Pilot Pirx

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Pilot Pirx is a fictional character introduced in 1966 in the science fiction stories of Polish writer Stanisław Lem: ten short stories (published in English in two parts, 1979's Tales of Pirx the Pilot and 1982's More Tales of Pirx the Pilot). Later he appeared in the novel Fiasco.

In the stories, Pirx is progressively depicted as a spaceship cadet, beginner pilot, a seasoned pilot, navigator, and finally, captain (komandor).

In 7 of the 10 stories Pirx acts in the role of Sherlock Holmes, to investigate mysterious events.[1]

Although Pirx appears in the first half of Lem's later novel Fiasco, the identity of the protagonist in the second half is never firmly established, but Pirx is one of the two possibilities. The bulk of the novel is set much further in the future, and it is vastly different from Lem's previous works.[2]

Personality traits[edit]

While this overall storyline resembles that of a bildungsroman,[3] Lem writes that it was not his intention; he was going to write only 2–3 stories. Therefore, Pirx does not really have any background: no family, not even a first name.[4][5] The timid attitude of Pirx towards women, as seen in stories The Conditioned Reflex and The Albatross (the only two where Pirx interacts with women[1]), may lead to the conclusion that he is a hardcore loner.[5] From the story On Patrol we know that he smoked and liked spicy food and beer.[6]

Unlike traditional heroic space pilots, Pirx is as an ordinary "space truck driver" and has little if anything heroic about him.[1] Personality traits of Pirx include cold blood, self-control and common sense—which serve Pirx well in all his predicaments.[5] Pirx is also described as "noble-minded to the extent of being decent" (zacny aż do poczciwości).[5] Pirx is of average intelligence and he rather relies on his instinct. Often he solves his problems by chance, but he does "give a chance a chance",[3] a philosophy elaborated by Lem in his essay, The Philosophy of Chance. For example, in the story The Inquest, where Pirx is tasked with identifying a perfect android among a space crew, all his smart questioning and tests are for nothing and only by chance the circumstances give Pirx a chance. In this story, Lem also puts forth the idea that what may be perceived a human weakness is in fact an advantage over a perfect machine.[7] In this tale Pirx succeeds because a human can hesitate, have doubts, but a robot cannot because it is programmed to be perfectly effective.[8] In a sense, Pirx here is an anti-hero: he defeats the perfect robot due to his lack of resolution, mistakes, and his decency—the latter may also be perceived as a drawback, because it stands in the way of ideal effectiveness. [9][10]

In the opinion of Robert Stiller, Pirx "does not have to be, and is not a hero nor personality, nor an intellectual, only an average man in this profession; his adventures are sometimes on the verge of comedy and sometimes of drama. As a concept, it is an advantage and a novelty in the genre."[11]

Adaptations and other appearances[edit]

A television mini-series, Pirx kalandjai (The Adventures of Pirx), was released in Hungary in 1973.[12]

There is a 1979 film Pilot Pirx's Inquest (Test pilota Pirxa) based on the story Inquest, a Polish-Soviet (Estonia and Ukraine) collaboration.[13]

In the short story "Appendix Solariana" (2014) by Wiktor Żwikiewicz, Commander Pirx visits the Station by Solaris, possibly as another creation of the ocean-planet.


The July 2008 issue 107 of 3D World magazine features the 3D rendering of Commander Pirx by Anders Lejczak, both on the magazine cover and pages 2–3.

In 2009 an exoplanet was discovered and named after Pirx.

When NASA was fishing for naming ideas for features on Pluto and its moons mapped with the help of New Horizons, the name "Pirx" for a crater on Charon received an overwhelming support among Russian voters[14] and the name was approved in 2018.


  1. ^ a b c "Pilot Pirx jako Sherlock Holmes" in: Marek Oramus, Bogowie Lema ("Gods of Lem"), Warsaw, 2006
  2. ^ Michael Kandel, "A Freudian Peek at Lems' Fiasco", in: The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem, 2008, ISBN 0773575073, pp. 72–73
  3. ^ a b "Stanislaw Lem—A Moralist Who Doesn’t Moralize", Science Fiction Studies, No.83, Volume 28, Part 1, March 2001 (retrieved December 10, 2015)
  4. ^ Lem's opinion about Tales of Pirx the Pilot (retrieved December 10, 2015)
  5. ^ a b c d "Pirx", Wojciech Orliński May 9, 2005, Gazeta Wyborcza (retrieved December 10, 2015)
  6. ^ Quote: "...następnie zapali papierosa i pójdzie do mesy, gdzie każe zaraz podać sobie coś smażonego, ostrego, z czerwoną papryką, i do tego duże piwo — lubił piwo"
  7. ^ Quote: "What is this humanity that they do not have? Can it really be just a marriage of rationality and this decency, the "noble heart", and the primitiveness of the moral reflex which disregards the remote links of the chain of cause-and-effect? Since digital machines are neither decent nor illogical ... So, in that judgement, humanity is the sum of our failures, shortcomings, our imperfections, it is what we want to be, but we cannot, we don't know how; it's just the gap between the ideal and the reality – isn't that so? Therefore, may be it is necessary to put the bet on the weakness?! That is, to find a situation in which the weakness and frailty of man is better than inhuman strength and excellence..."
  8. ^ Krzysztof Loska [pl], "Lem on Film", in: The art and science of Stanislaw Lem. McGill-Queen's University Press. 2006. p. 160-161. ISBN 0-7735-3046-0.
  9. ^ Sandor Klapcsik, "Liminality in Fantastic Fiction: A Poststructuralist Approach", 2012, ISBN 0786488433, p. 90
  10. ^ Plot note: In the story, the android manipulates Pirx into a position when in order for the mission to succeed, Pirx must issue the command which would kill the human crew (android would remain functional, thus proving its superiority over humans), but Pirx, due to his human decency, hesitates...
  11. ^ Robert Stiller: Lemie! po co umarłeś?, 2006, ISBN 83-89-640-55-4, p. 96.
  12. ^ Pirx kalandjai at IMDb
  13. ^ Pilot Pirx's Inquest at IMDb
  14. ^ "NASA’s Pluto Naming Spreadsheet Is ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Star Wars,’ and Lovecraft Approved" (retrieved December 10, 2015)