In Lem’s ”novel, Solaris,and the Strugatsky brothers’ novel RoadsidePicnic, 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 entirelydifferent from each other, the approach when it comes to trying to understandthe aliens remain the same. Also, both novels are set in a time where scienceand technology have vastly advanced aswell as human knowledge. With all their vast scientific and technologicaladvances, humanity’s knowledge, it is not enough to prepare humanity for itsencounter with aliens and their intelligence.
In the first place, when Kevin lands on the planet Solaris, he meets with Snow, who at thesight of Kevin begins to tremble in fear. Snow begins 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 andbewildered with Snow’s reaction. ForSnow, who has been on the planet for a while now has utterly lost his mind. Hislack of recognition towards Kevin shows how far gone his mind is. In otherwords, Snow is afraid of Kevin because he is a visitor and for Snow, Kevin should be familiar because Kevin isa figment of his mind yet Kevin is not.
- Thesis Statement
- Structure and Outline
- Voice and Grammar
This unfamiliarity is what brings fearto Snow and worries him. This parallels with the lack of knowledge in thenovel. In the novel, Snow and other scientists weresent to Solaris to study the planet along to gather information and data. Instead, all the scientists have lost theirminds and accomplished absolutely nothing.In addition, Kevin when begins to settle in his room,he commences with the discovery of the planet Solaris. Kevin says, “Thediscovery of Solaris dated from about hundred years before I was born. Theplanet orbits two suns: a red sun and a blue sun. For forty-five years afterits discovery, no spacecraft had visited Solaris.
At that time, theGamow-Shapley theory — that life was impossible on planets which are satellitesof two solar bodies — was firmly believed” (Lem 15). This is one of theadvanced future scientific theories that arepresented, of course, this scientifictheory along with other scientists in thenovel is completely and utterly wrong. “The orbit is constantly being modifiedby variations in the gravitational pull in the course of its revolution aroundthe two suns” (Lem 15).To enumerate, the Gamow-Shapley theory is proven wrong by the planet Solarisand continues to prove any scientific findings and knowledge wrong.
As a matter of fact, the whole novel is about howscience is always wrong and whatever scientific notions that the scientistscome up about Solaris is wrong. “According to the earliest calculations, in500,000 years’ time Solaris would be drawn on half of astronomic unit nearer its red sun, and a million years after thatwould 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 tothe expected variations: it was stable, as stable as the orbit of the planetsin our solar system” (Lem 16).Under these circumstances, scientists had to scrap their earlier scientificnotions and create new ones to explain what they were observing. “The observationsand calculations were reworked with great precision; they simply confirmed theoriginal conclusions: Solaris’s orbit was unstable” (Lem 16).
That is to say,scientists had no clue what was happening with the planet no matter how manycalculations and observations they amended, so to save face they went with thenotion that Solaris orbit was unstable as if they knew that all along.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 important discovery than any later discoveries andbecame a priority (Lem 16). Most compellingevidence, is “four years after this promotion, overflying the planet with the Laakonand two auxiliary craft, the Ottenskjold expedition undertook a study 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 ofautomatic observation satellites into equatorial and polar orbit, theirprincipal 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 or in the ocean” (Lem 16-17). This expedition must be remembered becausethis is the spark that creates the problem of whether the information gatheredis accurate or inaccurate as wellquestions the science that is used. 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 observatoriesconcerned with the study of this region of space, for the planet had in themeantime shown the astonishing faculty of maintaining an orbit which ought,without any shadow of doubt, to have beenunstable” (Lem 17). Therefore, thescientific community was divided into twoand controversies began. Also, this created a problem one that was unsolvableno matter what scientists attempted.
“The problem almost developed into ascandal: since the results of the observations could only be inaccurate,attempts were made (in the interests of science) to denounce and discreditvarious scientists or else the computers they used” (Lem 17). For this reason, other scientists began theirown 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 ownscientific theories.
Yet, no matter what people came up with in the end it wasutterly invalid. As a result, more expeditions were made to the planet Solaris,with the purpose of finding results that proved or discredited the originalfindings. For instance, “One of Shsnnahan’sships 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 workof the expedition lasted eighteen months and was carried out under favorableconditions, apart from an unfortunate accident brought about by the malfunctionsof some apparatus. In the meantime, the scientists had split into two opposingcamps; the bone of contention was the ocean. On the basis of the analyses, ithad been accepted that the ocean was an organic formation (at the time, no onehad dared called it living).
But, while the biologists considered it as aprimitive formation — a sort of gigantic entity, a fluid cell, unique andmonstrous (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 terrestrialorganic structures in complexity, since it was capable of exerting an activeinfluence on the planet’s orbit path. Certainly, no other factor could be foundthat might explain the behavior of Solaris; moreover, the planetophysicists had established a relationshipbetween certain processes of the plasmic ocean and the local measurements ofthe gravitational pull which altered according to the ‘matter of transformations’of the ocean” (Lem 18). In other words, theocean has a great impact on how the planetorbits just like the ocean on Earth greatly impacts the planet’s orbit.
