Monday, October 6, 2014

‘It’s From A Movie. I’ll Tell You About It. It’s Horrible.’

Standing at the window with unseeing eyes, I had not noticed the coming of darkness. A thin ceiling of high cloud glowed a dim silver in the light of the vanished sun, and obscured the stars.

If she disappears after the experiment, that will mean that I wanted her to disappear – that I killed her. No, I will not see Sartorius. They can’t force me to cooperate. But I can’t tell them the truth, I’ll have to dissemble and lie, and keep on doing it . . . Because there may be thoughts, intentions and cruel hopes in my mind of which I know nothing, because I am a murderer unawares. Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed. Was I to abandon Rheya there out of false shame, or because I lacked the courage?

And there’s the core of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, harking back to the hard science fiction that used to be in vogue, when, as Scott Meyer of Basic Instructions fame, men fought their own self-destructive tendencies and sometimes apes.

Though I’m not sure Lem would have approved of even those movies, as he decried the permeation of soft science fiction into the genre. As if he had any more control over that than his hero, Kris Kelvin, has over his own self-destructive tendencies or any apes that might have shown up.

I will say this kind of science fiction is more appealing to me, because it’s a trait of humanity to explore outwards without looking within. And it’s interesting to see an alien world so alien it’s nigh on incomprehensible and not really bent on killing humans, or at least laying traps where humans are killed despite their best efforts. The horrible Gentry Lee/Arthur C. Clarke collaboration on Rama II comes to mind.

Not that I’m not a fan of soft science fiction, but I do like a sci-fi story that sets me to ponderin’, and Lem’s Solaris certainly fits in that category.

The core of the story is almost Luddite in the sense that Lem implies we ought to take care of our own hidden demons before we go out into the universe to encounter demons there. But given man’s innate curiosity (and removing all budget constraints) it’s probably easier to go exploring outward than to go inward. Especially if you’re James Tiberius Kirk.

I think what I like about science fiction in general (and the original Star Trek series in particular) is that those demons do go into space with us. And despite the science, sometimes those demons do win, as they would at home as well. So to say Lem implies those demons ought to be fixed before we explore is to malign Lem and science fiction in general. The genre is an extension of man’s desire to conquer those demons, perhaps through encounter of otherworldly risks and dangers meant to help unit man rather than once again show the divides between us. That, of course, brings us toward the concept of technoutopia, a writing genre that, as with all utopias, also deals with mankind trying to overcome its self-destructive tendencies, whether there are apes present or not.

Some sci-fi borders on the spiritual as well – Lem’s doesn’t particularly, except in my interpretation. How better to understand the unknown, it is implied, than to understand the unknown within ourselves? That speaks deeply to my spiritual side and sets me to wondering: What will eternity be like once I’ve conquered the demons I bring there?

This review is, of course, a gross misinterpretation of what Lem tries to convey – that contact between humans and an alien species may never occur, given the immense changes in the differences in physiologies and psychologies of any two intelligent species. He writes (in the guise of Gastrom, a Solaris intellectual heretic):

Gastrom’s conclusion was that there neither was, nor could be, any question of ‘contact’ between mankind and any nonhuman civilization. This broadside against humanity made no specific mention of the living ocean, but its constant presence and scornful, victorius silence could be felt between every line, at any rate such had been my own impression [said in the voice of Kelvin, the novel’s protagonist].

No comments: