“Intelligence Test” (short story) by Dmitri Bilenkin
English Publication History: The Uncertainty Principle (Macmillan, 1978)
Original: Russian (Проверка на разумность), 1972
Translated by Antonina W. Bouis, 1978
Synopsis: With the animals from the alien planet Bissera safely in stow, a crew begins their traverse of space back to Earth. When doors begin to lock themselves and when eyes peer from the darkness, they know something has run amok. After checking the hold, they find some of the animals had escaped, which is impossibility for the animal’s natural abilities and intelligence. As they begin to concoct schemes to trap the same animals, the creatures show amazingly unique abilities suited for each situation. They’re uncertain whether to continue home, destroy the animals, or reason with them.
Analysis: Friedrich Nietzsche first coined the phrase “Was mich nicht umbringt macht mich stärker,” which translates as “What does not kill me makes me stronger.” Though this may have been coined in 1888, it could also have been applied to Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859; what doesn’t kill off a species only makes that same species more adaptable to its environment. Over thousands of years, the Ice Age enabled humanoids to adapt to a greater degree than they ever had before, ushering them into the era of modern humans; in contrast, within 64 years, the dodo was first discovered on the island Mauritius and made extinct, too short of a time to adapt to any changes.
In human years, terrestrial evolution moves forward at its own lethargic rate; however, the only natural evolution we have ever observed has been on Earth: the many branches of our own evolution. Who’s to say that evolution on other planets, in other solar systems, in other galaxies move at a different pace–some perhaps slower, some perhaps faster? Slower may be a bit too slow as it’s taken human, oh, about 3.8 billion years to reach its present stage… but fast? How fast could an extraterrestrial evolution spark intelligence? And under what circumstances could that ignition bring about intelligence? THIS is why we have the wonderful genre of science fiction.
Review: An average story that hinges on a unique idea that engages the reader in terms of scientific curiosity and entertainment, yet the story fails to build any human element to the narrative; the creatures very much take the forefront while the crew, sadly, only experience the event through fear rather than any other deeper emotion or characterization.