Strugatsky, Arkady, and Boris. Roadside Picnic.Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1972.Print.Lem, Stanislaw. Solaris.
New York: Walker, 1970.Print.WorksCited In essence, Lem and the Strugatsky brothers challengethe notion that science has all the answers. They show through their novelsthat science can an extent explain what something is but not why that somethingworks the way it is. In other words, science no matter how advanced it gets, itwill never be able to help prepare humanity for its encounter with aliens andwith the interchanging of intelligence. The aliens will inevitably always bemore advanced and intelligent than humanity.Furthermore, after Redrick, Kirill, and tender returnfrom the zone, Redrick has an inexplicable need to see his girlfriend, Guta.”I’m walking along the street, trying to figure out what it could be.
the sunis shining, no one’s around. And suddenly I want to see Guta real bad. Not forany particular reason. Just to look at her, hold her hand. That’s all about youcan manage after the Zone: hand holding. Especially when you remember storiesabout the children of stalkers — how they turn out… No, I shouldn’t even bethinking about Guta; first I need a bottle, at least, of the strong stuff”(Strugatsky 37).
It is important to realize this crucial point because no onecan explain why the children of stalkers turn out the way they do. Scientistshave no answer and are unable to tell why it happens. Also when Redrick’sdaughter is born, he names her ‘the monkey’ due to her golden fur and the wayshe acts. No one can understand why she is that way and why she is the only onethat can communicate with Rederick’s dead father, who lives with them.Moreover, the scientists have done many studies andhave accomplished nothing, no new discoveries that can help humanity understandthe Visit.
“The other day, we’re standing in the repository; it’s eveningalready, nothing left to do but dump the lab suits then I can head down to theBorscht for my daily dose of booze. I’m relaxing, leaning on the wall. My workall done and a cigarette at the ready, dying for a smoke — I haven’t smoked fortwo hours — while he keeps fiddling with his treasures. One safe is loaded,locked, and sealed shut, and he’s loading yet another one — taking the emptiesfrom our transporter, inspecting each one from every angle (and they are heavybastards, by the way, fourteen pounds each), and, grunting slightly, carefullydepositing them on the shelf. He’s been struggling with these empties for ages,and all in my opinion, with no benefit to humanity or himself” (Strugatsky 7).To enumerate, Redrick is talking about Kirill, the scientist, that is studyingthe artifacts that the aliens have left behind. It has been years since the Visit, and they still haven’tdiscovered what the objects are for, what do they do, and why they were leftbehind.
In addition, for Dr. Pillman, this was his very firstand last discovery that he ever made. When the interviewer asks Pillman, “Andwhat, in your opinion, is the most important discovery of the last thirteenyears?”, Pillman responds, “The fact of the Visit. The fact of the visit is notonly the most important discovery of the last thirteen years, it’s the mostimportant discovery in human history.
It doesn’t matter who these aliens were.Doesn’t matter where they came from, why they came, why they left so quickly,or where they’ve vanished to since. What matters is that we now know for sure:humanity is not alone in the universe. I’m afraid the Institute ofExtraterrestrial Cultures could never make a more fundamental discovery”(Strugatsky 3-4). For one thing, the fact that the Visit is the most importantdiscovery in human history is far-fetched and the other all the questions thatshould be asked or not asked at all. Throughout this whole novel science isabsent which leads one to think that scientists don’t even have a clue of whatis happening and if they do they cannot explain it.Not only is lack of knowledge dealt in Solaris butalso in Roadside Picnic, a world that is dealing with the alien encounteralready made and the aliens are long gone.
The novel begins with an interview with Dr. Pillman. Dr. Pillman isbeing interviewed about the visit, in this case, the alien encounter. Dr.
Pillman tells the interviewer asked about the alien contact, “To be honest atfirst I assumed it was a hoax. I couldn’t imagine anything like that happeningin our little town. Western Siberia, Uganda, the South Atlantic — even thoseseemed possible, but Harmont! I suddenly realized that Harmont and the otherfive zones — actually pardon me, we only knew about four at the time — Inoticed that they lay on a very smooth curve. So I calculated the coordinatesof the radiant and sent it to Nature” (Strugatsky 2-3). To clarify, Dr. Pillmanwhen first hearing about the alien encounter is shocked and does not believe atfirst that there was an alien encounter. However, once he thought he began tostudy the zones of where the alien sightings occurred. In this case, no one noteven scientists were prepared to make sense of the alien encounter.
