31
Jan
08

Aliens

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Throughout speculative literature and film, aliens have been depicted in countless ways: from pointy-eared pseudo-humans, to massive planet-sized jellyfish, and everything in between. The aliens in this week’s readings continue the trend – they are wildly varied in appearance, and completely and utterly bizarre. In Feather Tigers, they are described as soft, blue, child-sized rabbits. In The Mountains of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn, they turn up as winged, clawed creatures, with large eyes, triangular faces, and short, patterned fur. The aliens in High Weir (or their statues, at least) appear to be bug-eyed refugees from a 1950s sci-fi film. And in Strange Wine, they are vaguely described as many-legged creatures that reside on a distant green planet.

Yet despite the wildly disparate looks of these assorted aliens, they all have something in common: their human origins are abundantly clear. In High Weir, both the stock-concept Martians and their ancient, Greek-like temples have an obvious foundation in human culture. In Feather Tigers, the rabbits function with a human being’s innate curiosity, and speak with a clarity and rationality that could easily be mistaken as human. And one wonders how the vicious, clawed progenitors of the aliens in The Mountains of Sunset ever managed to construct an interstellar vessel (my guess: creative license). None of these aliens are particularly realistic constructions – most of them act like humans dressed up in alien costumes (or, in the case of Strange Wine, humans dressed up in alien costumes, dressed up in human costumes).

But then, maybe these aliens are not supposed to be realistic in the first place (this is, after all, speculative fiction – so does reality even apply?). They are walking, talking metaphors, presenting (however dressed up) the best and worst of humanity – our foibles and insecurities, our loneliness and frustration, our optimism, our hope. Sci-fi stories are cautionary tales, allegories, parables – written by humans, reflecting human thoughts and ideas and emotions, intended for a distinctly human audience. Their messages may vary from story to story, but the underlying significance is always the same: by presenting their ideas in the realm of the extreme, the creators of these stories are able to teach us just a little more about ourselves.

That brings us to Margaret Atwood’s beautiful little Homelanding. While many writers of speculative fiction strive to make aliens seem human (but not too human, mind you), Atwood has, through the unconventional use of words and language, done the exact opposite – she has made human beings seem more alien than we could ever imagine. With a simple two-page story, Atwood has turned the conventions of the sci-fi genre inside out. She forces us to look at something old in a new way, and (as is the case with even the most bizarre science fiction) we learn something about ourselves in the process. So maybe, in the end, the story isn’t so different after all.

Samuel R. Delany, High Weir
Gene Wolfe, Feather Tigers
Vonda N. McIntyre, The Mountain of Sunset, the Mountains of Dawn
Harlan Ellison, Strange Wine
Margaret Atwood, Homelanding

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3 Responses to “Aliens”


  1. January 31, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Yes! You explained what I felt about “Homelanding” much better than I did…perfect. I think it’s also interesting to look at the physical characteristics of the aliens in each, which I did NOT do too much focus on. I think the most beautiful story was TMOSTMOD, yet the aliens depicted in that story were arguably the most gruesome, including what they ate and how they looked and it was a story I found incredibly touching.

    It is interesting to read all the others’ comments about the stories and see who liked what/why, there is certainly quite a range of opinion…

  2. January 31, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Luke, I think you are spot-on about the possible uses of the “alien” in writing.

  3. 3 drbooshka
    June 23, 2010 at 6:21 am

    They are the the believe that the other races if the universe are worse then us! What makes us human is emotion and feeling right? So why would we not want them to not be like us! We feel special!


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