Alien Nation

All fiction arises out of myth. How could it be otherwise? The mythic archetypes with which our minds are endowed are what makes us human; without them, we wouldn’t even know who we are. Nor would we be able to relate to one another, because we wouldn’t know who the people around us are. We would be unable to fit anybody into any sort of mental landscape.

Because of this, the alien creatures in fiction are always, in the last analysis, humans wearing rubber masks. If they were actually alien, they would have no meaning in our mythosphere (mythscape? whatever). They could serve no purpose within a story.

I’ve been poking at an idea for a novel. I’ve been thinking about it as urban fantasy, but the fantasy elements in urban fantasy have become such dreadful clichés: Who wants to write (or read) about vampires, zombies, and werewolves?

So I started thinking maybe I should make it straight-up science fiction instead of fantasy. Drop some aliens from outer space into my urban setting. How would that work?

Not very well, or so it appears at the moment. Final results are not in. But I don’t want my aliens to be just a creepy menace; I don’t want to rewrite War of the Worlds. I want to have individual aliens with distinct personalities — with desires, weaknesses, attitudes.

But why should we assume that aliens’ personalities would be anything like our own, or even comprehensible to us? For starters, there would be no sexual tension between my humans and the aliens. Nor would there be rivalries for power and prestige. Even if they speak flawless idiomatic English (and that would be peculiar enough), their body language would be incomprehensible to my human characters. “The rim of Tharg’s carapace rippled and turned a brighter shade of green.” What does that even mean?

If they’re really alien, they’re not going to fit into a story, not without a lot of clumsy description whose goal is to make them seem human. I don’t know; maybe werewolves and zombies are not such a bad idea after all.

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