If Lem’s novel Solaris is preoccupied with the possibility of communicating with an alien species, then Fiasco is almost the polar opposite in that it shows how it may not be possible to communicate with alien life at all—especially if the aliens do not want contact.
Fiasco opens in the time of Pirx the Pilot on Saturn’s moon, Titan. A man from that time has a mishap and is flash-frozen. He wakes up centuries later on the spaceship Hermes, heading to the planet Quinta, where the crew hopes to find knowledge and brotherhood with an alien life-form believed to be within a “window” of opportunity allowing for communication.
When they get there, however, there are no bipeds, no anthropomorphic aliens, no form of life that remotely resembles anything the humans recognize. Instead, they find a planet whose surface is marred by ugly mounds and weblike netting draped from poles and aliens with a totally different evolutionary history, as well as physical and psychological differences. These aliens resemble the termites of Earth, a reference which is cleverly disguised as a novel within the novel, for the entertainment and edification of the crew.
The Quintans are embroiled in a planetary war between “hives.” The battle has reached insane proportions. The space around the planet is bombarded with signal jamming and nasty nanomechanical weapons that attack anything entering that space....
(The entire section is 513 words.)