Comedy Central presents: First Contact
November 9, 2012 § 1 Comment
B7: What might first contact with the “most alien alien” imaginable look like? I believe the answer lies approximately at the crossroads of two very different stories our class has explored this semester: Poul Anderson’s Kyrie and Terry Bisson’s They’re Made Out of Meat.
In my mind, Anderson’s Lucifer embodies the most alien creature yet encountered. He is described as a highly intelligent plasma vortex created by “magnetohydrodynamics.” Or for the average reader, a big, colorful “fireball twenty meters across.”
Bisson’s story turns a critical eye toward mankind — and, one could argue, carbon-based lifeforms in general — positing that our existence, which we perceive to be normal because it is all that we know, is actually entirely ridiculous and improbable. His humorous take leads to the description of a human as “thinking meat” that can communicate by flapping its meat together and passing air through its meat.
So how do these two stories come together? As somber and poetic as Kyrie is, I imagine mankind’s implied discovery of the plasma vortexes — or the hypothetical discovery of an even more alien race — would bear more resemblance to the incredulous exchange of They’re Made Out of Meat. Just imagine the pioneering ship’s voyage through the territory of these odd energy clusters, where the human travelers are entirely ignorant of the fact intelligent life is close at hand. All of a sudden, a crew member (who is telepathic, unbeknownst to him) sparks an illuminating dialogue, which might go something like this:
“Hey, Captain… you know those plasma vortexes we’ve been observing? Well, this is going to sound absurd, but I think they’re intelligent — er, conscious, maybe?… something along those lines.”
“Come again, Johnson?”
“The balls of energy, sir. They’re alive.”
“Really? And what, I am curious to hear, causes you to think that?”
“Well, since we emerged from hyperspace, I’ve been getting weird thoughts… things that aren’t mine, like someone else is inside my head. Strings of images and impressions, if you will, and I just have this gut feeling that they’re coming from the plasma vortexes.”
“Johnson. I am going to ask you a question, and I don’t want any B.S., understood?”
“Um, yes. Yes, of course, sir.”
“Do you honestly believe everything you just told me?”
“Yes, sir. Very strongly, even.”
Followed by Johnson’s being locked up in the ship’s mental ward. The fact of the matter is, a hypothetical encounter with such alien life is just too weird to be deliberately characterized as an “encounter” right off the bat. This street of the bizarre would likely go both ways, as well. The energy balls would go about for some time confused by the impression of intelligent, squishy things in the moving hunk of metal.
Two races even more different than these two might share the same space for a long period of time without being at all aware of each other’s existence. Perhaps at some point, one or both races experience the proverbial “Oh sh*t” moment in which they awkwardly become eminently aware of their prior ignorance — it’s made-for-comedy stuff.
First contact with the most alien alien assumes awareness of that creature’s existence, which is by no means certain. If there is one thing we know about the universe, it’s that there is a lot we don’t know. So how can we presume that we’d recognize any possible intelligent life when we found it? There’s a chance that aliens are going about their lives right under our noses, and we haven’t the slightest clue…