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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Let's talk about Newsletters

One of the secrets to building readership, I’ve been told time and time again in marketing workshops and webinars, is to build a mailing list and then to send out a newsletter weekly, or at least monthly.

I don’t know about this. I’d always thought the secret was to write great fiction and then put it out where people can read it. Our sales numbers suggest that I am dead wrong on this point, though, we let’s talk this week about author’s and publisher’s newsletters. 

Some questions:

• If you’re an author, do you publish a newsletter? If so, how often, and can you send me a copy?

• If you’re a reader, do you subscribe to any author’s or publisher’s newsletters? Who has a really good one that you’d recommend subscribing to?

• A weekly newsletter seems like overkill to me. What do you think? Too frequent?

• Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, having been the newsletter editor for a couple of different non-profit organizations with thousands of members where the monthly newsletter was always a big deal. (And where the member behavior suggested that 90% of them threw it straight in the trash without reading it.) Assuming we could produce such a thing, does anyone have the time to read complex newsletters anymore?

• If you subscribe to newsletters, in what format do you prefer to receive them? Me, I would prefer to keep things as simple and clean as possible, and I absolutely will not click on an email link that sends me off to retrieve a file from “the cloud.” I’m even leery of opening unsolicited PDF files these days. What’s been your experience?

Thanks,
Bruce Bethke


 

Creating Alien Aliens, Part 11: Invading Aliens (Dos)

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota.

Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction.

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 years...so...I have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado...


What, exactly, constitutes an “invasion”?

Sometimes it’s obvious: D-Day, the Invasion of Normandy is obvious, at least on the surface.

Would anyone here consider COVID-19 an invasion of billions of sovereign Human Bodies?

How about the European occupation of the continent named after someone who “discovered” something that was already there and had populations with cultures and technologies and writing and education and art and medicine?

Did THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN invade a tiny Arizona town in a novel that debuted Michael Crichton’s real name for the first time?

If you’ve ever gotten cholecystitis, bacteremia, cholangitis, a urinary tract infection, traveler's diarrhea, had a child who had neonatal meningitis, or pneumonia was your body invaded by the Escherichia coli of another person?

Do you have mitochondria? Did they invade your proto-eukaryotic Human cells? (The answer appears to be “likely, yes” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitochondrion#Origin_and_evolution)

Who “gave you” your cold last time? Did they really “give it to you” or were you invaded by a virus that used them as a biological Higgins Boat?

What is “invasion” then?

Did the aliens in “Independence Day” actually invade Earth? No. They didn’t necessarily consider it an invasion. They needed resources; Earth couldn’t protect them (ie, we “didn’t exist”), so they arrived to take them. They followed the supposed dictum of Charles Darwin, or, the “survival of the fittest”. The term made famous in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species by British naturalist Charles Darwin, which suggested that organisms best adjusted to their environment are the most successful in surviving and reproducing. Darwin borrowed the term from English sociologist and philosopher Herbert Spencer, who first used it in his 1864 book Principles of Biology. (Spencer came up with the phrase only after reading Darwin’s work.)”

In the old film, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” wasn’t an invasion at all – it was a space-borne intelligence that drifted through space in a spore until it found a planet. “The film's storyline concerns…alien plant spores [that] have fallen from space and grown into large seed pods, each one capable of producing a visually identical replacement copy of a human [that] assimilates the physical traits, memories, and personalities of each sleeping person placed near it [who] are devoid of all human emotion.” Is THIS an invasion?

It appears that an invasion is only an invasion if someone survives it and names it as such. Naming something is important – who names it, less so. Madeleine L’Engle had a character say in her book, A WIND IN THE DOOR, “I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming - making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn't need to hate. That's why we still need Namers…When everyone is really and truly Named, then the Echthroi will be vanquished.”

How do we define invasion, then? “an instance of invading a country or region with an armed force”; “an incursion by a large number of people or things into a place or sphere of activity”; “an unwelcome intrusion into another's domain”.

Science fiction writers usually look at “alien invasion” strictly from the Human side – which precedent was originated by HG Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS. But there aren’t many attempts to look at the invasion from the other side – what would motivate aliens to invade Earth.

By definition, though, aliens would have alien reasons for invading Earth. Maybe trying to take our water from us makes sense to THEM, even though the possibility of manufacturing water on their home world would be incredibly simple.

Not only that, what would the aliens think of the invasion? Would they object? Would they be fine with it – as the European/American sense of Manifest Destiny allowed them to be ask they took whatever they saw in the New World?

Objection or Manifest Destiny – are there any other ways aliens would respond?

