The novel “Eden” (“Eden”) by Stanislaw Lem was published for the first time in 1959. It was translated to English by Marc E. Heine.
Due to an error, a spaceship ends up in the atmosphere of a planet and crashes on its surface. The on-board robots are rendered useless by the consequences of the impact but the six human crew members are in good shape and the atmosphere is breathable. There remains the problem of repairing the spaceship, which sunk into the ground.
The crew searches for sentient natives and finds what appears to be an automated factory but none of the humans can figure out what the objects being produced are for. When they return to the spaceship, they find that a native has entered it. This and subsequent contacts only serve to increase their confusion regarding the planet’s civilization.
“Eden” begins as a fairly conventional science fiction novel, with the shipwreck of an Earth spaceship on an alien planet that is home to an industrial civilization. These are the first humans to land on the planet, and this means that this is the first contact with the natives.
A peculiarity is that the six crew members are almost always mentioned by their role and the name of one of the men is mentioned only a couple of times. This choice emphasizes the tasks they have during their mission and their skills but doesn’t help develop them as characters. Stanislaw Lem seems decidedly more interested in the contact with the natives and uses the protagonists for the attempts at communication and to discuss among them what they discover on the planet.
The first contact between humans and natives becomes progressively more peculiar and therefore more interesting as the protagonists directly encounter natives or at least their artifacts. Initially, it’s normal for the humans not to understand the function of a factory and especially the language of the natives but it seems that this difficulty of understanding increases rather than decreases. Since the humans are the real aliens on the planet that was named Eden, it can be said that they seem far too alien to understand the natives.
Problems for humans also come from contacts with the sentient natives they call doublers due to their physical structure. Some contacts are conflictual and the humans wonder why they are unable to establish peaceful communications. Their attempts to understand what they see and experience with the natives are genuine. They try to go beyond the preconceptions that humans may have about the structure and functioning of an alien society but their efforts seem not to be enough.
The humans’ confusion offers a representation of Stanislaw Lem’s pessimism regarding the possibility of communicating with a truly alien species. “Eden” isn’t the first novel in which the author develops this theme, which is actually already present in his first science fiction novel, “The Man from Mars”. The author tended to be critical of his works by pointing out what he believed to be their flaws but “Eden” is generally considered a novel that starts his maturity phase. For this reason, I recommend it to readers interested in stories focused on attempted contacts between species that are truly alien to each other.