Wednesday, February 8, 2012
November saw the publication of my short story First Impressions in the magazine Stupefying Stories. I've been asked about it by a few people, so here goes some navel-gazing about it.
There are spoilers, though, so if you haven't read it, don't read this blog post about it first. Go buy it! No, really.
First off, this is the first SF story I've ever written that has aliens in it. Yep, I don't do aliens, since people are strange enough. But the entire point behind this story is how aliens are treated by most SF: as surrogates for specific human cultural traits or viewpoints.
I've only read a few pieces that actual make aliens seem alien. Usually, I sort of nod my head, and say, "Yep, those are the samurai. Oh, those are Soviet." or whatever. So many writers crib human cultures its almost hard to remember that it can be any other way. Most attempts to get inside an alien's head reverts to merely examining in painful detail human foibles. Star Trek has this approach down to a science. And most attempts to avoid these pitfalls create painfully awkward and self-conscious writing.
The core idea of First Impressions was to take these traits and run with them. The aliens in the story are completely human, mentally, with only superficial differences. They look like the classic grays, which was my unwritten signal that this was about our collective cultural memes regarding aliens, and not aliens themselves.
The protagonist, Darrel, being primed to meet aliens, is basically taken for a ride by prankish children, who abuse him physically and mentally in a sort of light-hearted game to see who can outdo the other with outrageous acts and still stay in the alien persona they've adopted. The Eisenhower-era characterization of their mother is a nod to the Golden Age of SF, where Cold War sensibilities rule in the far future.
The final entrance of yet another alien, whose thought exactly mimic Darrel's just drive home the point: these aliens are just human minds in other bodies.