fiction writer is akin to calling Thomas Jefferson an architect. Yes, Mr. Jefferson was quite an accomplis ...more
Nov 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2009
Everyone's familiar with the philosophical joke that if you give enough monkeys with typewriters enough time, one of them will eventually produce the complete works of William Shakespeare through sheer chance. But what's not discussed is the possibility that Shakespeare himself is one of those monkeys, and that the probability of some person, somewhere producing his works was just as high as it was for the monkeys.

In Stanislaw Lem's The Chain of Chance, we're presented with a bipolar murder mys
Christian West
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: e-book
What an odd book. An American ex-astronaut investigates a series of seemingly unrelated deaths in Italy by trying to replicate the events that are similar between them all and then spends some time in France with a computing expert.
The text was very dense, and the first fifth of the book was confusing for quite a while, but overall I enjoyed it quite a lot. It's like a detective story, but instead of investigating an actual murder, the story investigates whether the deaths were accidental or not
Oskar Swierad
It's a mock crime story, where the crime is connected to areas typically reserved for science-fiction - medicine, mathematics, science in general. This idea is interesting, as well as the ending. The story, though, was boring until maybe the last 1/3 of the book.
Christian Schwoerke
The pacing in this “thriller” is intentionally lugubrious, and the one instance of action-hero bravado comes out of the blue and fades away almost as quickly, a stochastic blip in our anonymous protagonist’s quest to track the meaning of the deaths of a handful of older visitors to health spas in Italy. But that chance moment is signal to the novel’s ultimate theme: that when weighing the sequence of events in any performed event/action, the multiplication of probabilities reduces its likelihood ...more
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
I was somewhat underwhelmed. The first section of the book sucked me in: Why is this guy doing these odd things? What is his "mission?" I thought I was going to be in for an absorbing, asynchronous story where the beginning only makes sense at the end in an elegant circular tale.

And then there was 50-odd pages of straight-up exposition. It was like a script for Dragnet, or the backstory for a CSI script. And then the explanation of the mystery is given away. Then the protagonist goes through som
Peter Dunn
Aug 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very different Lem. A mystery with an astronaut detective, however I don’t think I am spoiling anything to say you won’t be able to solve this one from any clues in the story. This is Lem after all, madder and more convoluted and twisted than any Inspector Morse or Midsomer Murders. He is just messing with your mind and taking you for one of his mad but fun SF rides.
Don’t say you weren’t given a clear warning by the title of the English language version of the book. Just be thankful you had t
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I wasn't impressed by the other Lem mystery novel that I read (The Investigation), but this one was on point. Here, Lem uses the detective novel (a genre that I normally can't stand) as a springboard for discussions of causality, statistics, and probability. Total egghead stuff, which is par for the course for this author. This is not the Lem book to start with (that would be Solaris), but it was a nice quick read that provided some food for thought.
Rohit Goswami
Aug 06, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: dropped
DNF. Utter rubbish. As someone with a lot of experience with both chemistry and applied mathematics, this is dull drivel. The problem is not even that the "reveal" is poorly thought out, it's that the whole book is boring bullcrap. The main character is a sexist weirdo perv, and the author's mindset is one of pure intellectual mastrubation. A book so poor at all the themes it is purported to contain, that burning it for warmth can be it's only redemption.
Adam Sznajder
Jun 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mind-blowing detective story with probability as the main character. Must read!
May 13, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
dull fiction
Jon Norimann
Jan 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
The chain of chance is a novel written in original style about the experiences of one person involved in a big chain of criminal events. It lists too many more or less relevant facts to be a real page turner. Still it's a quite entertaining 2 hour read.
Michael Battaglia
In Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" there was a sequence that noted that the worst fear of a paranoid wasn't that all their fears were true and everyone really was out to get them, but just the opposite: that nothing at all was connected and the universe is just a string of random coincidences that we superimpose a kind of purpose onto to make ourselves feel better.

With that said, let's go watch one of Lem's characters try to solve a mystery! Ha-hah!

I came to Lem mostly through his more SF oriented
Jul 12, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime, sci-fi
An ex-astronaut, some would say washed-up ex-astronaut, has turned detective in this novel, in which a number of men of a similar background and physique have all died in the same area. Our narrator (who I don't think is ever fully named) is involved in the investigation to try and solve the mystery.

There is a sort of 'feel' to East European/Russian novels (SF or not) that I've read of this period and The Chain of Chance fits into it. The book feels very impersonal, especially in the early secti
Hákon Gunnarsson
I can't say I really liked The Chain of Chance. For some reason I found it a heavy and slow read. It may be because I just didn't like the style it is written in, or maybe it is just heavy going. No matter why I had so much trouble with this novel, I got through it in the end and I'm glad I did.

