I’m reading Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood collection (containing Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago), and I’ve been thinking about alienness, specifically how we react to things that are very different to our experience or how we’d actually react if aliens arrived tomorrow. This post was also partly inspired by e.smith’s post, “I can’t help myself, it’s innate” and by my girlfriend’s reaction to slaters.
So, after reading Dawn, I thought about whether or not I’d be repulsed by aliens or scared by them, and I thought about all the science fiction I’ve watched and over the years, and all the weird and wonderful creatures I’ve watched on nature documentaries and how I react to seeing something for the first time. I’ve had conversations with my husbands (yes that is plural and it is not a typo) about what we’d do if spaceships hovered over the city (I’d run to the hills, they’d want to stay and watch). My initial reaction to new and different things is caution. If I found a creature that I’d never seen before, I’d watch it before deciding whether or not to touch or interact with it. I’m not likely to know if a creature is going to sting me, bite me, poison me, spit at me or any other defensive reaction. In the event of aliens hovering over my city (a la Independence Day – terrible movie, but fits this scenario well), I’m going to want to wait and watch and see if I’m likely to be harmed before approaching something new… so in that way, I understand Lilith’s reaction to the aliens, though without the corresponding fear – mostly because I haven’t experienced a true level of alienness.
And I wonder, does the fact that I have been exposed to science fiction since I was old enough to start remembering TV (Dr Who to begin with), mean that my reaction to an alien, if I ever come across one, is going to be different to someone who hasn’t been exposed to as much science and speculative fiction. In most SF, aliens are taken as given, and it’s rare that a human panics when they first come across one, and they’re either on the side of humans or against them – depending on which story is being told. Will that influence me, make me cautious instead of scared?
It’s an interesting train of thought, and one clearly I’m unlikely to tease out further in my lifetime – what with the current lack of aliens wandering around. It’s also not something that many current SF writers (that I have read – please provide suggestions below if you know of any others) are addressing currently – that being how humans would react if aliens turned up tomorrow and were not evil. District 9 put aliens in a slum and otherwise generally ignored them. Galaxy Quest had a couple of characters faint, but generally the cast of the TV show got on with saving the universe, with help from some fans. Babylon 5 only briefly touches on earth’s first contact with aliens, specifically the Centari who lied to them about them being distant relatives, but no mention of mass panic. Many stories have a government or secret organisation out to kill the alien, but everyone else harbours it and keeps it safe.
I’m enjoying Lilith’s Brood, and am most of the way through Iago now. The ideas and issues identified by Butler in the series are as fresh and current as when she wrote them. I do recommend the books to anyone who hasn’t yet read them.
*Joe Buckingham’s Flickr link here