Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Fiasco” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


4.12  ·  Rating details ·  3,350 ratings  ·  273 reviews
The planet Quinta is pocked by ugly mounds and covered by a spiderweb-like network. It is a kingdom of phantoms and of a beauty afflicted by madness. In stark contrast, the crew of the spaceship Hermes represents a knowledge-seeking Earth. As they approach Quinta, a dark poetry takes over and leads them into a nightmare of misunderstanding. Translated by Michael Kandel.

Paperback, 322 pages
Published March 15th 1988 by Mariner Books (first published 1986)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Fiasco, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.12  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,350 ratings  ·  273 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Fiasco
Glenn Russell
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing

“I don't think anything can behave as unintelligently as intelligence.”
― Stanisław Lem, Fiasco

In many important respects Fiasco is Stanisalw Lem’s crowning achievement. Publsihed in 1986 toward the end of the Polish author's distinguished career spanning more than half a century, the novel contains at its heart a key theme revisited by Mr. Lem over the years: the impact of science and technology on multiple dimensions of intelligence and communication.

What a literary achievement! Please do not
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Respecting the Eternally Dead

This is science fiction at its best. It is scientific because it employs technology that is not yet available but is nevertheless plausible in theory. It is fictional not because it proposes some strange physics in an alien galaxy-far-away but because it presents an alternative cosmology to the one that exists, unchallenged, in our own heads. This is a counter-fiction that is shocking and intriguing in equal measure; and it makes Fiasco a masterpiece.

Lem reveals and
Feb 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best, and also one of the most brutal, books I've ever read. It is a hard read. This is not a book for the faint; it explores, as does a lot of communist science fiction, the utter impossibility of rational exchange between crazy-different cultures. Also a lot in here about the failings of man.

Not a book for the faint of heart.
Andrej Karpathy
Sep 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Do you despise "sci-fi" featuring aliens with legs/faces/eyes/fur that highlight the author's intellectual shallowness at best or intentionally insult your intelligence at worst? Does your heart rate accelerate when a spaceship in a book/movie flies between worlds with a flip of a switch magical warp drive - ignore relativity - tech without any expectation that you might be puzzled by the blatant inconsistencies with the physical laws of our universe? If intellectually lazy pretend-sci-fi is not ...more
Jan 24, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Fiasco is a deeply pessimistic science fiction novel. It's about the typical hard sci-fi topic: first contact between humans and aliens. And as in "Rendezvous With Rama," "The Forever War," and "The Mote in God's Eye," much of the fun is the detailed imagining of how interstellar space travel would actually work, complete with relativistic time distortion and keeping humans alive in alien worlds. What separates this book from those others is Lem's belief that true understanding between different ...more
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
That title certainly prepared me for the frustrations and ultimate failure that the characters felt during that whole endeavor.

Anyway we return to Stanislaw Lems favorite theme: Who are we to think of ourselves as something more than apes in face of the universe. Just look at his critique of the cold war and this novels most famous quote: “I don't think anything can behave as unintelligently as intelligence.” All the while throwing logical and emotional curveballs at us.

Are you sure who Mark Tem
Jan 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jose Moa
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction, lem
Fiasco can be seen as the consecuence of break the first directive of Star Trek.
Fiasco is a complex SF novel that deepens in a recurrent issue in Lem : the fundamental dissability of the human mind of understand or comunicate with alien minds as in his novels Solaris or The Invincible.

Is a really hard SF novel,where the scientific face is rigurous in the to day science as for example in the laser or Bussard fussion reactor as propulsion tools in a starship,and is plausible in the extrapolations.
Apr 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I consider this Lem's masterpiece. A brilliant story showing a step by step undermining of ideals in the face of foreign thinking, incomplete infornation, suspicion, and prejudices. ...more
Jul 29, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
I had a hard time reading this book. Not because it's not interesting--I think it deals with some of the most interesting themes in the world--but because Lem makes it really hard to read. It's provocative and fascinating as hell, but damn, it's not very fun to read. ...more
Ed Holden
Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book is not boring at all -- in fact it deals with a lot of fascinating ideas -- but damn it has problems. Not the least of which is the writing style, which might suffer from a bad translation but I doubt it. Much of the second half of the book is pure tell-don't-show, which must have started out that way in the original Polish unless the translator has been horribly irresponsible, and I would've loved to have instead read those scenes through the POV of a character. Lem can do this: we kn ...more
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-books, scifi
Although I liked this book and will give it 4 stars as a rating, there are a couple of objections that if taken into account, would drop the rating to at least 3 stars.

1. Mr. Lem was a great thinker, no doubt about that, but a lazy writer in my humble reader's opinion (at least in this book). Throughout the book events are told to us, not shown and also the pov changes sometimes from tell to show and the reverse as well, and it is not consistent. I would expect that from a rough draft or an unfi
Dec 11, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: scifi, fiction
I have to admit, the sole reason I took this novel off the shelf was love for the word ‘fiasco’. (There’s something so satisfying about it!) It then joined my library book pile because I know Stanislaw Lem to be an author of high quality science fiction weirdness (cf Memoirs Found in a Bathtub). On the back cover, a puff quote describes ‘Fiasco’ as ‘Brilliant and challenging’. Although my reflex was to scoff at the latter term, I am now inclined to agree with it. This is a dense, complicated boo ...more
Erik Erickson
Jan 25, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, prose, scifi
Philosophical. Hard. Interminable.

The premise is fascinating and unique: what if we finally make contact with aliens but they have zero interest in meeting or even communicating with us?

Unfortunately we have to endure every discussion involved in answering that question, including all of the details of the future history required to understand it, and in painstaking detail, over the course of however long it takes to finally reach the other intelligent beings in another galaxy.

At times it is ama
Damian Murphy
Jul 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a tough one, even for Lem fans. Stick with it though, the long, dense build up in the beginning pays off.
Like many of Lem's other works, this book documents the complete lack of cultural reference points, and thus any basis for communication whatsoever, between human and alien intelligence. In this case, repeated mis-communication leads to the worst of all possible outcomes. A fiasco indeed.
The book contains some very interesting musings concerning human conceptions of alien life and th
Jun 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
Starts out great, but after its initial third Lem spends too much time on fake science and has characters behave too stupidly to be believable. Despite the themes skillfully woven into the early parts of this book, the rest fails to capitalize on this, and so Fiasco falls far short of one of Lem's other novels about attempted contact, Solaris. I'll be comparing Fiasco to Solaris frequently throughout this review, so if you've haven't read the latter consider yourself warned- and also, go read So ...more
Luka Antonić
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science-fiction
It seems that cultural difference between human and alien civilization is one of the major themes of Lem's books, judging by previously read novel The Invincible and Tarkovsky's adaptation of Solaris.

I must admit that this is the very first science fiction work which I found boring. Introduction is unnecessarily too long, as well as the whole book. Going into every single detail, Lem's writing style in Fiasco is closed to be called "tolstoyesque", apart from the fact that he is far from being To
Oct 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Philosophical, intellectual SF which is alternately amusing, tragic, exasperating and frightening. I love First Contact stories, and I think this one will stick in my head for awhile. The conceit of making Contact with a planet which just doesn't want to is explored brilliantly.

The book does take too long to get to the CETI mission, and the opening is dreary reading which is incidental to the major plot, though has thematic resonance with the ending that I can appreciate. Everything really picks
Mark Schomburg
Jun 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Very thought provoking science fiction! To more fully enjoy the English translation of this book it would help to know some Latin, as much physics as possible especially of the black hole variety, and introductory game theory. The nice thing about this book's approach is that it is set in a distant enough future and location that it is free from simplistic political and scientific connections to the twentieth century. Surprisingly, SETI is the main tie-in to the history of space exploration for ...more
Jul 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
As a teenager, growing up un Poland, I read and loved every book written by Stanislaw Lem. He was the science-fiction writer by whom any other writer was measured. His alegorical, intelligent books touched on philosophy, psychology, sociology, but did not shy from humour and satire. Now, a couple of decades later, I got to read Lem's last, I believe, science-fiction novel, the one I didn't get to read as a student.
Lem's unique language, full of obscure, old-fashioned words triggered some nostalg
Timothy Lohrey
Jan 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patrick Gibson
Jul 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
FIRST: Lots of complaints about the eBook format. It’s the worst I have encountered. The occasional lack of punctuation makes for some interesting (and frustrating) sentences. There are words I am not even sure are words—even in science fiction. Suspend your anger—since this book has been out of print for a long time and e-format is your only choice.

