Category Archives: Aliens
From a recent visit to the Chrysler Museum of Art. Humans pictured are family, not random passersby.
So, we stopped to pay homage to that not-quite-most-modern of gods, Television. Its younger sibling Internet was nowhere to be found, but maybe the artist will work on that next.
I’m not sure Lord Television qualifies as king, though. There’s its parent, or perhaps grandparent, Money.
Usually people are sneering when they talk about worship of television and money. When it really is worship, there’s plenty to sneer at and I do. But like those most ancient gods Fire and Story, the reality is more complex.
Isn’t it always? We try to simplify, and the universe laughs.
I’m a big fan of Story. And Book. Fire, too, because light and cooking and all the things made of metal and plastic. But I digress.
I can say I appreciate those gods. Revere some, like Story and Book. Internet, too, if I’m gonna be honest.
I spend a lot of time with them. And that’s where worship comes in. You can say plenty about what constitutes worship, but the basis is time spent and the devotion of attention and thought.
Lots of my time and attention and thought goes into Story and Book. Certainly into Internet – – have you seen how much I tweet? You should see how much I read there.
And I do end up giving what feels like too much time to mighty Television. Maybe I’m a worshiper of that one, too.
If we manage to nuke ourselves to extinction, alien archeologists will likely wonder if our televisions and computers aren’t altars.
They won’t be far wrong.
This one probably falls into the realm of science fantasy — but then, people have said that before about a number of things and turned out to be wrong.
There have always been fanciful ideas about how to solve the perennial human problem of famine and plain old food insecurity. They started, I assume, with the first person to say “hey, let’s stay in one place instead of wandering and we can plant these seeds in the ground near our place so we always know where to find food.”
Unless the first person to say that was persecuted as a blasphemer against the nomad gods. Then, maybe it was the second person to say it, or the tenth. Which is a scenario that has occurred to me before — it’s the premise of my short story, The Always-House People. (which happens to be free, by the way)
But back to the subject at hand.
There was Swift’s A Modest Proposal with its satirical suggestion of roast children dinner; more seriously, churches and monarchs and charitable organizations and nation-state governments have taken hands at feeding the famine-stricken throughout recorded history. Even more time and energy has been devoted to increasing crop yields through all sorts of means — different growing methods, developing better fertilizers, breeding plants and livestock for improved yields, and lately (and controversially in many cases) directly manipulating the DNA of plants and livestock. And so on.
Closer to this somewhat fanciful idea of green humans sunbathing for part of their sustenance is the proposal to shrink the future human race to an average height of 50 centimeters (about 20 inches). Less biomass, less food and fewer resources to maintain, and therefore less famine — plus less pollution, less scarcity of other resources, and so on.
It would be easy enough to do both, I suppose. Imagine being a tiny green human sunbathing for breakfast and then lunching on a slice cut from a rabbit ham so large in comparison to you it’ll last your family a week.
Any suggestion to fiddle with the genes of just about anything, though, wakes the memory of thousands upon thousands of science fiction tales of technology gone wild. Or, mostly ancestral to those, tales of magic and wishes gone wrong — think of the old tales of the Golem and Pandora’s Box and the Garden of Eden and the Tower of Babel. All stories in which the quest for knowledge is somehow destructive.
Those tales are pretty irresistible as a reader or a writer. Things do go wrong. Actions have unintended consequences constantly. Human history and storytelling revolve around such stories because they’re stories of life and trying. Tryers fail.
So I hope this story gave you a little chuckle, and maybe inspired a thoughtful moment. As for how possible it is… I’m not a biologist of any description. But it would amuse me to no end if we turned out to be the LGMs, the little green ‘men’ aliens, accidentally pollinating one another.
The atmosphere’s warming trend slowed suddenly, tapering to a halt in only twenty years. Ocean temperatures shifted their immense inertia to follow suit. The icecaps began to regain weight. The composition of the upper atmosphere changed subtly, and excess carbon precipitated in tiny flecks, staining rains faint gray.
Climate change deniers crowed victoriously. Look how our god provides for us with a repaired environment!
When the aliens arrived demanding slave levies and mountains of resource tribute or else they’d turn off the weather control they’d been exerting from beyond Mars for thirty years — oh, how the deniers wailed and wilted!
Available now on Smashwords, and via the distributors in the right sidebar within a week or two of the date on this post.
I arrived at that cover art by fiddling around with a picture I took today in GIMP, trying different effects, until I hit upon something pleasingly trippy and retro. For a moment I thought, ‘hey, that’s sort of weird looking’… but a little weird is GOOD for science fiction. So I went with it.
