Strugatsky, It is important to realize this crucial

 

Strugatsky, Arkady, and Boris. Roadside Picnic.
Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1972.Print.

Lem, Stanislaw. Solaris. New York: Walker, 1970.Print.

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In essence, Lem and the Strugatsky brothers challenge
the notion that science has all the answers. They show through their novels
that science can an extent explain what something is but not why that something
works the way it is. In other words, science no matter how advanced it gets, it
will never be able to help prepare humanity for its encounter with aliens and
with the interchanging of intelligence. The aliens will inevitably always be
more advanced and intelligent than humanity.

Furthermore, after Redrick, Kirill, and tender return
from 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 sun
is shining, no one’s around. And suddenly I want to see Guta real bad. Not for
any particular reason. Just to look at her, hold her hand. That’s all about you
can manage after the Zone: hand holding. Especially when you remember stories
about the children of stalkers — how they turn out… No, I shouldn’t even be
thinking 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 one
can explain why the children of stalkers turn out the way they do. Scientists
have no answer and are unable to tell why it happens. Also when Redrick’s
daughter is born, he names her ‘the monkey’ due to her golden fur and the way
she acts. No one can understand why she is that way and why she is the only one
that can communicate with Rederick’s dead father, who lives with them.

Moreover, the scientists have done many studies and
have accomplished nothing, no new discoveries that can help humanity understand
the Visit. “The other day, we’re standing in the repository; it’s evening
already, nothing left to do but dump the lab suits then I can head down to the
Borscht for my daily dose of booze. I’m relaxing, leaning on the wall. My work
all done and a cigarette at the ready, dying for a smoke — I haven’t smoked for
two 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 empties
from our transporter, inspecting each one from every angle (and they are heavy
bastards, by the way, fourteen pounds each), and, grunting slightly, carefully
depositing 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 studying
the artifacts that the aliens have left behind. It has been years since the Visit, and they still haven’t
discovered what the objects are for, what do they do, and why they were left
behind.

In addition, for Dr. Pillman, this was his very first
and last discovery that he ever made. When the interviewer asks Pillman, “And
what, in your opinion, is the most important discovery of the last thirteen
years?”, Pillman responds, “The fact of the Visit. The fact of the visit is not
only the most important discovery of the last thirteen years, it’s the most
important 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 of
Extraterrestrial Cultures could never make a more fundamental discovery”
(Strugatsky 3-4). For one thing, the fact that the Visit is the most important
discovery in human history is far-fetched and the other all the questions that
should be asked or not asked at all. Throughout this whole novel science is
absent which leads one to think that scientists don’t even have a clue of what
is happening and if they do they cannot explain it.

Not only is lack of knowledge dealt in Solaris but
also in Roadside Picnic, a world that is dealing with the alien encounter
already made and the aliens are long gone. 
The novel begins with an interview with Dr. Pillman. Dr. Pillman is
being interviewed about the visit, in this case, the alien encounter. Dr.
Pillman tells the interviewer asked about the alien contact, “To be honest at
first I assumed it was a hoax. I couldn’t imagine anything like that happening
in our little town. Western Siberia, Uganda, the South Atlantic — even those
seemed possible, but Harmont! I suddenly realized that Harmont and the other
five zones — actually pardon me, we only knew about four at the time — I
noticed that they lay on a very smooth curve. So I calculated the coordinates
of the radiant and sent it to Nature” (Strugatsky 2-3). To clarify, Dr. Pillman
when first hearing about the alien encounter is shocked and does not believe at
first that there was an alien encounter. However, once he thought he began to
study the zones of where the alien sightings occurred. In this case, no one not
even 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 never
come to understand or know how the planet works because, in the end, they know
absolutely nothing. They cannot comprehend how the ocean is alive and what they
see real or not. For all their scientific knowledge, information, data, and
theories the scientists were not prepared when they made contact with Solaris
thus they all lost their sanity.

