Omon Ra…Sci Fi?

Posted in Uncategorized on April 25th, 2013 by gkhasel1

Is omon ra science fiction?
In class we discussed whether Pelevin’s Omon Ra is indeed science fiction. Some of us argued that it is but I would not consider Omon Ra to be science fiction. In 1972 Darko Suvin defines science fiction as “a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment” (from the wiki page on Definitions of Sci Fi).
Omon Ra can be considered science fiction for a number of reasons. There is a lot of cognitive estrangement in Omon Ra, especially because Omon (and inherently the reader) is completely mislead by the Russian military into believing there is indeed a mission to space going on not just a hoax in the Moscow subway. Additionally there are a lot of plot jumps and disconnected occurrences in the story as mentioned by mtier1 below which only adds to the cognitive estrangement. Furthermore, the story deals with space travel which as we all know was a significant focal point in early Science Fiction especially of the eastern European variety.
Although there are features of science fiction in this story I do not consider Omon Ra to truly be science fiction because the author does not stray far enough from his “empirical environment.” It is implausible that the soviet military would organize a fake trip to the moon just to further brainwash its citizens which shows that Pelevin is not operating directly within his empirical environment, but the story does not stray far enough from reality to engage the imagination of the reader which I believe is what truly separates the reader from the environment of the author. When we are faced with a world inhabited by humanoid talking newts, or a post-apocalyptic city in Antarctica, or even a dystopian One State our imaginations as readers are excited. This creates the “imaginative framework” that darko suvin describes in his definition of science fiction. As this imagination is under developed in Omon Ra I cannot honestly consider science fiction, it may be a close relative, but it’s definitely a different species.

A note to Pelevin: muddled plots do not inherently have symbolic significance

Posted in Uncategorized on April 22nd, 2013 by mtier1

I’m not sure what to make of Omon Ra. For the most part, I found the story bland—and the rest of it, I just found downright confusing. I was particularly perplexed in the beginning chapters (before Omon “joins” the secret mission to the “Moon”), in the section where Mitiok is “rejected” from the space program, and in the final chapter where Omon escapes (what I’m assuming is some subsection of) the KGB. (I want to note in an aside here how this story necessitates a large number of parentheticals and words in quotations when describing it in writing. Pelevin’s point here is to make the reader understand that nothing is as it seems – but he is far too heavy-handed and the unfortunate result is that much of the plotline makes no sense whatsoever.)

The opening chapters detail the scenes from Omon’s childhood that lead to his desire to become a cosmonaut. I found this section oddly vague, and I never felt that any one vignette was necessary for understanding Omon’s character. This problem was exacerbated by the feeling that each of these vignettes was meant to hold some weighty significance for the rest of the plot. For example, I waited in high anticipation for some substantial forward movement of the plot when Omon and Mitiok take apart the model airplane at their rocket camp to see the miniature pilot inside. Why? Largely because the opening paragraph of this vignette contains the following sentence: “I really only remember the first few days we spent [at the camp]—but that was when everything that became so important later happened.” So it’s no surprise that I was waiting for something really momentous to happen! But it never did. The only meaning that I can (eh, sort of) find in this is through comparing the miniature pilot to Omon’s cramped position inside his spaceship. But it’s a tenuous comparison.

The next really confusing part was the section about the “reincarnation check”. I do not have any idea what to make of the recording of Mitiok’s experience; and honestly, it wasn’t until chapters later (when someone explicitly stated it) that I figured out that Mitiok had been killed as a result of his responses. What was the test, and in which ways did Omon pass but Mitiok fail? Why was Omon given permission to hear the tape? Was the Comrade Flight Leader actually breaching policy by allowing Omon to hear what happened to Mitiok? I don’t a clue as to how to answer any of these questions.

Finally, there is the last chapter. It’s clear that Omon didn’t actually go to the moon, and I think this section is also telling us that the USSR never sent anyone (or anything?) to the moon ever. (Interestingly, this begs the question of what secrets the US is propagating.) But I had trouble understanding where Omon was at distinct moments in the chase scene. And why did those two other “cosmonauts” beat him up for drinking their vodka? And how come they were privy to the state’s big secret of its space program? And why… the questions just never ended in this book. Very little was answered in the novel, and it was not endearing. The plot was not anywhere near engaging enough to make me forgive all of the open-ended questions and plot-holes. At the end of the book, I was left depressed, confused, and frustrated that despite these feelings the book had never managed to engage me.

