[Stanislaw Lem] Fiasco

  • Title: Fiasco
  • Author: Stanislaw Lem
  • Published: 1986
  • Translated: by Michael Kandel
  • Publisher: Penguin Random House UK
  • ISBN: 978-0-241-33435-5

Fiasco: (noun) a complete failure, especially in a ludicrous or humiliating way.

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) is a collective term for scientific searches for intelligent extraterrestrial life, for example, monitoring electromagnetic radiation for signs of transmissions from civilizations on other planets.

Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence or CETI, is a branch of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) that focuses on composing and deciphering interstellar messages that theoretically could be understood by another technological civilization.

from the Oxford Dictionary and Wikipedia

Lem’s SF novels are not about actions or adventures in the universe at the future time. His stories are the questions of our prejudices, na├»ve optimism, and our structure of conceptions deeply rooted as human beings.

Fiasco is a story of CETI – Communication with extraterrestrial intelligence -. In the story, we, humans who have more advanced technologies, are visiting another world, ‘Quinta,’ and try to establish the first contact with unknown intelligent life forms. But you can find out that it is more natural to think the opposite: we (20th century earth) are visited by another highly-advanced extraterrestrial civilization. And how do we react, and what do we need to do? How do we know they want peace or war?

The keyword is anthropocentrism. It might be natural for us to regard humankind as a central element of existence. The almighty computer DEUS (literally God in Latin) does not provide any advice when crews try to contact Quinta, because it does not know enough. DEUS only provides short-term suggestions base on the crews’ requests or crude ideas based on emotions. The result is a simply fiasco – total failure -. Even though they know they are making mistakes, the caption and crews have to think only from the anthropocentric point of view. They know they are emotional, which is not good, but they still make decisions emotionally.

It is interesting to think again about how a language works. Communication between two parties is based on the common ground of mutual understanding. We, humans, share some traits as human beings, which is the start mark of communication. How about CETI? What can we assume? We have our limitations, but maybe there is a hope or a wish to assume all intellectual beings can share something.

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