NOW THE BOOK: Human nature and the universe we inhabit are both presented in all their forms, and this complicated web of physics, psychology, game
Apr 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
i adored the first section of fiasco, in that annoying hold-on-let-me-just read-you-this-one-paragraph way; parvis's solo trek across titan, ruminating on its lifeless beauty, is a perfect example of lem's ability to portray both breathtaking wonder and unforgiving bleakness at the same time. i also liked the introduction of tempe, which was done in an interesting & sympathetic enough way that it avoided coming off like a total sci-fi cliche.

the story started lagging for me when the quintan exp
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Ridiculously inventive hard sci-fi, although the story's a bit of a downer. (It's called Fiasco for a reason.) Detailed passages about sidereal travel and game theory slow things down and begin to feel like padding, but I get it. Very powerful finish. ...more
Ethan Rea
Feb 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
A fantastic piece of hard science fiction about mankind's foolish and disastrous attempts to make contact with an alien civilisation. It's worldbuilding is top notch and the story as an eerie tone and an even more haunting ending. The first chapter, set on Saturn's moon Titan, is fantastic and has great passages on its landscapes and the technology that humans use to survive. What a surprisingly good book, far better than expected and one that is never mentioned. Great stuff! ...more
Oct 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Fiasco is a hard read. It's philosophical SF with a nihilist bent, and there are no corners cut discussing the speculative technologies. The bulk of the story occurs onboard a spaceship attempting to make contact with an alien civilization (think Rendezvous with Rama actually meeting Rama's creators). Fermi's paradox is invoked and addressed in true hard SF fashion, which is to say by drawing energy from stars and slingshotting through black holes and contemplating increasingly complex analogies ...more
Gia Jgarkava
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of there rare recent books that would make me think I'm always wasting time whenever I'm not reading it. As usual for Lem, the book is full of futuristic philosophical topics, magnificent and 'realistic' explanations of future technologies, detailed description of yet non-existing (and maybe also never-existing) concepts. and what I like in Lem's novels most is that he can easily place the reader into the world he created to experience his heroes' feelings, to see what they see, hear what th ...more
Apr 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: do-not-own
Unfortunately "Fiasco" was over written. This was LEM's final book of fiction I believe (1986). Admittedly, long scifi novels were the trend during the 80's and there is a great story in there, but it is buried under many long technical info dumping. It was like reading a series of Cosmos episodes on PBS. Some might like this more than others, I personally don't mind too much, unless of course, there is far too much of it. And this was that. I felt it harmed the pace; made it difficult to follow ...more
Stephen Curran
Oh, how delighted I was after trudging slowly through 60-odd pages of detailed descriptions of alien landscapes and the complex geological processes which created them to discover, a third of the way through the book, that it was all totally irrelevant to the rest of the story. This is self-indulgence on the part of the writer that verges on rudeness to the reader. It’s self-gratification, not storytelling. FIASCO was Stanislaw Lem’s final work of fiction, and you can tell that he had no real in ...more
Dániel Darabos
Oct 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Such a weird book! Some classics, like The Lord of the Rings read just like anything that came after them — at least in part because they had such an effect on future works. Not Fiasco.

It starts with the redirected landing of a spaceship to one base on Titan instead of the other. Turns out it was redirected because they assumed it had a person named Killian on board and they wanted this person. Who is this Killian? About a hundred pages later we are a thousand years in the future and Titan has b
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Man in the Maze
  • Roadside Picnic
  • The Snail on the Slope
  • Diaspora
  • Starość aksolotla
  • Lód
  • The Time Wanderers
  • Посёлок
  • 2061: Odyssey Three (Space Odyssey, #3)
  • All Flesh is Grass
  • Dzisiaj narysujemy śmierć
  • Permutation City (Subjective Cosmology #2)
  • Mockingbird
  • Po piśmie
  • Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord
  • A Choice of Gods
  • Odd John
  • Hell Hound
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

In any given month, the range of new books hitting the shelves can be frankly astonishing. For the dedicated reader, part of the thrill of...
73 likes · 22 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »
“A man craves ultimate truths. Every mortal mind, I think, is that way. But what is ultimate truth? It's the end of the road, where there is no more mystery, no more hope. And no more questions to ask, since all the answers have been given. But there is no such place.
The Universe is a labyrinth made of labyrinths. Each leads to another. And wherever we cannot go ourselves, we reach with mathematics. Out of mathematics we build wagons to carry us into the nonhuman realms of the world.”
“Physics, my friend, is a narrow path drawn across a gulf that the human imagination cannot grasp. It is a set of answers to certain questions that we put to the world, and the world supplies the answers on the condition that we will not then ask it other questions, questions shouted out by common sense. And common sense? It is that which is understood by an intelligence using senses no different from those of a baboon. Such an intelligence wishes to know the world in terms that apply to its terrestrial, biological niche. But the world—outside that niche, that incubator of sapient apes—has properties that one cannot take in hand, see, sniff, gnaw, listen to, and in this way appropriate.” 5 likes
More quotes…