The inimitable Lem continues his penetrating, profound social criticism by dramatizing--in the form of an alien-contact yarn--what can go wrong with society even when ideology is absent. A ship of six human explorers, identified only by their specialties, crash-lands on planet Eden. Odd enough is the local vegetation: tangles of spiderlike vines; giant calyxes that withdraw into the ground; blossoms that take flight like startled insects. Odder still are Eden's huge, leaping inhabitants, or "doublers," whose humped bodies support subsidiary centaurlike torsos, arms, and heads. As the Engineer, the Cyberneticist, and the Physicist labor to rebuild the ship's wrecked systems, the Captain, the Doctor, and the Chemist explore an automated factory, manufacturing who-knows-what, that appears abandoned and out of control. Further afield, they observe strange alien vehicles, mass graves, weird buildings full of skeletons in jars, pits containing deformed corpses, microminiature clockwork "seeds" the "grow" walls of glass. As violence inevitably erupts, the crew members are forced to defend themselves--but only when an alien astronomer detects do the humans learn that they are witnessing a biological experiment gone wrong, perpetrated by a government so secretive that it denies its own existence. Like Lem's most recent, the brilliant Fiasco (1987), a terrifyingly plausible picture of a world gone mad.