Knowledge Vials in Lem

Posted in Uncategorized on April 18th, 2013 by turuchi1

Something interesting that I believe we weren’t able to discuss was the use of this knowledge vials – or digestible information that provided you with encyclopedic knowledge with consumption. It was strange to me that while Tichy was attempting to distance himself from the outside influences of drug use, he was still consuming these ?pills? in order to pass the time. Although consuming these knowledge vials was not as obviously suspicious as the other drugs taken in the novel to alter one’s emotions or state of mind, I do believe that the idea of digesting quick information like this has some sinister potential.

It’s clear that this society was bent on manipulating the present through the use of undetectable medications. These omnipresent drugs changed the way you were able to perceive the Now. But by reading about these knowledge vials, I was immediately drawn to the idea of 1984, or the rewriting of history in order to reflect the present. I think it would be incredibly easy to feed a new generation of scholars and students these knowledge pills, and rewrite history within them. In the sudden influx of knowledge about history, for instance, the government could manipulate conventional ideas about the past in order to advance their own sinister agenda. I was rather alarmed, then, to see Tichy so readily ingesting these knowledge vials. The government had no qualms about manipulating the perception of the present, and it would be extremely easy for this novum to be used to manipulate the past. Combining this with the drugs that ca “purge the mind” of excess information baggage, it is terrifying to think of the extent that something like this could delete all traces of past events.

The Stereotype of the “Nice Guy” in Science Fiction

Posted in Uncategorized on April 11th, 2013 by cwitten1

In her article “In Space, Nice Guys Finish Last,” Mary Roach argued that the most renowned and beloved astronauts (or cosmonauts) evince a laundry list of positive personality attributes, including humility, empathy, and good-naturedness. With these traits in mind, I wonder whether Roach’s axiom about the best qualities for space heroes applies to science fiction protagonists. If we take the characters from the works we have read as examples, it seems fairly evident that, in science fiction, the nice guys who embody the traits listed above may not even exist. In fact, the lack of the quality in Yuri Gagarin on which Roach focused most—humility—seems to be the downfall of many of the characters in our readings. Again and again, we have read about the quintessential mad scientist who, in his arrogance and desire to achieve God-like status, oversteps his bounds and transgresses natural laws to supplant life and/or labor through technological advances.

We’ve seen this hubris and its consequences throughout this semester, whether it arises in Dostoevsky’s “Ridiculous Man” corrupting the untarnished society he enters, Lord Charlesbury’s decision to channel the sun’s rays into a liquid energy substance, Rossum’s creation of automaton robots to replace human labor, Persikov and Feit’s harnessing of the Red Ray to animate and amplify life in other animals, Bondy’s decision to monetize the Newts and enslave them as industrial tools, Simon Bauer’s choice to value wealth and leisure over the virtues of hard work and labor, or Trurl and Klapaucius’s continuous misadventures in trying to create machines to replace human activities. However, most of these characters, unlike the cosmonaut Roach discussed, remain tethered to Earth. Perhaps they would be less equipped to traverse the universe because of their arrogance. Perhaps the fact that our characters don’t conform to Roach’s model of the perfect space explorer and technological innovator even makes sense given the eventual repercussions of their meddling behaviors. Because misplaced pride is so habitually punished, Roach’s axiom may hold true; while we may not see “nice guys” in many of our readings, we implicitly accept that humility is a desirable attribute and an effective way to avoid the devastation our more problematic characters bring about. If we look at our actual space explorers (see: Red Star, Aelita, The Andromeda Nebula, and more), we see characters with much more virtue and positive attributes. While their journeys never go as planned, their ultimate goals often feel in line with Roach’s theories.

While Roach noted, “nice guys finish first,” I wonder if that truism even applies to women in science fiction. Oftentimes, as we have discussed again and again, it seems like women don’t even show up to the race. For example, in Solaris, we witnessed the ocean-generated version of Rheya becoming more and more human, and she showed many of the traits that Roach valued, yet characters like Rheya are rarely lionized, and male figures often take center stage in these narratives. If this trend were to reverse, I wonder if we would see characters more in line with Roach’s model; because the female figures (despite their frequently two-dimensional nature) more often demonstrate the qualities that led cosmonauts like Gagarin to achieve lasting fame, I would be interested to see whether we read any stories that incorporate female heroines who are rewarded for their positive personalities at the semester’s close.

