Messengers from the Stars Episode: IV, Science Fiction and Fantasy International Conference, Lisbon, Portugal, 16 - 18 November 2016
From Wells’ greyish, tentacled Martians to the humanoid aliens of Star Trek, the extraterrestrials that have appeared in (especially Western) science fiction books, TV shows, and movies have usually had anthropomorphic features. Most of them can speak fluent English despite being non-human, and even the aliens that resemble more to animals or insects than humans have human-like aims such as conquering or colonizing the Earth. Whether they are friendly or hostile, these aliens can usually be analyzed and categorized with the help of human sciences. This anthropo- and logo-centric viewpoint which has pervaded popular science fiction for decades is challenged in Solaris and Roadside Picnic, which include non-traditional alien figures. In the former, the alien is a huge planet which is thought to be a sentient organism, and in the latter the aliens do not even appear, but they are assumed to have visited the Earth. The lack or certain knowledge about these aliens make them true “aliens” to humankind, and the failed attempts of scientists to explain their nature and aims can be read as a questioning of the authority of Western rational and scientific thinking. In the light of all these, it is argued in this paper that the inquiries concerning meaning and language in Solaris and Roadside Picnic stand in contrast with the naivety of most “first contact” narratives which suppose that there would be some kind of communication and understanding between human and alien life forms, and, by downplaying the ability of human mind and logic to name and categorize the unknown in human terms, these novels pose a challenge against anthropocentric thought.