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In the utopian Communist future, a crashed extraterrestrial starship is found underground during construction works, and aboard is a message in an alien language which, chillingly, indicates that a race from Venus is planning to eradicate all life on Earth. A multi-national expedition of scientists sets out to Venus in order to study the planet and prevent the tragedy by any means necessary. Eventually, it turns out that the Venusians have annihilated their civilization in a self-destructive war long ago.
The novel was an Old Shame for Lem due to quite large amounts of Communist propaganda within (though it was pretty much mandatory for a novel at that time in Poland). Still, against the bleak background of Socialist Realism literature that was filling the bookstores at that time, the book's exciting speculative fiction aspects have enthralled young readers, and it was a hit back in its time.
It has been adapted into two films, Der Schweigende Stern (East Germany, 1960) and First Spaceship on Venus (USA, 1962).
The novel shows the following tropes:
- Alien Geometries: The White Sphere, a Venusian object where light moves along arced rather than straight lines, causing a great deal of confusion for characters who wander inside.
- Executive Meddling: Pressure from the political elements is the main source of Communism praise in the book.
- Job Title
- Lecture as Exposition: Two lengthy chapters where a group of schoolchildren is taught how the spaceship and its computer work. (Note how the author felt the need to explain to his contemporary audiences what a "computer" is before expositing on how it works.)
- Old Shame: Lem hated this book.
- Socialist Realism: Parts of it are evident, such as the ridiculously perfect and spotless protagonists, and of course the occasional propaganda.
- Technology Marches On: The spaceship's computer, which has no textual interface at all, instead displaying all its output as wavey graphs without any numbers or words. The operators must specifically learn to read these.
- The Watson: Smith the pilot, who's the narrator with little knowledge on science, prompting the other crewmen to regularly drop educational exposition on him.
- ↑ after the obscure The Man from Mars from 1946