This leadsscientists to question everything that they have learned so far from the planetSolaris.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 forwardto the scientific community. “Consequently it was the physicists, rather thanthe biologists, who put forward the paradoxical formulation of a ‘plasmic mechanism,’ implying by this astructure, possibly without life as we conceive it, but capable of performingfunctional activities — on an astronomic scale, it should be emphasized.
It wasduring this quarrel, whose reverberations soon reached the ears of the mosteminent authorities, that the Gamow-Shapley doctrine, unchallenged for eightyyears, was shaken for the first time” (Lem 18).To put it differently, all the science that has been done in the novel is completelyinaccurate. 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.Therefore, scientists, physicists, and even mathematicianscreated their own theories. The science community as a whole was unable to agree with the other, so no one knew which theory was the right one.
Theories werecreated, discredited, created again, and discredited again and so the cycle continues without an end. Many gave up and stoppedtrying to comprehend the planet Solaris. To enumerate, Kevin says in the novel,”Gradually, in scientific circles, the ‘SolarisAffair’ came to be regarded as a lost cause, notably among the administratorsof the Institute, where voices had recently been raised suggesting thatfinancial support should be withdrawn and research suspended. No one, untilthen, had dared to suggest the final liquidation of the Station; such adecision would have smacked too obviously of defeat. But in the course ofsemi-official discussions, a number ofscientists recommended an ‘honorable’ withdrawal from Solaris” (Lem 23). With this in mind, whatKevin and the other scientists that are in Solaris are there for nothing. Afterall, everyone has given up on trying to understand the planet and only a selectfew still believe that they will be able to accomplish what others before couldnot.
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 know absolutely nothing.They cannot comprehend how the ocean is alive and what they are seeing real ornot. For all their scientific knowledge, information, data, and theories thescientists were not prepared when they made contact with Solaris thus they alllost their sanity.Not only is lack of knowledge dealt in Solaris but also 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 is being interviewed about the visit, in this case, the alien encounter. Dr.
Pillman tellsthe interviewer asked about the alien encounter, “To be honest at first Iassumed it was a hoax. I couldn’t imagine anything like that happening in ourlittle town. Western Siberia, Uganda, the South Atlantic — even those seemedpossible, but Harmont! I suddenlyrealized that Harmont and the other fivezones — actually pardon me, we only knew about four at the time — I noticedthat they lay on a very smooth curve. So I calculated the coordinates of theradiant and sent it to Nature” (Strugatsky 2-3).
To clarify, Dr.Pillman when first hearing about the alien encounter is shocked and does notbelieve at first that there was an alien encounter. However, once he believedhe began to study the zones of where the alien sightings occurred. In thiscase, no one not even scientists were prepared to make sense of the alien encounter.In addition, for Dr. Pillman,this was his very first and last discovery that he ever made.
When theinterviewer asks Pillman, “And what, in your opinion, is the most importantdiscovery 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 lastthirteen years, it’s the most important discovery in human history. It doesn’tmatter who these aliens were.
Doesn’t matter where they came from, why theycame, why they left so quickly, or where they’ve vanished to since. Whatmatters 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 morefundamental discovery” (Strugatsky 3-4). For one thing, thefact that the Visit is the most important discovery in human history isfar-fetched and the other all the questions that should be asked or not askedat all.
Throughout this whole novel science is never at all mentioned whichleads one to think that scientists don’t even have a clue of what is happeningand if they do they cannot explain it.Moreover, the scientists have done many studies andhave accomplished nothing, no newdiscoveries that can help humanity understand the Visit. “The other day, we’restanding in the repository; it’s evening already, nothing left to do but dumpthe 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 theready, dying for a smoke — I haven’t smoked for two hours — while he keepsfiddling with his treasures. One safe is loaded, locked, and sealed shut, andhe’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 theshelf.
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 artifactsthat the aliens have left behind. It has been years from the Visit and theystill haven’t discovered what the artifacts are for, what do they do, and whythey were left behind.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 stories about the children of stalkers — how theyturn 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 torealize this key point because no one can explain why the children of stalkersturn out the way they do. Scientists have no answer and are unable to explainwhy 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 isthat way and why she is the only one that can communicate with Rederick’s deadfather, who lives with them.In essence, Lem and the Strugatsky brothers challengethe notion that science has all the answers. They show through their novelsthat science is able to an extent explainwhat something is but not why that something works the way it is. In otherwords, science no matter how advanced itgets, it will never be able to help prepare humanityfor its encounter with aliens and with the interchanging ofintelligence. The aliens will inevitably always be more advanced andintelligent than humanity.