Icarus and Daedalus – Genrikh Altov

“Icarus and Daedalus” (short story) by Genrikh Altov

English Publication History: The Ultimate Threshold (Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1970), SF: Inventing the Future (Bellhaven House, 1972), The Ultimate Threshold (Penguin Books, 1978), Ballad of the Stars (Macmillan, 1982)

Original: Russian (Икар и Дедал), 1958

Translated by Mirra Ginsburg, 1968

Synopsis: Two men journeyed to the sun in such a heroic feat that only legend is attributed to an ancient Greek lore: that of Icarus and Daedalus. Icarus—his actual name lost to time—was a brash young pilot between Earth and the distant Stellar World where he made many important discoveries of large portions. Daedalus, meanwhile, had only been on Earth yet had also made innovative breakthroughs of minor portions. Together, they believe that can enter the heart of the sun, where both small and large reign.

Analysis: Truth capitalized, the Plan capitalized, and Nature capitalized: These are the hallowed utterances of the State (capitalized), the keywords that lead the progress and pride of the Russian people during its communist era. As they are capitalized as proper nouns, each refers to a singular, undiminishable yet intangible object.

Regardless of the importance and capitalizations, they are but names, only transitory letters affixed to an object. Call it “this” or call it “that”, its name doesn’t change what it is unless time and image are attributed to the name change. Byzantium was a very different place from Constantinople or Istanbul, as Diana Spencer was from Princess Diana, as was the New World from the United States of America… same place and same person, yet a completely different idea of the same.

The same goes for Icarus and Daedalus, whose real names are lost to time but only their feat remains. Their real names don’t matter as the name would only be a prideful attachment to who they were, who their families were, and what they stood for. With the dissolution of their actual names, the monikers Icarus and Daedalus are thereby only attributed to the singular Feat… so which is more important? The Feat or the Men?

The two heroes each embody a different explorative effort: Icarus explores the macro-scale of outer space (planets of solar systems) while Daedalus explores the micro-scale of inner space (mathematics and physics). Separately, they each believe that studying the sun’s inner core is technically possible, but only when together is it actually possible. Yet, in the mission, when Icarus wants to push forward, Daedalus urges him to go back. Though opposing in many ways, together they can achieve an incredible feat.

Review: If critical analysis of the story isn’t your forte (I prefer to read for pleasure, but these translations woo my pseudo-intellectual side), suspension of belief is one hurdle to enjoying this story. In order for the ship to explore the sun’s core, the only material that will allow it to do so is plates of neutrite—the stuff from which white dwarves are made. The density and gravity of the neutrite allows them to stand the pressure within the sun, but it doesn’t affect them, yet they are warned away from the Earth due to their mass. This seems illogical to me. In addition, the last hoorah of success at the conclusion is a bit too camp for my tastes, an ending that’s reminiscent of SF Golden Age whim and juvenility.

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