October 1st, 2008

Revisiting Stanley G. Weinbaum, and Oscar

Science fiction from the thirties.  From a dusty corner of my study comes a small paperback.  A 75 cent limited edition called A Martian Odyssey and other classics of science fiction by...SGW.  A special introduction by Sam Moskowitz. Lancer Science Fiction Library 1962.
It contains five stories: A Martian Odyssey, The Adaptive Ultimate, The Lotus Eaters, Proteus Island, The Brink of Infinity.

I Bought it new when I was 14 with my paper route money.

My favorite story is not the title story, but rather The Lotus Eaters. 

A husband and wife team of scientists are exploring the eternal night side, the frigid side of Venus, a planet that, apparently, in the thirties, did not rotate.  Yes, true, because the rotation of Venus was not discovered until the sixties through radar probes.  Too much cloud cover.  Who knew? Weinbaum does have his rocket ships atomic-powered though.

In the Lotus Eaters we converse with Oscar, the  hive-minded, alien plant form that possesses an intellectual capacity well above that of a human.  He learns English without effort from listening to human speech, answering human questions.  He himself, however, has no questions, no desires.

When the humans discover his IQ has no limit, they ask him for revelations. However, Oscar says he can not tell them things that they do not already know:

"You must first have the words to give me," he says.  'I cannot tell you that for which you have no words."

Then Oscar reveals that the secret of  "life, the universe, and everything" just boils down to the laws of chance.  Doug Adams seems to agree.

So my sense that the universe of words is the biggest one we can claim to know comes not from Aristotle or Einstein, but from Kurt Godel (mit umlaut) and Oscar, of the Lotophagi Veneris.