So the Eighth Voyage sucked. No, the story didn’t suck, but the voyage for the the story’s protagonist certainly sucked. This was the second story in Stanislaw Lem’s STAR DIARIES.
In it a man is representing Earth as it is about to be included in a sort of federation of planets. A distinguished position representing the very best the galaxy has to offer. But it turns out that man doesn’t belong in such an elite group. It starts off with the man being interviewed by his sponsor. This is the usual run of questions you would expect in a story of this type: What are your specie’s achievements, etc? This doesn’t go well as it turns out we used atomic energy to fry a bunch of people and other such embarrassing gaffs.
Then we are brought out to a galactic senate of sorts where the motion of mankind’s inclusion into the federation of Milky Way planets is debated. As the proceedings progress man’s representative, Ijon Tichy, is feeling most unwelcome.
But things take a drastic turn for the worse as he discovers that his entire race’s existence is a complete accident. It turns out Earth is not a planet that is hospitable to the emergence of life, and that it is a high crime to purposefully or accidentally start life on a planet that doesn’t naturally spawn the emergence of life. It turns out (and at this point Ijon Tichy simply allows himself to slide off his chair and under the table to hide) that life on Earth was started by two drunk cooks from some species who were pouring out the kitchen slop from their spaceship onto the barren Earthly ground. And that the direction of the proceeding evolution of life on Earth was determined by the fact that one of the cooks was sick and sneezed all over the slop pile.
That is just in a simplified nutshell, I did the rollicking story no justice skimming it out like that. Go read it!
Why would I like such a story? Simple. It can be taken two ways (maybe more, but two obvious ones jump out at me). One is from a materialistic evolutionary point of view and that we are merely accidental meat monkeys and a giant mishap of chance occurrences. That is what the story depicts. But this version of looking at the story I call the serious or face value view. It is the leading view of most people who consider themselves in the know. From what I understand of the author, this would be how he meant the story. However, maybe not, and that leads me the second way of looking at the story.
The second way is looking at it as a reductio ad absurdum. Accepting that life on Earth was the result of a series of accidents or chance occurrences (which is really the only other option after you are left with only matter) then even the most absurd event could be the one that led man to be and to where and who he is. If he is small and insignificant because he is in a vast machine by chance and his being or non-being makes no difference whatsoever then even a ridiculous answer such as drunken space cooks throwing slop on the ground is sufficient and makes the evolving animal even more ridiculous.
I don’t really care what the author’s intention was, the story can be read either way and was delightful if appalling!