“Stone from the Stars” (short story) by Valentina Zhuravleva
English Publication History: The Heart of the Serpent (Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1961), More Soviet Science Fiction (Collier Books, 1962), The Edge of the Chair (Harper & Row, 1967)
Original: Russian (Звездный камень), 1960
Translated by R. Prokofieva, 1961
Synopsis: When a meteorite crashes into the highlands of Pamir, the discoveries inside excite all areas of science, even the biochemist. As he’s called to view the meteor, he is informed of the true excitement that surrounds the object: encased within in a cylinder and within that there is a being who knocks on its walls in reply. When it emerges, the brain-shape of the alien baffles many but was predicted by one man present. The excitement only heightens when the begin to unravel the secrets as the brain sits dying.
Propaganda: Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for the 60th Anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, propaganda slogan #27:
Workers of industry! Struggle for the further development and strengthening of the industrial power of our Motherland! Widen the road of new techniques and progressive technologies!
Analysis: Only guesses could be made—be they complex hypotheses of a learned man or the rambling writings of a hack—as to what the future would hold. Today’s progress toward the ever-approaching future is measured by the vague word “success”, which is sometimes technological or sociological… and usually both when it concerns Cold War communism.
Clearly, the thing that fell from the sky held a technological trove of science that could benefit the State is all matters of ways. From the exotic metallic shell that encased the brain, to the biological skin that enshrouded the brain, to the mass itself that is the brain, all elements of the unexpected discovery could lead to progress as measured in technological terms.
As perfect as it was, it sat there decaying and dying while unknowingly divulging its secrets. The humans who surrounded the tantalizing mass could only study to learn more because, as they convened to agree, they could do nothing as it simply continued to die. Perhaps it deserved its death as complex as it was—a precariously advanced state where the simplest thing could trigger its simple end; so specialized and so envisioned yet all-too unnatural and all-too fallible. Regardless, this seed of knowledge will one day allow humans to visit the stars in order to return to “come back to Earth bearing the unfading torch of Knowledge” (165).
The parallel here is between communism—the true type of society and governance by the people, for the people in all matters of equality—and capitalism—a mongrel, steady-state of decay from its origins of slavery. In regards to those who study economy and laude the benefits of capitalism, “we scientists who work in narrow fields show little imagination in predicting the future. We are far too engrossed in what we’re doing in the present to foresee the shape of thing to come”; in contrast, “the Future is often more clearly envisioned by non-specialists” (161).
And so, as the beyond-comprehension complexity of capitalism and its economics succumb to its’ death throes, the vigilant scientists of the communist State take note and learn from the anguish, knowledge with which they plan to use to endeavor for the impossible dream—knowledge with a capital K: Knowledge.
Review: This story is quote heavy-handed on the science of the brain and its encasement. Only is two short sections does the author purport anything related to communism and/or capitalism. Excerpts of the two short passages are quoted above. If you’re giving this story a once-over, it could easily come off as simply another technology-dominate story; but reading between the bulk of the speculative science, a small glimmer emerges, yet it doesn’t save the story. OK, the brain is capitalism dying and the scientists are vigilant scientists, but the parallels cease there when extra science is added to the mix: exotic alloys, radiations shields, and bio-automatons.