Henceforth, experiments, looking closer at things,speculating on the planet Solaris is utterly useless. Scientists will nevercome to understand or know how the planet works because, in the end, they knowabsolutely nothing. They cannot comprehend how the ocean is alive and what theysee real or not. For all their scientific knowledge, information, data, andtheories the scientists were not prepared when they made contact with Solaristhus they all lost their sanity.Therefore, scientists, physicists, and even mathematicianscreated their theories. The science community as a whole was unable to agreewith the other, so no one knew which opinion was the right one. Methods werecreated, discredited, created again, and discredited back and so the cyclecontinues to an end. Many gave up and stopped trying to comprehend the planetSolaris.
To enumerate, Kevin says in the novel, “Gradually, in scientificcircles, the ‘Solaris Affair’ came to be regarded as a lost cause, notablyamong the administrators of the Institute, where voices had recently beenraised suggesting that financial support should be withdrawn and researchsuspended. No one, until then, had dared to suggest the final liquidation ofthe Station; such a decision would have smacked too obviously of defeat. But inthe course of semi-official discussions, a number of scientists recommended an’honorable’ withdrawal from Solaris” (Lem 23). With this in mind, what Kevinand the other scientists that are in Solaris are there for nothing.
After all,everyone has given up on trying to understand the planet and only a select fewstill believe that they will be able to accomplish what others before couldnot.Moreover, as Kevin states in the novel, it was thephysicists, not the biologists that believed this and found these findings.Also, it was the physicists that brought this forward to the scientificcommunity. “Consequently it was the physicists, rather than the biologists, whoput forward the paradoxical formulation of a ‘plasmic mechanism,’ implying bythis a structure, possibly without life as we conceive it, but capable ofperforming functional activities — on an astronomic scale, it should beemphasized. It was during this quarrel, whose reverberations soon reached theears of the most eminent authorities, that the Gamow-Shapley doctrine,unchallenged for eighty years, was shaken for the first time” (Lem 18).
To putit differently, all the science that has been done in the novel is entirelyinaccurate. No matter what scientists achieve it only leads to one thing, andthat is science is utterly flawed and unable to explain why things are the waythey are.As a result, more expeditions were made to the planetSolaris, with the purpose of finding results that proved or discredited theoriginal findings. For instance, “One of Shsnnahan’s ships remained in orbit,while the two others, after some preliminary attempts, landed in the southernhemisphere, in a rocky area about 600 miles square.
The work of the expeditionlasted eighteen months and was carried out under favorable conditions, apartfrom an unfortunate accident brought about by the malfunctions of someapparatus. In the meantime, the scientists had split into two opposing camps; thebone of contention was the ocean. On the basis of the analyses, it had beenaccepted that the ocean was an organic formation (at the time, no one had daredcalled it living). But, while the biologists considered it as a primitiveformation — a sort of gigantic entity, a fluid cell, unique and monstrous(which they called ‘prebiological’), surrounding the globe which a colloidalenvelope several miles thick in places — the astronomers and physicistsasserted that it must be an organic structure, extraordinarily evolved.According to them the ocean possibly exceeded terrestrial organic structures incomplexity, since it was capable of exerting an active influence on theplanet’s orbit path. Certainly, no other factor could be found that mightexplain the behavior of Solaris; moreover, the planetophysicists hadestablished a relationship between certain processes of the plasmic ocean andthe local measurements of the gravitational pull which altered according to the’matter of transformations’ of the ocean” (Lem 18).
In other words, the oceanhas a significant impact on how the planet orbits just like the ocean on Earthdramatically impacts the planet’s orbit. This leads scientists to questioneverything that they have learned so far from the planet Solaris.Furthermore, this notion that the planet was unstablewas put into question when expeditions of Solaris began. “During the followingten years, Solaris became the center of attraction for all observatories concernedwith the study of this region of space, for the planet had in the meantimeshown the astonishing faculty of maintaining an orbit which ought, without anyshadow of doubt, to have been unstable” (Lem 17). Therefore, the scientificcommunity was divided into two and controversies began. Also, this created aproblem one that was unsolvable no matter what scientists attempted. “Theproblem almost developed into a scandal: since the results of the observationscould only be inaccurate, attempts were made (in the interests of science) todenounce and discredit various scientists or else the computers they used” (Lem17).