Themes in “The Cyberiad”

Posted in Uncategorized on April 9th, 2013 by mtier1

The Cyberiad is one of those books that can be read at different ages, although certainly with different take-home messages. The stories of Trurl’s and Klapaucius’s sallies are undeniably childlike, and as such would make great reading material for a young, aspiring reader. This is the first time I’ve read the book, but it was clear to me how much fun these stories could have been when I was younger. In fact, as I sat reading them on a lawn chair in front of Parrish, more than one person came up to me saying that they had loved this book as a child!

I must admit that I didn’t love the book. Not because of the silliness (which, though unexpected coming from Lem, was a nice change of tone), but because of the repetition. So many of the stories had the exact same format that I found myself getting bored. Someone needs the help of the famous constructors. Trurl is impulsive, Klapaucius is more level-headed. The two constructors create a new technology out of ridiculous and comical pseudoscience, which, though it takes several tries, eventually is a wonderful creation that validates the constructors’ (literally!) universal fame. I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I had read it as a younger person, and then read it again now, thus enjoying it for having enjoyed it in the past. (Every reader has a book or books like this. My personal favorite is Bruce Coville’s Book of Aliens: Tales to Warp Your Mind, which I have read more times that I can count, and will continue to read as I get older.)

That said, there were a few themes throughout the book that caught my interest. The first was the excess of violence. I don’t mean graphic violence, but more the unnecessary use and glorification of weapons and getting your way by force. It was Looney Tunes-esque, and I’m not sure (like with the Warner Bros. cartoon) that I was entirely comfortable with it. It seemed outdated, but at the same time I wonder if the exorbitance was meant, like much else in the book, to be a parody.

The second theme was a much weightier one: the arrogance involved in an act of creation. This comes up again and again with Trurl’s creations, which often don’t work as originally planned (e.g., the Nothing machine, the poetry machine, etc.). This idea is seen most evidently in, and even suggested in the title of “The Seventh Sally, Or How Trurl’s Own Perfection Led To No Good”.  Overall, it reminds me of the age-old folktale maxim: be careful what you wish for.

A more subtle version of this theme lies in the history of the constructors’ universe. There are suggestions that humans, “palefaces”, once created Automatus Sapiens like Trurl and Klapaucius. At some point, we can assume, these robots succeeded (violently?) their creators in being the dominant existence in the universe. Here we finally have a sense of the Lem who wrote Solaris. The idea that some things are beyond humans’ grasp—whether it’s the ability to communicate with another intelligent life form or the foresight to see what will become of their own species as a result of reckless creations—unites the two books. And of course, it’s a theme we’ve seen throughout this course, namely with Capek. I very much liked this aspect of the book, and I enjoyed the combination of a serious, somewhat existential thread woven among all the levity and absurdity of the stories.

The Cyberiad is wonderful!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 7th, 2013 by nwaldma1

It is my opinion that Stanislav Lem’s The Cyberiad is wonderful. That is,it fills me with wonder. An absurd blend of sci-fi and fantasy, stirred up by indulgent wordplay and incomprehensible mathematical propositions that are so jumbled and matter-of-fact that you can’t help but accept them. For goodness’s sake! It even uses probability to explain the questionable existence of dragons! I don’t know what I was expecting –after reading Solaris I suppose I was geared up for some profound, somewhat clichéd, creepy space saga. How pleasantly surprised I was!

I love this style of writing. I am a huge fan of the absurd. I was gleefully tickled by the ridiculous characters and machines, the unabashedly intricate wordplay (more on that later), but at the same time I could not help noticing a smattering of subliminal messages. Whether they were, in fact, subliminal or actually so obvious that they only seemed so, I have not yet decided. I look forward to discussing this in class.

This is a series of stories that could be thoroughly enjoyed by small children. As a reluctant adult, I found myself doing just that. But I also found myself pondering the implications of various elements of the stories. The machines raised a multitude of questions and concerns. At a few instances Lem makes it unquestionably clear that The Cyberiad takes place in our world, or an extremely similar one, but centuries/millennia in the future. Trurl, the constructor, is obviously a genius, above par even in his time and place. Yet nobody seems stunned by the humanity of his machines –frustrated, certainly, but not surprised. Every single machine develops a mind of its own, if it is not created with one. Just listen to the sass dished out by the n-machine in the first story! But what about the machine that can synthesize a world, replicating history from its conceptions (not without a glitch here and there)? A machine that can produce poetry more emotive and more profound than any poet? A machine that can make passionate love? And what of the man who creates these machines, who can tweak and calibrate them at his whim? I don’t want to answer these questions here, I just want to pose them. I would much rather bring them up in class discussion and hear what others have to say and use that input to develop my thoughts because, in fact, this adorable collection of fantastical stories has quite flustered me in its suggestions about human uniqueness and the power of machines, or the power of the few who are able to create them.