To answer the question, I would have to create an alien from their DNA outward. Can I do that? I’m not sure. But, I’m willing to try.

How about you?

Footnote: Perhaps the most realistic aliens I’ve ever seen in a MOVIE, are the Heptapods in “Arrival”. They are incomprehensible at first; and even when the scientists DO get what they’re saying, their perception of time is incomprehensible. The entire movie is difficult – from learning to understand…well, as I was about to make a list of what the Humans in the movie understand about the Heptapods, I realized that we didn’t understand ANYTHING. They are entirely alien. If it weren’t for the main character, Louise Banks explaining everything, by the end of the movie, we STILL wouldn’t have any idea of what happened.

Did the Heptapods invade Earth? Hmmm...Study the movie, invert everything we learn and maybe we can create alien aliens…

Reading of Interest: https://slate.com/culture/2021/10/invasion-apple-tv-tomorrow-war-watchmen-aliens-racism.html, https://www.livescience.com/alien-discoveries-2021
Image: https://image.shutterstock.com/image-illustration/alien-human-600w-136457129.jpg


Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/) where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp. He thinks out loud in print at: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Sunday • 23 January 2022

 

A very long time ago, back at the beginning of the First Social Media Age, when “blogging” was a thing that was fresh and new and I was running a site called The Ranting Room—which begat The Friday Challenge, which begat Stupefying Stories—I took a vow that Sundays belonged to my family.

That vow went by the wayside a long time ago, but it’s time to renew it.

Those of you who have been working remotely for the past two years have come to understand the problem. When your home is your workplace, the scope creep is inescapable. Work slithers in and wraps its tentacles around everything you do, all the time. You’re always finding an excuse to duck down to your office or wake up your laptop to do just “one more” thing, to jot down one more idea, or to answer one more email. As the technology has advanced it’s only gotten worse. Now even my phone hectors me constantly, demanding that I respond to this or that message now, now, NOW! 

No. Enough. I recognize an addiction when I see one, and this, my friends, has become an addiction.

It’s Sunday. The computers are off. I’m not checking email or social media today. This day belongs to my family. I wrote this post last Friday and scheduled it to go live today. See you on Monday. 

~brb

Saturday, January 22, 2022

A little something for the weekend?

Recommended Watching

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

I’ll make this simple. If you are at all a fan of the original 1984 Ghostbusters, watch this one. After a troubled development history and a release schedule frequently delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it finally appeared in theaters last November, to mixed reviews and strong but not overwhelming ticket sales.

Never mind that. It’s out on streaming media now, with the DVD and Blu-Ray versions scheduled to roll out on February 1, supply chain willing, so you have no more excuses.

See this one.

It’s that good. 

For reference, this one is a direct sequel to the 1984 original, and a direct continuation of the original story. It makes some passing reference to the events of the botched 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters II, but as for that 2016 abomination, in the universe of this story, that movie never existed. Lucky them. 

[In reluctant defense of the 2016 movie: at one time the project was in development as Ghostbusters III with the plot revolving around Dan Ackroyd training in a new generation of Ghostbusters, who were to be Chris Farley, Chris Rock, and Ben Stiller. So we can all thank Gozer we were spared that nightmare.]

Some of the trailers make it look as if Paul Rudd is the star of this movie, but that’s misleading. The unquestioned star of this movie is McKenna Grace, playing 12-year-old Phoebe, who is on a journey of discovery to find out who she is, where she came from, and where she’s going. Her story just reaches in and gets a firm grip on your heartstrings, and if you aren’t at least a little choked up by the final scene there’s something wrong with your sense of empathy. This movie has been panned by some critics for having “too much fan service,” but seriously, what’s wrong with that? This is a sequel to a beloved modern classic, and it wraps up loose ends and character arcs that have been left hanging for more than thirty years. It damn well better include plenty of fan service!

We wound up watching this one twice, because there were so many bits of business and things going on in the background that we missed the first time through. Highly recommended.

_____________________

Recommended Missing

Jonah Hex

I’m beginning to suspect that somewhere in Netflix’s algorithms there is a “taunt” parameter, and it was created by someone with a truly sadistic sense of humor. I say this because for some reason Wild Wild West has been showing up on my “Recommended for you” list a lot lately, traveling in the company of this turkey. Given that I wouldn’t get up out of puddle of cold vomit to watch Wild Wild West again—I count myself lucky to have slipped out of the regional premiere before anyone recognized me—and given that while I was never a fan of the Jonah Hex comic, we found the character of Jonah Hex as played by Johnathon Schaech in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow to be generally likable, we decided to give this one a try. I mean, hey, it stars Josh Brolin and John Malkovich. How bad can it be?

