Eden (1959 in Polish; English translation 1989), by Stanislaw Lem, is set on a jewel of a planet, somewhere far from Earth. The crew of a spaceship is captivated by the planet’s beauty and they decide to take a closer look; unfortunately, the Captain approaches too closely and they crash-land. There are six men on-board (apparently the novel was written before male authors realized that women can do things too); with the exception of one member, the men are identified by their titles only: the Captain, the Doctor, the Cyberneticist, the Physicist, the Chemist, and the Engineer. It is only the Engineer, Henry, who is called by name (I think it is only the Doctor and the Captain who use Henry’s name): if anybody has a theory about why the Engineer is the only one named, I’d be interested…
I think it’s worth pointing out that Eden is not a hard science fiction novel: Lem makes no real attempt to create futuristic, technical jargon; the terminology used was, for the most part, common when the book was written. Some of the technical language he used probably felt dated — particularly to a science fiction audience — when the book was published in 1959.
The novel begins as an exploration story on a fascinating planet and evolves into a first-contact novel. The human crew first explores the marvelous landscape and plant life (Lem spends many pages describing the wonders the humans see), then they happen upon a factory that appears to produce complex parts only to recycle the finished product and begin a new process. Eventually the explorers meet the planet’s intelligent species, the ‘doublers’, who seem to consist of two symbiotic life-forms. Lem’s aliens are always something truly alien. The doublers come in many different configurations, and they too seem to be ‘recycled’; perhaps some of the doublers are born defective and die naturally, perhaps there are different species of doublers, or maybe the doublers are part of a poorly designed genetic experiment.
As the novel proceeds, there is a growing sense that something furtive and sinister is occurring. The shocking truth regarding the doubler society becomes clear by the novel’s conclusion.
Stanislaw Lem is often quite merciless in his attacks on humanity’s shortcomings; in Eden, he seems to be issuing a warning, or at least a message for us to ponder. Although the doublers are, at first, truly bizarre, they are really not so different from us, and their plight is a terrifying concept.
Eden was slow to develop, and I don’t think it is one of Lem’s best works, but it was well worth the time invested reading it.