Here’s the blurb for He Shot First:
Dan Tippdale is a human among aliens on an unfamiliar world. A bar fight lands him in jail — and he shot first. The charge might not be murder, but that might not matter — from the looks of things, he might not live to stand trial. And then there’s the matter of his lawyer, who has something big in common with the alien Dan shot…
Also available right now on Smashwords, and elsewhere within a week or two of this post.
Plus, this one is really short, under 2000 words, and therefore I’ve made it FREE.
The cover art for this one is much more straightforward than for the other, but the dark sky and rising rocket reflect some key imagery from the story very well. And when my covers aren’t trippy, they’re straightforward.
The blurb for Waiting For:
Rudy has the honor of being one of the first permanent human colonists on Mars. Sonya plans to follow him in a year so they can be among the first to be married on the Red Planet… but Rudy’s brother Aaron has been keeping a secret that may throw those plans into a cocked hat…
So, there you have it, my newest two offerings, self-published titles #61 and #62. Both science fiction, one (Waiting For) in a nearer future, much closer to home, and the other set far away in a future where humans haven’t just encountered alien life, but are familiar enough with aliens to run afoul of their legal systems.
In its center cowered a tiny caricature of ourselves, closer to our ancient spacefaring cousins than to ourselves, but still recognizably relative to both. But it was small, small, a mote that might have been barely a fiftieth of my own young mass. I looked at it crouched there in the center of its disc of web: four leg-pairs.
“It… this animal… is it sentient? It’s older than I am,” I said, whispering, reverent without understanding why. But I was.
A snippet from a work in progress, The Spiders Fly, a short story in which an alien species explores the wasted remains of Earth… and what remains there of its very, very distant ancient cousins.
Mysterious? Of course! There’s only so much to reveal of a short story. I need to be mysterious.
For centuries, they sent missionary after missionary to help the rising young intelligence see past the biological heritage of survival as battle, to pursue empathy, cooperation.
After enough missionaries were pierced with arrows, burnt, nailed to trees, poisoned at dinner, beaten with clubs, enslaved, drugged, mocked, impersonated for material gain, and made figureheads for war, they stopped sending more.
A twist of space-time delivered the young intelligence and its world to a lonely universe with no other intelligence to harm but itself.
Perhaps one day they will relent and send missionaries again.
But not yet. It is still too dangerous.
The Flowers of Dawn is one of the five stories in the Isolation and Other Stories collection. See blurbs for all of the stories and where to find Isolation by clicking here.
In this excerpt, the main character Elaina Hirschbaum, a diplomat, brings an alien friend along on a very personal errand:
The car turned off of the two-lane state highway and maneuvered between two minimalist stone guardians, sketches of swords grounded at the sketches of their stone feet. Stone markers and silk bouquets in sober and subdued colors marched past as the car kept a slow pace through the manicured grounds.
“This is a… memorial place?” Eschavel asked.
“A cemetery. Yes,” I answered quietly. I could see Coral’s final resting place coming up on the right, and the car slowed gently. I could still see the black rectangle marking the slab of new sod that lay over her. “This is where my spouse is buried,” I said. I kept a sob out of my voice but my vision went blurry. I didn’t fight it, but let the tears roll down my cheeks.
“This is your Private Sphere,” Eschavel said quietly. “My presence here is a mistake.”
“No,” I said, surprised to realize that I meant it. “That you chose today to offer friendship… my friends and family have been great. But they all knew her, too. It feels right to… to…” words failed and I sat for a moment looking down at my shoes, just breathing. I felt a tentative hand on my shoulder, gently patting. The Helf Wanas, in general, do not touch as adults outside of sex, medicine, and combat. But Eschavel was an excellent diplomat.
Appropriate use of haptics is a difficult call even within a single human culture, a phrase from a xenodiplomacy text I still kept as a relic of my grad school days, passed through my mind. Considering the so-called ‘double baffle’ of culture and species differences, he wasn’t doing badly at all.
“It feels right to introduce her to a stranger today,” he said, not questioning, but making a statement.
“I’m surprised…” my training stilled my tongue. I’m surprised you understand, I had nearly said. A statement far too easy to misunderstand as an accusation of ignorance. “…to feel this way,” I finished. It had the advantage of being as true as what I had left unsaid.
“It is a minor custom, irregularly observed among us,” Eschavel said. I keyed the doors and they opened. We exited the car and began walking across the grass at a somber pace.