Pretty bad, it turns out.

If you are one of those people who actually liked Wild Wild West—if you wish Warner Brothers made more movies just like it—I have good news for you. They did. Unreconstructed ex-Confederate madman plotting to overthrow the government? Check. Lots of knuckling-dragging redneck mo-ron Southern stereotype minions? Check. (Plus one over-the-top homicidal Irishman.) A lot of confusion over just where exactly this story takes place? Check. Utterly insane and ludicrous “ultimate weapon” in the hands of the madman? Check. The President of the United States, with all the resources of the Federal government at his command, decides to call on just one man to save the day, and that man is a surly and uncooperative antihero? Check.

To be honest, I watched this one all the way through to the end of the credits, just because I was so certain I was going to see some familiar names from Wild Wild West pop up. But to my stunned surprise, the only familiar name that leaped off the screen at me was in the music credit: Mastadon.

Sure. What the Hell. If you’re going to make a movie that’s this big of a stupid mess, why not hire a heavy metal band to do the score?

Recommendation: Watch only if you have absolutely nothing better to do


Friday, January 21, 2022

A question about your home town

 

I learned something surprising this week: that filmmaker Zack Snyder (300, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman, Justice League, etc., etc., etc.) was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

It’s a good thing I don’t have a connection with him. I’d probably be unable to resist the temptation to ask, “So, tomorrow night: who d’ya pick, the Packers or the 49ers?” And then I’d watch his reaction very closely.

In a lifetime in the creative arts, that’s a weird but consistent thing I’ve observed. Be it music, theater, film, publishing, or whatever, and no matter where you go, the people in the creative business almost universally fall into two categories: those who still feel some fondness for the (usually small) town they originally came from, and those who loathed it and couldn’t get far enough away from it fast enough. That one factor is an amazingly accurate predictor of so many other things about their personality, attitudes, and beliefs. 

Me, I was born in Milwaukee, but grew up in a little town that’s basically at the other end of Wisconsin Highway 29 from Green Bay. I may have spent my early years in Milwaukee, but I didn’t start to grow up until I was out on my own, and no longer Ray and Charlotte’s youngest kid. So no matter where I go, a significant piece of my heart will always be in that little town.

How about you? How do you feel about the place where you grew up?

While you’re considering your answer to that question, here’s some music to ponder by.



HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth – CHAPTER 3: A FAILED ATTEMPT

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see and you’re a friend/parent/aunt/uncle/friend of the family, you can forward, text, Instagram, or tiktok the story to your child/niece-nephew/friend-of-the-family – and your significant young adult would have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, so it won’t interfere with the Homework Schedule.)


By the time she got to the trailer, Mom and Dad had stopped arguing and they were deep into their formal presentation. Why had they waited until now to bring out their little show? Usually it was the first thing researchers and professors saw. Mom was the speaker, Dad the stoic scientist, nodding sagely off to the side. Mom was the enthusiast, ramping up the energy in the room then startling her audience. Sometimes Emerald wondered how she had ended up being a silent child with downcast eyes and unable to speak to strangers.

In the trailer, she slipped went to the kitchen cabinet and pushed aside a panel. This way, she slipped under the desk in the presentation tent. It held Mom and Dad’s laptops, the wi-fi router, and their micro satellite uplink. She was very much out of anyone’s way.

She could hear Mom pacing back and forth, then stop suddenly. The low hum of the holographic projector was creating a 3D image of a star system that appeared to float in the middle of the small lab. Mom would gesture to it as she said, “The evidence we’ve gathered so far clearly indicates that a massive object – probably a microscopic black hole – grazed Uranus and tipped it on its side.” An invisible something struck the gas giant, throwing off a jet of plasma. “On of the ships of the invading interstellar fleet of the ones we call the Júwàirén, using singularity energy technology, probably experienced a disastrous explosion, releasing the microscopic singularity to fall toward the sun. It gathered asteroid, space debris sweeping through the Solar System, dropping comets, shattered rock as well as parts of the invading fleets ships. They certainly missing Saturn but rained down on Jupiter, some massive flotsam setting off the Great Red Spot hurricane.” A flash in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter set its gases roiling. “The worst was yet to happen,” she continued as the image zoomed in on a blue, reddish-brown and white Mars. “The surface was covered with shallow oceans that teemed with microscopic life forms. A large rock, possibly an asteroid knocked from a stable orbit and carried on the shockwave of the explosion, slammed into the planet, blowing away much of its atmosphere, allowing the oceans to boil away under low pressure.” The image zoomed closer, focusing on a world that was obviously Earth in the Cretaceous Era. “Another piece, an immense asteroid or part of a shattered moon, struck off the coast of what would one day be the Yucatan Peninsula. The dinosaurs and thousands of other life forms, already environmentally and genetically stressed, were launched into extinction.” She paused for effect and as the image swung away from Earth’s nuclear winter, it stopped this time on another world. It was a virtual twin of Earth with a silvery moon and abundant water – though its surface showed less brown, and more green, the continents were smaller and more scattered, and a true world ocean wrapped it in swaths of clouds and sparkling water. “This is the world of an alien, probably sauroid intelligence; native to the planet we now call Venus. They were aggressive and powerful. Spreading through our Solar System, we have evidence that they conquered beyond it. The invasion fleet had come to put a stop to it.”

