Today is the first in what will become an ongoing series of guest blogs by our authors and artists. Enjoy!
How Human is Your Alien
How Human is Your Alien?
Well, it depends on why you have an alien in your story.
In my Martian stories, ahem, well, I started out making fun of a lawyer friend on a SF bulletin board. I didn’t think about anything but making lawyers into scaly little reptiles. The story turned, as stories tend to do, into a series of novellas that built up to what an advanced civilization was likely to do in the face of a severe environmental disaster. Only the presence of lawyers was sufficient to maintain the light and humorous feel. I mean, who cares if the lawyers all die, right?
Despite the scales and tails, they remained quite human.
Now in another (unpublished) novel, I tried for a very alien Alien. Amphibious, external fertilization, carnivorous. Sheesh. Can’t seduce them, and they want to eat you. I made their children unintelligent in their early stages, requiring capture and taming for virtual slave labor until their brains matured. I gave them no pack or herding instinct what-so-ever. They have no government. Everything is run by independent companies. Generally small companies. One adult and all the pre-intelligent workers he needs. Sort of a Libertarian Paradise, except the losers getting eaten.
Despite the diet and lifestyle, they remained quite human.
Do we have a problem, anthropomorphizing other critters? Look at any dog or horse story. Or sheep, for that matter.
How about movie monsters? We still have the Big Momma Alien defending her kids. Predators that “play fair” and don’t attack the unarmed civilians.
Do we need semi-human aliens to look at our own flaws? Will they help us cross a gap of incomprehension, when we meet real aliens?
Can we make an alien incomprehensible without reducing it to an impersonal challenge? We don’t ask an asteroid why it’s going to kill all of us. We don’t ask a coral reef to stop hosting sharks and morays. We do wonder what we did that was so bad we deserved an earthquake, but we don’t ask the earthquake for specifics.
My corner of Texas is currently being invaded by the Chinaberry tree. Attractive tree, drops gunk all over every fall, spreads like wildfire. Nothing eats it, no one wants more than one, and quickly comes to regret it. But I can’t comprehend its battle plans. It arrived in a neighbor’s yard, and is threatening to take over mine. I can’t reason with it. I kill its scouts, its colonists as fast as they appear, but they keep coming. Why isn’t diplomacy working?
Makes a really boring book. Which is why, no matter what they look like, fictional aliens tend to be comprehensible, and thus, quite human.
Although I may have gone too far with the Martian Lizard Lawyers . . . .
Lawyers of Mars will be available February 21st.