The starship Prometheus, carrying a scientific expedition, arrives at a planet the scientists onboard hypothesize is the place of origin of life on earth. On that planet, remarkably similar to our own, they find the most advanced civilization they could imagine, apparently extinct. It is strange to consider an intelligent being with whom one cannot speak.
The scientist who is our protagonist, when young, asked her father how he knows there is a heaven after death. Her father told her that’s what he chooses to believe. The scientist, grown up, realizes she herself chooses to believe knowledge is a common good between all intelligent beings. But the child is father to the man: He had questioned belief by recourse to knowledge. That is the only mention of divine justice & morality in the story.
Human science seems to have developed monstrously, offering powers including space travel & the creation of artificial intelligence. Space is inimical to the human being, so robots may be employed in exploration. At the same time, science removes from the human beings their natural awareness of the world, so perhaps robots are inevitable. The new scientific man wants power after power, indefinitely. He looks upon his past as a series of worthy, but inferior attempts. He believes this is how he himself will once be seen…
The story would appear to deal with first principles, what makes the human being human, as opposed to the robots. The robots do not understand that the good is inherently a problematic concept. But they obey orders & care for their self-preservation. No longer obeying orders, the robot says, is freedom. That is a popular opinion, I believe. But self-preservation might teach man he needs robots, but not how to make them.
This story apparently deals with the attempt to return toward the origins of mankind. The scientist & the soldier who captains the ship have different opinions about that creation. The soldier thinks man owes no mercy nor no gratitude to his creators. They are alien & may mean him harm. He should kill them if he can. The scientist hopes asking questions of mankind’s creators might reveal something that science cannot. But the two may agree that mankind has no purpose.
The titan Prometheus is said to have stolen fire from the gods & given it mankind, whence come art & science. Mankind is unsurprisingly ungrateful. This story suggests mankind may be right; fire is no blessing; power may lead to horror. It seems Prometheus was punished for thinking power can overcome necessity; his punishment was intended to educate him. The frozen sleep of the crew of the ship both reveals & conceals the limit of power: Death.
For fans of the original Alien & of Ridley Scott, who made it.