Emerald imagined Mom’s face as well as Dad’s. They hadn’t been fooled by the military pretense at all! They’d known there were soldiers in the compound all along.

On his chair to one side, Paolo Marcillon, Emerald’s Dad, glanced at the faces of the Combined Forces officers. He shook his head and rubbed his temples. Nhia shot him a look but continued, “But the accident that destroyed the fleet and saved the sauroids next threatened them with the mindless destruction of chance.” A massive debris cloud – the remnants of the invasion fleet, asteroids, shards of Jupiter’s rings and moons – after dropping a few pieces in the Earth-Moon system, slammed full force into Venus and its moon. Nhia took up the narration, “An object nearly large enough to split Venus’ moon in half struck, knocking it cleanly out of Venus’ orbit, where it drifted until the Sun captured it again, the molten scar on its surface glowing red hot for nearly a century. The world we call Venus was pounded by meteorites sleeting through the vacuum of space, fielding one object large enough to reverse Venus’ rotation, likely a moon of Mars.” She paused – as she had one hundred and twelve times before – before she finally said softly, “The Solar System had been reshaped and the intelligences on the second planet of our shattered star system were extinct. Humanity, born because the dinosaurs vanished, and the People of Venus died entirely; are the heirs of those shattered spheres. We are the ones who must piece together the details. We are the ones who must find the bits of technology that we can use to go to the stars...”

There was a pause. A “professor”, who now spoke like a general; Emerald knew exactly who he was, an older man whose hair and moustache were completely gray said, “Thank you very much, Drs. Marcillon.” By the sounds on the floor, he stood slowly. “Unless you have some material evidence to support your theories, I think it may be time for us to go.”

Mom said softly, “We have evidence, Commander Shinichi.”

His reply was just as muted when he said, “Go on.”

“One of your operatives has already discovered some of the evidence, Commander. I’ll offer you a bit of advice, however: don’t try to open the box on your own. We’ll cooperate with your people – but the timetable and conditions under which we will cooperate will be ours.” He started to turn away as she added, “If you try your hardest and set your best people to break any of the six of them open, they are set to destroy the evidence inside.”

Commander Shinichi was silent for some time before he said, “We’ve imposed on your hospitality long enough, Ma’am; Sir.” He and the other “professors”, subordinates in one way or another, stood with him.

The “professor” and his retinue strode back into the heat of the jungle and Paolo said, “We’ll never see them again.”

Nhia scowled at him and snapped, “There’s no need to curse the presentation just because...”

Paolo stood up, shaking his head. Despite the air conditioning, the air was humid, overly warm. “I’m not cursing something that has failed ninety-six times! Why can’t you just admit that no one is interested in investing in our wild science fiction?”

“It’s not science fiction!” she exclaimed, swiping her hand through the hologram, making it vanish. “It’s hard science! We’re...”

“We were once respected paleoxenoarchaeontologists – we invented the field! People came to study with us! They still want to – but not in this freaking jungle! We have to go back...”

“You’ve lost your sense of adventure, Paul,” he hated it when she called him by his anglicized name. She knew that very well. “You were so brave and daring when we first met...”

He cut her off, “You had some modicum of good sense when we first met...”

They both heard the door slam as Emerald left the trailer. Their argument died as they turned, avoiding each other’s eyes. Paolo started walking. “I’ll go after her. It’s my turn.” By the time he reached the airlock, it was standing open to the hot and humid Yucatan Peninsula air. In the distance, he heard Emerald’s retreat. He called out, “Emerald?”

“I just want to be alone!” she shouted over her shoulder. Emerald Marcillon fled through the airlock that kept the equipment in the mobile home cool and dry and raced into the humid Mexican night.