For this reason, other scientistsbegan their expeditions to prove the earlier findings incorrect. The scientificcommunity was in an uproar and began to question everything that they havelearned so far and created their scientific theories. No matter what peoplecame up with, in the end, it was utterly invalid. It is equally important the first expedition that wassent out to Solaris because not only did it outline the planet but gatheredinformation and data. For the scientists, Solaris became the most importantdiscovery than any later discoveries and became a priority (Lem 16). Mostcompelling evidence, is “four years after this promotion, overflying the planetwith the Laakon and two auxiliary craft, the Ottenskjold expedition undertook astudy of Solaris.
This expedition being in the nature of a preliminary, not tosay improvised reconnaissance, the scientists were not equipped for a landing.Ottenskjold placed a quantity of automatic observation satellites intoequatorial and polar orbit, their principal function being to measure thegravitational pull. In addition, a study was made of the planet’s surface,which is covered by an ocean dotted with innumerable flat, low-lying islandswhose combined area is less than that of Europe, although the diameter ofSolaris is fifth greater than Earth’s. These expanses of barren, rockyterritory, irregularly distributed, are concentrated in the southernhemisphere. At the same time the composition of the atmosphere — devoid ofoxygen –was analyzed, and precise measurements made of the planet’s density,from which its albedo and other astronomical characteristics were determined.
As was foreseeable, no trace of life was discovered, either on the islands orin the ocean” (Lem 16-17). Thisexpedition must be remembered because this is the spark that creates theproblem of whether the information gathered is accurate or inaccurate as wellquestions the science that is used. The whole novel is about how science is always wrongand whatever scientific notions that the scientists come up about Solaris ismisguided.
“According to the earliest calculations, in 500,000 years’ timeSolaris would be drawn on half of astronomic unit nearer its red sun, and amillion years after that would be engulfed by the incandescent star. A fewdecades later, however, observations seemed to suggest that the planet’s orbitwas in no way subject to the expected variations: it was stable, as stable asthe orbit of the planets in our solar system” (Lem 16). Under thesecircumstances, scientists had to scrap their earlier scientific notions andcreate new ones to explain what they were observing.
“The observations andcalculations were reworked with great precision; they simply confirmed theoriginal conclusions: Solaris’s orbit was unstable” (Lem 16). The scientistshave no clue what is happening with the planet no matter how many calculationsand observations they amended, so to save face they went with the notion that Solaris orbit was unstable as if they knew thatall along.Also, Kevin when begins to settle in his room, hecommences with the discovery of the planet Solaris.
Kevin says, “The discoveryof Solaris dated from about hundred years before I was born. The planet orbitstwo suns: a red sun and a blue sun. For forty-five years after its discovery,no spacecraft had visited Solaris. At that time, the Gamow-Shapley theory —that life was impossible on planets which are satellites of two solar bodies —was firmly believed” (Lem 15). This is one of the advanced future scientifictheories that are shown, of course, this scientific theory along with otherscientists in the novel is completely and utterly wrong. “The orbit isconstantly being modified by variations in the gravitational pull in the courseof its revolution around the two suns” (Lem 15). A result, the Gamow-Shapleytheory is proven wrong by the planet Solaris and continues to show anyscientific findings and knowledge wrong.
In the first place, when Kevin lands on the planetSolaris, he meets with Snow, who at the sight of Kevin begins to tremble infear. Snow starts shouting, “I don’tknow you…” His voice croaked. “I don’t know you… What do you want?”(Lem 6). Snow is not only confused withseeing Kevin but utterly frightened of him. Kevin, on the other hand, isshocked and bewildered with Snow’s reaction. For Snow, who has been on the planet for a while now has utterly losthis mind. His lack of recognition towards Kevin shows how far gone his mind is.In other words, Snow is afraid of Kevin because he is a visitor and for Snow,Kevin should be familiar because Kevin is a figment of his mind yet Kevin isnot.
This unfamiliarity is what brings fear to Snow and worries him. Thisparallels with the lack of knowledge in the novel. In the book, Snow and otherscientists were sent to Solaris to study the planet along to gather informationand data. Instead, all the scientists have lost their minds and accomplishedabsolutely nothing.
In Lem’s ”novel, Solaris, and the Strugatskybrothers’ novel Roadside Picnic, the lack of knowledge when it comes to aliensand alien encounters; is one of the focal points. Although the aliens in bothnovels are entirely different from each other, the approach when it comes totrying to understand the aliens remain the same. Also, both novels are from ina time where science and technology have vastly advanced as well as humanknowledge. With all their vast scientific advances and knowledge, it is not enoughto prepare humanity for its contact with aliens and their intelligence.