The thing about science fiction is that “fiction” is still the operative word here. So in some ways the fantastical futuristic speculative science is really only there because it was necessary to tell the story the author wanted to tell. As in the case of Simak’s “Immigrant”, the imaginative backdrop of aliens and far away world is really just a tool for him to tells us the story of being human. Selden Bishop was human, like all of us. Through hard work and the intelligence he was born with, he was identified as the best of the best. In the world Simak described, a race of extraterrestrial aliens from the planet Kimon were known to mankind. Kimonians were speculated to have evolved well beyond human’s current development. They seem to have extraordinary psionic abilities; exhibit moral and social structures that is not based on profits; even in their “dumbed-down” physical manifestation they are more beautiful than any human. Bishop, being the best of the best, was qualified to be sent to Kimon, in a sort of one-way “cultural-exchange” program. Kimon has been described as “El-Dorado” multiple times in the story, a mythical promise land where everything was the best. It is, of course, no such thing.
In science fiction I often have doubts about the treatment of aliens. For example, in “Star Trek” almost all aliens are really just human with a different forehead. They are usually humanoid (to a point that they are not distinguishable from human), have two genders, and in a baffling twist, speaks perfect English. Here, Simak’s treatment of the Kimonians are different. We can see this especially in Bishop’s conversation with the “goddess”. She insists that most Kimonian concepts will simply be incomprehensible to Bishop. In a crucial exchange, it became apparent that all the training, all the hard work that Bishop endured to qualify him to come to Kimon had been for naught. Kimonian society and thoughts are so far evolved that human knowledge and Kimonian concepts are incompatible. Bishop had to accept that while on earth he was the best of the best, here on Kimon he is literally below the bottom tier.
This rung a chord with me. It is because this has happened to me. Multiple times. It happened when I went to college, and it happened when I went to grad school. I feel that we are all indoctrinated by our education institution that: “we are the best”. The secret that Bishop discovered in the end of the story is humility. It is when we admit that we don’t know that we can finally say I want to know, and I will work hard to learn. Grad school in particular is like that. The more I study, the more I am entrenched in my research work, the more I realized how much I really don’t know. It is from that unknown I am inflicted by the disease of curiosity. It is because I am not satisfied with what I DO know that I must work hard to know more.
It’s pity that we will not be discussing this piece face to face. I was originally scheduled to moderate the now cancelled seminar on Tuesday. I am very interested to what everyone think, as it is rare that we study a fictional work in this class. I also was able to read most of the extra-reading (pro-tip: Google the title of the reading, plus the word “pdf” for online versions for most reading) for this seminar which I highly recommend that you do so if you have the time. They are similarly themed Sci-Fi short story, and a thoroughly good read.