It is a memorable novel. You see, I like mysteries, and this is one of the most unusual one I remember. Lem takes a genre that is a bit set in its way and turns it into something entirely different, but
Aug 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
A fun, clever and satisfying "mystery science fiction" read about an American astronaut-turned-detective looking into the mysterious deaths of several middle-aged men who were vacationing in Naples, near Mt Vesuvius. It is a little confusing and slow during the first few pages, but really picks up -- the world is a bit futuristic, yet Old World (since it's set in various European cities). The writing is part noir, part Ian Fleming, part Agatha Christie and part Camus. The science leans more towa ...more
Aug 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
It had been a long time since I'd read one of Lem's novels, and as I got deeper into The Chain of Chance, I was afraid that I had not chosen a good one. The middle of the book is a vast core-dump of facts relating to the strange deaths of various people visiting Naples who had all died in a way peculiar to how they lived. The hero, who goes by the name of one of the victims, Adams, is a washed-out American astronaut who tries to call forth the same circumstances that led to the deaths and in so ...more
Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was ok
I don't want to blame the writing for me being unable to finish "Chain of Chance". I want to blame the historical romance mindset that carried over from the book before. I want to blame that I was stressed and unable to focus, or that I was too tired. I want to make excuses, but I just can't. The basic premise of the book sounds interesting and accomplished its task as plot hook to draw me in. However, once within the folds of the story, I couldn't stay interested for very long. My mental images ...more
Luis Martínez
Oct 24, 2012 rated it liked it
How I rated it, I did liked it. You don't know actually what will happen till the end, and then in the end, you cannot believe what just happened. Truly, I am not one fan of this kind of ends, where you leave without actually knowing a real end. I know to know the answers. (view spoiler) It made me feel confused at the end, but you can enjoy sometimes w ...more
Apr 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Just more Lem brilliance. He's a master at humanizing hard science and philosophy and cosmology into memorable and enjoyable literary art. He makes profound fun. In this case, probability, chance and game theory are behind an investigation into how perspective and scope allow us to create supposed meaning in any given situation. If we can't find meaning, it just means we haven't found the right distance, perspective, lens.
James F
Feb 04, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, fantasy, world
Another good novel by Stanislaw Lem; as with his earlier novel The Investigation this is more a mystery than science fiction, and basically set in the present although there has been an expedition to Mars (which plays no real role in the plot). A former astronaut-turned-detective investigates the mysterious deaths of a number of tourists at a spa in Naples -- murder or coincidence? Unlike many of his other novels, this one actually reveals the answer.
Jun 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
The opening 80 pages of introspective narration were almost completely opaque and felt needlessly abstruse... However, once you absorb these details, and wade your way through the dense dialogue to piece together the facts of the case, the story becomes completely clear. I always appreciate Lem's incorporation of scientific and mathematical concepts in his writing, in this case the laws of statistics (particularly the Law of Truly Large Numbers).
Jul 17, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: novel
A mystery where the main character seeks to find what links a series of deaths together in order to determine if murder has been committed, and if so, who's responsible. The character's journey is increasingly maze-like as the story progresses. If you like Lem, I'd encourage you to read, Memoirs Found in a Bathtub in lieu of this one.
K.H. Vaughan
Nov 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It isn't often that you read a detective novel that is based wholly on ideas related to chance and probability, but if you enjoy books such as Innumeracy or the literature on judgment and decision-making, this may be the perfect read. Crisp and illuminating tale of the random walk and the commonality of improbable events.
Nov 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It isn't often that you read a detective novel that is based wholly on ideas related to chance and probability, but if you enjoy books such as Innumeracy or the literature on judgment and decision-making, this may be the perfect read. Crisp and illuminating tale of the random walk and the commonality of improbable events.
Jan 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Chain of Chance is an unusual novel by Lem. Closer to the detective genre than the science fiction Lem is known for, the protagonist is humbled by the pure mathematics of the mystery. If you appreciate Lem's writing style, you won't be disappointed. The "detective" is a former astronaut and he brings the same background that you often find in Lem's characters.
Mar 24, 2013 added it
I used to read a lot of Lem's fiction when I was teenager. I was long time ago and it was translated to Russian. Seeing familiar name I bought this book and was anticipating a good deal on fun reading it. It was not. I managed about 1/2 of it before giving up. The writing style is tediously monotone and boring. Perhaps it is a translator's fault.
Oct 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was another expertly-written sci-fi story by my favorite sci-fi author. The language and vocabulary is high-caliber and the story itself is quite interesting. It's an unusual detective thriller, but not a super-exciting thriller. Stanislav Lem shows once again his incredible imagination and understanding for technology.
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Stanisław Lem (staˈɲiswaf lɛm) was a Polish science fiction, philosophical and satirical writer of Jewish descent. His books have been translated into 41 languages and have sold over 27 million copies. He is perhaps best known as the author of Solaris, which has twice been made into a feature film. In 1976, Theodore Sturgeon claimed that Lem was the most widely read science-fiction writer in the w ...more

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