Strangers’ Eyes – Dmitri Bilenkin

“Strangers’ Eyes” (short story) by Dmitri Bilenkin

English Publication History: The Uncertainty Principle (Macmillan, 1978)

Original: Russian (Чужие глаза), 1971

Translated by Antonina W. Bouis, 1978

Synopsis: A dull star shined; a dull planet gleamed. Captain Zibella and his crew look upon this system with pensive expectation. When all signs point to zero coherent radiation from from planet, the Captain commands the release of powerful locators that detail the planet from afar. They find primitive huts, a sign of intelligence that brings them the joy of discovery; however, once down on the planet and approaching the same huts, the locals seem blind. They may not have eyes but their crown of thorns atop of their heads may be receptors of radiation of some sort, yet they don’t react to the presence of the scouts. When one aboriginal skirts a cliff then falls to its death, it’s obvious they’ve only recently become blind. The scouts’ eyes turn toward the sky to ponder the cataclysm that destroyed these primitive people.

Analysis: As a heavy reader of science fiction, I’ve come across a wide spectrum of forms of intelligent life: beings composed of radiation, those of higher dimensions, compositions that form a hive mind, denizens that microscopically dwell upon a neutron star, puddles of liquid that merely seem to steep, etc. As fact is always stranger than fiction, when humankind meets another intelligence, it will probably defy what will have already written about so-called intelligence.

Pose the question: Will we know intelligence when we see it? Another question: Is there a spectrum of intelligence (like from amoeba, avocado, ant, angelfish, antelope, ape)? One further questions along these lines: Would we recognize a higher intelligence before it wiped us out like an anthill?

The reader of “Strangers’ Eyes” has to ask themself, do these same intelligences “see” in same spectrum as humans? We only see a tony part of the electromagnetic spectrum due to the nature of our species’ birth:


When we explore the distant stars on which there are distant planets with relatively distant cousins of intelligence, how will they perceive their world? Will humans be able to approach them safely? Communication with them rationally? Eventually establish a commonality? Where on the spectrum will they lie?


Review: Akin to “What Never Was” as it’s predictable, but the impact of the story’s twist isn’t as heartfelt as the former. From the perspective of an intellectual exercise as in the “analysis”, the story takes an interesting level of depth, but from an armchair reader’s perspective, it offers little substance or pleasure aside from its basic world- and species-building.

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