One last thing I would like to discuss a bit, which has less to do with the content of the stories but rather their form. Like I said, I find this is my favorite style of writing. This ridiculous wordplay and the absurd situations have a childlike appeal, but can be used to convey quite profound messages (I am thinking in particular of works such as Catch-22). In reading The Cyberiad I was constantly reminded of Jame’s Thurber’s The Wonderful O, which looks basically like a writer having fun and just playing around with the english language, experimenting with alliteration, assonance, etc. Then I remembered that Lem wrote in Polish, and this is actually a translation (a brilliant one, in my opinion, but I know nothing about the art of translation and could very well be mistaken). But the puns lend themselves so well to English! In fact, many of them seem to necessitate english. Could it be that the polish translates perfectly into the english –I have trouble believing that. How much, then is lost in translation? How much license must have been taken by Michael Kandel, the translator? How much of this english translation is by Lem, and how much by Kandel?

I am very excited for the class discussion on The Cyberiad. I am only halfway through, but I can already think of lots to talk about!

That beautiful alien woman

Posted in Uncategorized on April 4th, 2013 by onatan1

Reading Bulychev’s ‘Snowmaiden’ reminded me of something that drives me crazy as a female reader and viewer of science fiction writing, movies and television. The “Captain Kirk falls in love with a female alien who is shown in soft light with gels” trope is something we have seen throughout the semester, but never so blatant as the virtual Star Trek script that is ‘Snowmaiden’. Not only is it frustrating to see virtually no “good” female characters – characters who have agency, who do anything useful, who have any power – but Bulychev doesn’t seem to even try. Snowmaiden, to me, was Helena from R.U.R., was  every female alien ever to appear in Star Trek. She has virtually no power, and her naivete is not as endearing to the reader as it is to her love interest. Indeed, the terms Bulychev uses to describe Snowmaiden are exotifying and patronizing. How could he expect a female reader to enjoy such a story? I’m not sure what Bulychev’s readership was like at the time of publication, but surely he would have many female readers. His other female characters, such as Marta in ‘I was the first to find you”, are kind of neutral in my opinion. Though Marta and Nina are likable enough, they aren’t given the same attention and care as his male characters.

Perhaps the best female characters this semester were O and I-330 in We. Even so, I think it would make me happier as a female reader of Russian and Eastern European Science Fiction to read a female writer. While the “great” works we have read have been better than Bulychev in terms of gender (only marginally though), I would guess the lack of female authors on the reading list is a function of SF being a male dominated field. On the point of the more prominent works we have read, I do not think they are any more than marginally better in terms of the treatment of women. Rheya is portrayed as childlike in Solaris, and there are very few females in War with the Newts. This is not something I expect to get better for the rest of the semester, unfortunately, and seems to be characteristic of the genre (in Eastern and Western contexts), with some exceptions.

 

Edit: we seem to have talked about this during class before I had a chance to post it… Glad other people see the same way!! I do want to push back a little again the dismay towards love stories. I think part of the reason we are so dissatisfied with the romances in these texts is because of the lack of good female characters. R and I’s romance in We was one of the most satisfying because I was a more realistic female character (though of course she was also Eve… )

Understanding Alien Life in this Week’s Readings

Posted in Uncategorized on April 4th, 2013 by cwitten1

In last week’s Solaris, Stanislaw Lem first introduced the theme that, in understanding alien cultures, human beings necessarily impose an anthropocentric framework onto decidedly unearthly creatures and societies. In Solaris, it was the mysterious ocean’s transmission of humanoid visitors to Kelvin and crew that violated both the characters’ and the reader’s assumptions about the nature of extraterrestrial existence. Lem’s repudiation of human-centered explanations for alien events, however, was not unique to Solaris. In Tuesday’s reading of the Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic, after aliens briefly appear on Earth, so-called “stalkers” sneak into the Zone where the aliens landed illegally and gather the artifacts left from their visit. These bizarre (and sometimes scientifically inexplicable) materials are soon deployed and revolutionize the technology of the region, though doubt remains as to whether the items are being used for their intended purpose. In fact, one scientist even suggests that items, such as the inexhaustible spacell batteries that have completely reinvented electrical powering, were just waste deposited by the aliens as they passed by Earth en route to another destination.