Therefore, scientists, physicists, and even mathematicians
created their theories. The science community as a whole was unable to agree
with the other, so no one knew which opinion was the right one. Methods were
created, discredited, created again, and discredited back and so the cycle
continues to an end. Many gave up and stopped trying to comprehend the planet
Solaris. To enumerate, Kevin says in the novel, “Gradually, in scientific
circles, the ‘Solaris Affair’ came to be regarded as a lost cause, notably
among the administrators of the Institute, where voices had recently been
raised suggesting that financial support should be withdrawn and research
suspended. No one, until then, had dared to suggest the final liquidation of
the Station; such a decision would have smacked too obviously of defeat. But in
the course of semi-official discussions, a number of scientists recommended an
‘honorable’ withdrawal from Solaris” (Lem 23). With this in mind, what Kevin
and 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 few
still believe that they will be able to accomplish what others before could
not.

Moreover, as Kevin states in the novel, it was the
physicists, not the biologists that believed this and found these findings.
Also, it was the physicists that brought this forward to the scientific
community. “Consequently it was the physicists, rather than the biologists, who
put forward the paradoxical formulation of a ‘plasmic mechanism,’ implying by
this a structure, possibly without life as we conceive it, but capable of
performing functional activities — on an astronomic scale, it should be
emphasized. It was during this quarrel, whose reverberations soon reached the
ears of the most eminent authorities, that the Gamow-Shapley doctrine,
unchallenged for eighty years, was shaken for the first time” (Lem 18). To put
it differently, all the science that has been done in the novel is entirely
inaccurate. No matter what scientists achieve it only leads to one thing, and
that is science is utterly flawed and unable to explain why things are the way
they are.

As a result, more expeditions were made to the planet
Solaris, with the purpose of finding results that proved or discredited the
original findings. For instance, “One of Shsnnahan’s ships remained in orbit,
while the two others, after some preliminary attempts, landed in the southern
hemisphere, in a rocky area about 600 miles square. The work of the expedition
lasted eighteen months and was carried out under favorable conditions, apart
from an unfortunate accident brought about by the malfunctions of some
apparatus. In the meantime, the scientists had split into two opposing camps; the
bone of contention was the ocean. On the basis of the analyses, it had been
accepted that the ocean was an organic formation (at the time, no one had dared
called it living). But, while the biologists considered it as a primitive
formation — a sort of gigantic entity, a fluid cell, unique and monstrous
(which they called ‘prebiological’), surrounding the globe which a colloidal
envelope several miles thick in places — the astronomers and physicists
asserted that it must be an organic structure, extraordinarily evolved.
According to them the ocean possibly exceeded terrestrial organic structures in
complexity, since it was capable of exerting an active influence on the
planet’s orbit path. Certainly, no other factor could be found that might
explain the behavior of Solaris; moreover, the planetophysicists had
established a relationship between certain processes of the plasmic ocean and
the local measurements of the gravitational pull which altered according to the
‘matter of transformations’ of the ocean” (Lem 18). In other words, the ocean
has a significant impact on how the planet orbits just like the ocean on Earth
dramatically impacts the planet’s orbit. This leads scientists to question
everything that they have learned so far from the planet Solaris.

Furthermore, this notion that the planet was unstable
was put into question when expeditions of Solaris began. “During the following
ten years, Solaris became the center of attraction for all observatories concerned
with the study of this region of space, for the planet had in the meantime
shown the astonishing faculty of maintaining an orbit which ought, without any
shadow of doubt, to have been unstable” (Lem 17). Therefore, the scientific
community was divided into two and controversies began. Also, this created a
problem one that was unsolvable no matter what scientists attempted. “The
problem almost developed into a scandal: since the results of the observations
could only be inaccurate, attempts were made (in the interests of science) to
denounce and discredit various scientists or else the computers they used” (Lem
17).  For this reason, other scientists
began their expeditions to prove the earlier findings incorrect. The scientific
community was in an uproar and began to question everything that they have
learned so far and created their scientific theories. No matter what people
came up with, in the end, it was utterly invalid.

