Muth, Jon J. Stanislaw Lem’s The Seventh Voyage: a Graphic Novel. Translated by Michael Kandel. Graphix/Scholastic, 2019. Unpaged. $19.99. ISBN 9780545004626. Ages 9-adult. P7 Q9
In Jon Muth’s graphic adaptation of Polish science fiction author Stansilaw Lem’s 1971 short story, “The Seventh Voyage,” astronaut Ijon Tichy runs into a problem with poor design when his spaceship’s steering is damaged by a meteor and, as the solo astronaut, he finds himself unable to replace the damaged part. As the spaceship veers into time/space anomalies from gravity wells in an asteroid field, the antisocial astronaut discovers analog versions of himself at different points in his life, each one determined to accomplish the goals of his particular day, and each refusing to compromise with the other versions of himself in order to repair the rudderless space ship. As the days go on, the accumulation of excess Ijon Tichys grows into a committee, then a congress, of argumentative and ultimately useless individuals ranging in age from boys to ancient graybearded men.
Verdict: Jon Muth’s graphic adaptation gives both external views of a tiny ship against an infinite galaxy, and an internal view of the ship’s library, bedroom, and galley that shows an inner space much larger than could be encompassed within the bounds of the tiny ship. I was charmed by the worn upholstered chair near library shelves full of books obviously designed precisely for a single, long-distance traveler. I was amused by the humor inherent in a man who could not even cooperate with himself. Like Tichy, though, I also found myself growing tired of the unending succession of uncooperative Tichys and longed for the days of solitude, reading space ship repair manuals in the spacious library’s one comfortable chair. Fortunately, two Tichys figured out how to use the single space suit to reach both parts of a particularly stubborn nut and bolt to replace the broken rudder, taking the space ship out of the gravitational wells and once again leaving a single, solitary Ijon Tichy to continue his long journey through space.
The story, first published in English in 1976, has sly references to Poland’s years behind the Soviet Iron Curtain as well as digs at the problems of capitalism and individuality. Muth’s additions to the original story include an introduction identifying the artist as a recalcitrant digital drawing unit and an artist’s note on how he designed the contents of the book using household items to model the parts of the spaceship and space suit (a mock-up sewed by his wife). The canning jar locking ring holding the helmet and space suit together was particularly fascinating.
Overall, the illustrations add charm to the original humor of the story. The lack of diversity among the proliferation of pale, white male astronauts makes sense in the context, but I did wonder if a group of Mae Jemisons would have been able to repair the damaged ship with less intrapersonal conflict and discussion. I recommend this as a worthy introduction to the works of Stanislaw Lem and a good addition to those library collections that already have Jon Muth’s Zen books.
May 2020 review by Jane Cothron.