It is in this interpretation of the alien intentions that the novel gets its name. Dr. Valentine Pillman outlines the metaphor of the titular “Roadside Picnic”, wherein individuals stop on the side of the street, hold a picnic, and depart, leaving behind their garbage and never considering the aftermath of their actions. He explains, “Imagine: a forest, a country road, a meadow. A car pulls off the road into the meadow and unloads young men, bottles, picnic baskets, girls, transistor radios, cameras…A fire is lit, tents are pitched, music is played. And in the morning they leave. The animals, birds, and insects that were watching the whole night in horror crawl out of their shelters. And what do they see? An oil spill, a gasoline puddle, old spark plugs and oil filters strewn about” (Strugatsky, 132). Much like the woodland creatures witnessing a casual picnic, the inhabitants of Earth view only the aftermath of the alien “roadside picnic…by the side of some space road” (132). However, the humans perceive the litter as calculated, a reflection of the purposeful journey of the aliens to Earth. It is only through this lens that they can coherently piece together a narrative of an alien invasion; much like in Solaris, the characters of Roadside Picnic assign intentionality to non-human entities, even when these explanations of events do not necessarily indicate the reality of the situation. Red and the other stalkers so rarely stop to consider that the ostensibly valuable items for which they risk their lives are merely trash. This interpretation of the Zone contravenes their human assumptions about how occurrences like the Visit should be, and they thus find it hard to integrate this perspective into their understanding of the event itself. Similar to Kelvin’s construal of the ocean’s receding waves as a sign of its reaction to his outstretched hand, Red and company deem—perhaps erroneously—the Visit a deliberate attempt by aliens to make contact with humanity.

I noticed that this trope continued in Kirill Bulychëv’s short story “Snowmaiden.” When the unnamed protagonist encounters an alien girl next to a ship, he immediately accepts her because her physiognomy resembles human features. He notes, “We normally associate danger with creatures whose appearance is disturbing to us, […], To expect anything insidious from this slender girl, whose long eyelashes cast a shadow on her pale delicate cheeks, whose face stirred in each and everyone one of us an overwhelming desire to see the color of her eyes—to expect anything insidious from this girl, even in the form of viruses, would have seemed most unchivalrous” (Bulychëv, 105). Bulychëv again articulates what Lem and the Strugatskys both demonstrated: the human impulse to accept only phenomena that adhere with our expectations about how alien cultures must align with our own.

In addition, I wonder about how the use of the character of the Snowmaiden uniquely reflects this struggle between the drive to accept other cultures as alien and therefore inhuman and the desire to incorporate those societies into a humanistic model. The protagonist notes, “the comparison of the girl to the Snowmaiden of folklore—the girl made of snow who came to life only to melt under the rays of the sun—proved to be particularly apt” (105-106). Though I’m not particularly well versed in the tale of the Snowmaiden, I watched the film Snegurochka for another course and drew some interesting parallels between Bulychëv’s story and the plot of Snegurochka (which translates to Snow Maiden). In the movie, Snegurochka initially captivates a group of peasants with her ethereal, otherworldly charm, but she soon renounces her supernatural origins to assimilate into the village where she resides and better understand humanity as a whole. Therefore, I suspect that the Bulychëv version of the Snowmaiden is meant to mimic this folk tale in that, as the Snowmaiden grows closer and closer to the narrator, she simultaneously grows more and more human. Though she does not melt at the advent of Spring, as does Snegurochka, the Snowmaiden and the main character eventually reach a sort of temperature balance wherein he is finally able to touch her, an act which only makes her more human in his eyes. By drawing on the folk tale of Snegurochka, Bulychëv again echoes the themes of our previous authors about the ways in which aliens can only be understood and loved if they are consistent with an anthropocentric, inward-focused model of what “life” entails.

Communism is like Training a Dog

Posted in Uncategorized on April 2nd, 2013 by atoro1

Although the class as a whole did not read The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov, I started to notice some social critiques in the work that I had not previously noticed before our discussions on Solaris and The Escape Attempt. The basis of the soft-core science-fiction narrative is that Doctor Philip Philopovich (already a nonsensical name) decided to take the pituitary gland of a recently deceased individual and put it in the body of the dog, Shorik, which he has had as a pet.

