[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
In the Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle novel Footfall, as it is clear that the aliens are coming, the U.S. Government whisks away a bunch of fantasy and SF writers to an undisclosed location to wargame and plot out strategies and ideas about what the aliens are like, what they want and how the Earth should deal with them.
I’ve always thought that was a brilliant conceit, and so my question for this week’s panelists is this:
Clearly we need to have China Miéville on the first contact team, because he has shown a knack for imagining strange and improbable monsters and aliens. If the aliens intend to graft us onto household machinery as fascistic punishment for expressing our innate political freedoms, China’s got us covered.
We need Harrison Ford, because the aliens will recognize that he will shoot first. (You hear me, George Lucas? Even aliens from another galaxy know that HAN SHOT FIRST.)
We need Christopher Priest, since his recent rants have demonstrated that he will be immune to any rectal probes that the aliens will attempt to deploy on us.
We need Tom Cruise, because he already knows all about the Emperor Xenu and his plans for intergalactic conquest. You can’t get anything past those Scientologists.
We need Joss Whedon, because aliens will need to be put at ease with snappy human dialogue.
We need Nick Sagan, because the aliens will have already heard his voice from the Voyager spacecraft.
We need Cory Doctorow, in case the aliens have come to impose their draconian copyright laws and restrictive DRM software on us.
We need Sigourney Weaver in one of those walking cargo loader things, because the aliens will clearly recognize that you do not fuck with Sigourney Weaver in a walking cargo loader thing.
We need Stan Lee. because he is Stan Lee.
We need Ursula le Guin, because in addition to being a brilliant SF/F novelist with an unparalleled imagination and empathy for the human condition, she is actually an android/wizard/vampire/ninja capable of firing laser beams from her eyeballs, shooting acid from her fingertips and decapitating aliens at thirty paces by throwing pencils, which are not actually pencils but special CIA-designed precision-guided exploding ninja stars.
And we need Newt Gingrich, because the aliens will instantly recognize him as one of their own. And hopefully they’ll want him back.
When and if extraterrestrials first make contact with us, I would expect communication to be extremely difficult. It’s not just that we would have to learn each other’s language, but effective communication requires being able to understand the aliens’ world view. Considering that we humans have difficulty communicating with each other across languages and cultures, that would not be a simple task.
But many science fiction authors have already thought about such issues. I like the idea that in the event of first contact with extraterrestrials science fiction authors would be included among the various experts trying to communicate.
Here’s who I’d suggest should be included:
Suzette Haden Elgin, who is a linguist and an expert in science fictional constructed languages. In her Native Tongue series of novels set in a future dystopian America where linguists communicate with aliens. In the novels women who have been stripped of their civil rights construct a new language of their own.
Greg Bear, whose novels often look at the interplay between scientific advances and the development of human culture. His novel The Forge of God is about alien contact that goes very wrong for humanity and the Earth. I’d expect Bear to view any alien gifts or promises warily.
Gregory Benford, who is an astrophysicist with an interest in advanced biology. He has though and written about whether aliens will be “knowable” in any meaningful sense.
Finally, I’d suggest Julie Czerneda, since there should be at least one SF writer with a background in the biological sciences on the team. Her Species Imperative trilogy of novels is set in a future where aliens arrive on Earth, and humans are caught up in an interstellar interspecies conflict.
Greetings, Gentlemen & Ladies;
In order to properly envision a First Contact scenario, Sirs, you must understand that it must be scenarios, plural. These scenarios should be divided down into several main categories, and further divided into sub-categories. The first division must be into three possibilities: Friendly Encounters, Neutral Encounters, and Hostile Encounters. Authors and artists who support all three categories must be included.
Friendly Encounters would include the likes of scriptwriters for most Disney children’s movies such as the Witch Mountain series, and so forth, as their portrayal of aliens have been on the whole more friendly and cooperative than invasive or dangerous. Pixar Studios and Dreamworks Entertainment would also supply a great deal of assistance for this end of the spectrum, and Studio Foglio’s portrayal of alien races in their Buck Godot comic series also shows a great deal of optimism.