“To explain a loved one to a stranger,” he continued as we walked, “you must say the obvious things. You remember to see the things you have known so long that you’ve forgotten them. It is an extension of the creed of our Teachers’ Guild: To teach is to learn.”
We reached her marker, and we stood there together for a moment, just looking at it. One of thousands, I supposed, standing in ranks, polished stone with rough edges to remind us that these things had been torn up out of the earth to mark the place where we lay our own to rest inside the earth. I knelt down in the spongy turf and touched the letters. Coral Hirschbaum.
“She was a teacher,” I said softly to nobody; I knew Eschavel was listening and I didn’t mind that, but these words were from me and for me. “She taught art and music and Canadian French. Her students adored her. Her favorite breakfast was blueberry French toast with an over-easy egg on top and I loved cooking it for her. She always apologized to me when she came to bed because she thought she smelled like sweat. I loved her smell. It was gentle and earthy and a little sharp, just like she was. It suited her. I miss it. Her pillows smell a little less like her every night and it’s like I’m losing her again. Only this time I’m losing her slowly, not all at once like the plane crash. She loved roses. She hated cut flowers. She said they were just dead things without their roots. She was so gentle. And she loved roses. She kept a miniature potted rose on the windowsill beside her desk. It’s dying too. I don’t know how to take care of it. She’s gone and I’m losing all the pieces of her that were left. What if I wake up one morning and I can’t remember her voice or her smell or her face?”
Tears were dripping steadily from the end of my nose onto the too-green grass. “I love her,” I whispered. “Why is she dead? Why wasn’t I with her?”
I love building aliens. I love what writer types call ‘world building’ in general. Building strange creatures and settings is an exercise in raw imagination. To me, making stuff like this up, as the title suggests, is play.
The catch, of course, to making up good aliens is that your reader needs to be able to get some idea of what you’re describing. Some authors (and screenwriters) have gone the route of letting you fill in all the blanks with your own imagination, a la Lovecraft‘s ‘indescribable horrors’. Sometimes that works, and I’ve enjoyed reading stories where the author went that route. Its just not the route I personally take in most instances.
One way to describe an alien is to use comparisons to things your readers may have seen. I’m going this route with a story currently in process, working title The Landfill Down By The Pumphouse:
“What stood on the other side—take a lizard. A big one, like a Monitor or a Komodo Dragon. Cut off the legs and run a fringe of large black millipede legs down each side in their place, continuing all the way down the tail to the tip. Now heat the neck—think of it as plastic—and grip the head hard with pliers and pull it upward about two feet, the neck stretching like taffy. The black millipede legs continue right up this neck, but they’re longer now. About in the middle are five pairs that are even longer than those. Each of those ten splits in two at the tip, then splits in two again. The head, smashed flat and wide by your pliers, has a fine fringe of smaller millipede legs along the jawbone and covering the upper and lower lips. There are no nostrils where you’d expect. Move them to the nape of the neck, behind the skull. Now realize that all those little legs waving about incessantly on the face have tiny blue eyes at their tips, like a scallop’s eyes. There’s no face like you’d expect a face to look. No obvious place to keep a brain. Now stain the whole thing a deep maroon color verging on mahogany. Swirl threads of bright crimson through it, like Dali’s version of woodgrain.
And now you understand why I screamed. ”
(The above excerpt is copyright 2013 S. A. Barton, and all that good jazz.)
For a story that is probably going to end up somewhere around four to six thousand words, that’s a pretty long description. But I think it’s worth it, and hopefully not just because it was fun to design the alien in my head and I want you to see it too. Describing alien things in terms of familiar things has a weakness—you’re describing familiar things, not alien things. If you go the route I went here, it’s probably a good idea to shoot for a fairly weird combination so the overall impression is of alien-ness and not too familiar, as in, ‘oh, the aliens look like housecats. Cool.’
At the end of the day, it’s all up to you as a writer, or as a reader, to decide if you like it or not.
So, after several hundred years of eating whales and/or boiling them down for lamp oil followed by several decades of study, a few human scientists have decided that dolphins and whales are basically…
…well, basically people. Self-aware sentient beings. With whom we have no idea how to communicate effectively. And, here and there, we’re still eating.
It’s a hell of a first contact story, isn’t it? If ever someone was in need of a magic Star Trek translator, it’s us. Makes you think about how quick and easy it might be to communicate with any aliens we might run into in the future, if in fact we run into any at all.
It might be better for the aliens if they’re not there. They might be too delicious to talk to.