It is equally important the first expedition that was
sent out to Solaris because not only did it outline the planet but gathered
information and data. For the scientists, Solaris became the most important
discovery than any later discoveries and became a priority (Lem 16). Most
compelling evidence, is “four years after this promotion, overflying the planet
with the Laakon and two auxiliary craft, the Ottenskjold expedition undertook a
study of Solaris. This expedition being in the nature of a preliminary, not to
say improvised reconnaissance, the scientists were not equipped for a landing.
Ottenskjold placed a quantity of automatic observation satellites into
equatorial and polar orbit, their principal function being to measure the
gravitational pull. In addition, a study was made of the planet’s surface,
which is covered by an ocean dotted with innumerable flat, low-lying islands
whose combined area is less than that of Europe, although the diameter of
Solaris is fifth greater than Earth’s. These expanses of barren, rocky
territory, irregularly distributed, are concentrated in the southern
hemisphere. At the same time the composition of the atmosphere — devoid of
oxygen –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 or
in the ocean” (Lem 16-17).  This
expedition must be remembered because this is the spark that creates the
problem of whether the information gathered is accurate or inaccurate as well
questions the science that is used.

The whole novel is about how science is always wrong
and whatever scientific notions that the scientists come up about Solaris is
misguided. “According to the earliest calculations, in 500,000 years’ time
Solaris would be drawn on half of astronomic unit nearer its red sun, and a
million years after that would be engulfed by the incandescent star. A few
decades later, however, observations seemed to suggest that the planet’s orbit
was in no way subject to the expected variations: it was stable, as stable as
the orbit of the planets in our solar system” (Lem 16). Under these
circumstances, scientists had to scrap their earlier scientific notions and
create new ones to explain what they were observing. “The observations and
calculations were reworked with great precision; they simply confirmed the
original conclusions: Solaris’s orbit was unstable” (Lem 16). The scientists
have no clue what is happening with the planet no matter how many calculations
and observations they amended, so to save face they went with the notion that Solaris orbit was unstable as if they knew that
all along.

Also, Kevin when begins to settle in his room, he
commences with the discovery of the planet Solaris. Kevin says, “The discovery
of Solaris dated from about hundred years before I was born. The planet orbits
two 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 scientific
theories that are shown, of course, this scientific theory along with other
scientists in the novel is completely and utterly wrong. “The orbit is
constantly being modified by variations in the gravitational pull in the course
of its revolution around the two suns” (Lem 15). A result, the Gamow-Shapley
theory is proven wrong by the planet Solaris and continues to show any
scientific findings and knowledge wrong.

In the first place, when Kevin lands on the planet
Solaris, he meets with Snow, who at the sight of Kevin begins to tremble in
fear.  Snow starts shouting, “I don’t
know you…” His voice croaked. “I don’t know you… What do you want?”
(Lem 6).  Snow is not only confused with
seeing Kevin but utterly frightened of him. Kevin, on the other hand, is
shocked and bewildered with Snow’s reaction. 
For Snow, who has been on the planet for a while now has utterly lost
his 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 is
not. This unfamiliarity is what brings fear to Snow and worries him. This
parallels with the lack of knowledge in the novel. In the book, Snow and other
scientists were sent to Solaris to study the planet along to gather information
and data. Instead, all the scientists have lost their minds and accomplished
absolutely nothing.

In Lem’s ”novel, Solaris, and the Strugatsky
brothers’ novel Roadside Picnic, the lack of knowledge when it comes to aliens
and alien encounters; is one of the focal points. Although the aliens in both
novels are entirely different from each other, the approach when it comes to
trying to understand the aliens remain the same. Also, both novels are from in
a time where science and technology have vastly advanced as well as human
knowledge. With all their vast scientific advances and knowledge, it is not enough
to prepare humanity for its contact with aliens and their intelligence.

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