Hostile Encounters should include the creative teams behind the Alien movie franchises, the movie Battle: Los Angeles, and of course the V series, to name just a few. Possibly also the creator of the Saw movie franchise, though it is deeply hoped that any aliens we make contact with would be far less horrifically creative than that when making contact with us humans. Still, while we can hope for the best, we should prepare for the worst, just in case.
Neutral Encounters should include creators whose work includes not just ambiguities in alien-human interactions, such as the creative geniuses who worked on the Babylon 5 series and the Star Trek franchises, but also authors whose careers have ranged the whole gamut, such as Alan Dean Foster, who has portrayed various aliens from the comically friendly to the terrifyingly dangerous. C.J. Cherryh has also portrayed a wide range of aliens and alien viewpoints. I would place myself in this category as well, as the aliens in my own series come in different flavors of friendliness versus hostility.
The Neutral category should also include those who portray humanity as the biggest source of misunderstandings and foul-ups, such as Joss Whedon and his teams of scriptwriters. Whether it’s vampire-like killers or chemically-altered feral humans, our own side of the equation must be taken into consideration. As the first Jurassic Park movie showed, one of our own fellow humans could easily foul up everything in an attempt to betray the rest of humanity for fame, fortune, or who knows what reason–we must remember that, to extraterrestrial intelligences, we might be viewed as the terrifying aliens who might end up destroying them, whoever “they” are.
Once these three groups of think-tank specialists have been gathered, we need to present them with a list of questions. The first and foremost questions to be answered must be, “Why would aliens come to Earth? What do we have to draw their interest in us?” This line of approach, the motive approach, will help give each attendee a launching point to start springboarding ideas. Encourage each of the three groups to consider the full spectrum of possibilities. At one end would be topics such as Alliance Against A Mutual Enemy or Trade For Valuable Resources at the Friendly end of the spectrum, to Simple Curiosity or Scientific Exploration in the Neutral middle, all the way over to Exploitation/Theft of Resources, Fear/Hatred Of Our Differences, and the ever-fun-yet-deadly There Can Be Only One Sophontic Species And So You Earthlings Must Die all the way out there in the Hostile end of the column.
The reason why each of these three categories of creative speculatists must consider each of these three ends of the spectrum is because each group will bring a different point of view to the situations being spotlighted. The creator of Lilo & Stitch is going to look at the situation of Exploitation/Theft of Resources in a different way than the creator of the V series–we already know what the V series creator will think of that scenario, because in V, the reptilian aliens came to Earth to steal our clean air, clean water, and clean humans for food consumption. In Lilo & Stitch, the various alien races were more concerned about leaving the humans and their resources alone for ecological impact reasons, i.e. mosquitoes.
…It is to be noted that, for all we know, alien races just might actually sympathize with the plight of the common mosquito, and choose to limit their contact with our world so as not to disrupt its human-hemoglobin slurping reproductive cycle. Or they may think mosquitos sucking blood from humans is funny, and have set up secret recording devices to watch everyone who ever ventures outdoors in a damp, temperate-to-warm climate.
To date, there is no evidence for either extreme on the spectrum, neither a Star Trek-ish optimism that most alien races will get along just fine with humans, nor a V-viewed pessimism that any such alien contact will begin with deception and treachery, and end in tragedy. What we currently know from anecdotes regarding UFO encounters fits mostly into the Neutral middle of the spectrum, where Simple Curiosity and Scientific Experimentation tend to sit. As it has often been said, we hope for the best, plan for the worst, and usually come out somewhere in the middle.
For my part, my foremost recommendation will be to figure out how we can establish communication with these incoming aliens. I would like to caution the governments and the militaries of the world of a very poignant statement from one of C.J. Cherryh’s novels in the Chanur science fiction series: The last thing you will want to do when encountering an alien race is try to pick a fight with someone you cannot even communicate with. Only an idiot does that.
P.S. You might get even more cooperation–nay, outright enthusiasm–out of all these creative geniuses if you pay us to attend this symposium. Most writers don’t earn a great deal of money and so our own motivation must be taken into account, as well as any alien motivations. Just a thought to consider!