Eden Essay - Critical Essays

Stanislaw Lem


Eden is Stanisaw Lem’s first science-fiction novel to describe his skeptical philosophy, which maintains that humans are unable to comprehend true alienness. The pattern is repeated, in greater complexity, in novels such as The Invincible (1964), His Masters Voice (1968), and especially his masterpiece, Solaris (1961). With great richness of detail, Lem attempts to convey an impression of alien strangeness, of landscape, plants, machines, and architectural constructions, while leaving the underlying principles unknown and incomprehensible. The uncertainty gives rise to a mountain of anthropomorphizing interpretations. In Eden, there are only a few hints of the planets true character, concerning concentration camps, hunts, and exterminations of “unfit life.”

The novel is political in a veiled way. In Astronauci (1951; the astronauts) and Obok Magellana (1955; the Magellan nebula), Lem had presented an ideal Communist future; in Eden, the heroes are abstract representatives of humankind with no social ties at all. The tyranny of Eden, however, as far as it can be understood, seems to rest foremost in a total control of language and communication that recalls Communist practices. Social life seems to rest on gigantic lies, especially the fiction that there are no rulers, which seems to be an ironic twist on the Marxist doctrine of the withering away of government in a perfect socialist society. The novel rejects the Communist optimism that people can control social conditions and that there is a holy duty to help the oppressed. Who are the oppressed on Eden, and who are the oppressors? The visitors do not know what the political issues are, and any understanding may be faulty, as a projection of human notions onto an alien society. The visitors are horrified by what they see and burn to help, but they do nothing because, without comprehension, any attempt at intervention could bring about a much greater evil.