Slowly, Shorik begins to be able to converse with humans, read, and walk up right. However, the final transformation into a human leaves Shorik as a selfish, whimsical, perverted, stout, and unattractive man. Shorik does retain certain animalistic qualities such as when he chases the cat around the Doctor’s house, which he inevitably wrecks. Over the course of the story, the House Committee attempts to register Shorik, who is then given a worthless job as the manager of garbage collecting. Shorik then attempts to force the Doctor into giving up rooms in his apartment, but in the end, the Doctor removes the pituitary gland and Shorik reverts to his canine form.

Now, I see Bulgakov as using the transformation of Shorik into a small, vile Russian citizen to symbolize how man himself is merely a beast akin to that of a dog. Taking it a step further, Bulgakov allowed only Doctor Philopovich and his assistant Ivan Arnoldovich to be the few educated citizens of the story, which may also be a jab at the uneducated Russians are closer to animals than civilized humans.

Instead of using the new cognitive abilities that he has attained, Shorik instead busies himself with eating, drinking, chasing women, and demanding whatever the House Committee tells him he should demand. Each of these qualities can be linked back to those of his canine origins, but for all intents and purposes, Shorik is now a human; he is an educationless human. Therefore, he does not attempt any worldly pursuits but instead responds to all worldly stimuli with his reflexes: he attempts to rape the house keeper, he is hungry so he demands food, he is told he should have a job so demands one, and finally, the House Committee tells him to demand rooms from Philip Philopovich. All are baser ideas and stimuli that each Russian and human deals with, and many humans would respond in the same way.

Making a larger leap to the repressed masses of the Soviet era, Bulgakov uses Shorik’s baseness and the House Committee’s dirtied physical description and unquestioning obedience to highlight the lowliness and inhuman characteristics that are a consequence of the times. I felt annoyance with the House Committee and sympathy for the Doctor when the three dirty, unintelleigent, and young members of the Committee continually threatened and demanded that the Doctor give up two of his rooms. Rather than ponder their orders and use cognizance to understand why the Doctor should retain his rooms that he pays for, the Committee members blindly follow their orders like a trained dog being told what to do by its master.

To me, The Heart of a Dog can be viewed as both a basic criticism of human nature, but also as a satire to criticize the “loyal” communists, who blinded followed the orders of the time.

Anthropomorphism: is there a limit to what we can understand?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 26th, 2013 by nwaldma1

I was, of course, interested in Lem’s emphasis on anthropomorphism. I thought “Solaris” was great. I thought it was suspenseful, intriguing, and scary as well. I am very interested in seeing a film adaptation.
Anyway, because I always have to tie sci-fi back to human-nature relationships, I thought I would write a bit about anthropomorphism. I didn’t just pick this word out of the blue to connect it to the story –Kelvin himself uses it, and surprisingly often. There is that longish passage where he is just describing the symmetriads, asymmetriads, and other oceanic formations as described before him by the previous expedition. In it, he repeatedly emphasizes the tendency of even the most objective scientist to anthropomorphize, to attribute familiar qualities to the ocean’s formations, to use know terms and analogies to describe something completely alien.

Here are some thoughts I had:
–We cannot understand anything except in terms of things we do understand. In fact, I think we understand things only because we can compare them to other things we understand. Furthermore, we can only perceive things if they are comparable to other things we have perceived. This last is a thought I am still developing–I know it sounds questionable.
–So, what happens when we come up against something that is completely different from anything we understand, and yet not so different as to be the opposite from anything we understand (if it were the opposite, then we could understand it precisely as that: the opposite). “Solaris” brings up this issue: we, humanity, are in the process of exploring and possibly colonizing space. We are rapidly acquiring and analyzing information about the further regions of our universe. So far, things make some sort of sense (not to me, necessarily, but to someone). Even a concept as ridiculous (again, to me) as the expansion of the universe can be put in terms of ‘language’ that we understand. That is maths. That’s the thing, isn’t it? So far, we haven’t come up against something that cannot be felt emotionally or described in terms of language or mathematics. But that is precisely what the ocean of Solaris is! Something outside the realm even of maths! What does that mean? Does anyone have any idea? Even after reading the story, can you really comprehend what the ocean is? With all the imagery and descriptions, can you picture it? I can’t.

How absurd, then, to send expeditions out to analyze the ocean. How absurd to attempt to understand it.
Or what do you think? Is it absurd? Is it absurd an futile to attempt to gain an understanding of something that simply cannot be understood? Or do you think that maybe it can be understood, over time perhaps? Do you think there exists something in our space (our real universe, not Kelvin’s fictional one) like the ocean, that is literally incomprehensible?