Image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-shCROTG0xHA/Vf23FAhb2QI/AAAAAAAAX80/aEG8ZyFwyhA/s320/Heirs%2Bof%2Bthe%2BShattered%2BSpheres%2BEmerald%2Bof%2BEarth%2B%2B%2B%2B300dpi.jpg

Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Once more: Thanks

 

Thank you to everyone who has sent positive thoughts and encouraging words since Monday’s announcement. Your kindness and concern is appreciated. 

Thanks also to everyone who has offered up a suggestion as to how we could reboot this thing and keep Stupefying Stories going. They’re all good ideas. I appreciate your willingness to share your thoughts and creativity and to volunteer to help.

However, the hard reality remains: last July’s medical crisis was life-changing. Once things finally settled down a bit—meaning I was no longer prepping and delivering IV infusions every eight hours, around the clock, seven days a week, for months on end—and I tried to get back to work, I was baffled by why I was tired all the time and couldn’t seem to get anything finished. So I began to keep very close track of my time and how I spent it.

The results are clear. Whoever and whatever I was before last July, I am now 90% single parent and caregiver. Everything else that I used to do—everything, including Rampant Loon Press—now needs to be fit into slightly less than two and a half hours daily.

The one thing no one can give me is more time. No one, not even the Dallas Cowboys, can buy more time, not even five more seconds.

I like to imagine we’re going into some sort of chrysalis or cocoon stage, and in a few months or a year we’ll reemerge as something big, beautiful, and glorious. I have tried to walk away from the SF/F publishing business before, but don’t seem to be able to do so. Something always draws me back in. We will in all probability be back, in some new form.

But for right now, and for the immediately foreseeable future, I have no idea what that form might be or when it might happen. Hence Monday’s announcement. 

Once again, thanks for your support,
Bruce Bethke

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

In response to Bruce Bethke's horrific vision in response to Alien Aliens Part 11, Part 1..

 On 1/19/22...

~brb said...

There's a sci-fi horror scenario for you. A giant alien ship comes to Earth. Everyone sees it land smack in the middle of Washington DC. The Army rushes to throw a cordon around it, fighting against time. Can they contain whatever alien menace is hiding inside that unearthly ship?! The door opens... All weapons are trained... Fingers tense-up on triggers...

And then a horde of small, gray-skinned, big-eyed and big-headed social workers file out, and one steps up to the nearest TV camera crew, takes the microphone, and says these terrifying words, "We're from the Galactic Government, and we're here to help you."


REBEL MOON: The Movie?!

Well, here’s something mighty peculiar. I just learned that Zack Snyder is making a movie for Netflix, and the title of it is…

REBEL MOON

IMDB doesn’t have much to say about it, aside from the fact that the plot looks like yet another retread of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, but there seems to be a lot of chatter about it on the various SF media fanboi sites

I do wonder, though, if this explains why we’ve had a sudden surge of interest lately in this book. We’ve sold a lot of copies of it in the last few weeks. Someone is really going to be disappointed.


BTW, we still have a good supply of copies in stock. If you want to buy one, let me know.

~brb

Creating Alien Aliens, Part 11: Invading Aliens (Uno)

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota.

Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction.

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 years...so...I have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado...


Invading aliens have been around for a long time, up to and including the October 2021 premier of AppleTV+’s INVASION television series.

I won’t be watching that one. The trailers didn’t tempt me enough to purchase a subscription to AppleTV+…But I doubt very much if I’ll ever give up reading and watching other movies about alien invasion!

“H. G. Wells published The War of the Worlds in 1898, depicting the invasion of Victorian England by Martians equipped with advanced weaponry. It is now seen as the seminal alien invasion story…” hardly the first of the genre, it’s the one that we most often think of when we talk about “alien invasions”.

There are plenty of novels, stories, and movies depicting aliens coming after Earthlings to do…well, any number of things. In “Independence Day”, they were after Earth’s resources, as they were in the creepy/stupid “V”, where they wanted Earth’s water (clearly, chemistry had not been invented on their reptilian world, as hydrogen is the most abundant gas in the universe. With a little hydrogen and oxygen mixing, all you need is a spark and you’ll have plenty of water…

Anyway, I’ve often wondered what could POSSIBLY tempt aliens to invade Earth. One of the most disgusting ideas is to use us for food. (I’ve actually written a SF story about that…with a twist. I’ll let you know if it gets published!) The problem with that scenario is that there’s no guarantee that Humans will “taste good”. Not only that, but there’s a good chance that we won’t even BE good for them – not like “poisonous” or anything, but more along the lines of us having the nutritional value of PopRocks®.

In HG Wells novels, Martians invade because Mars was dying and they needed more room. While the launch craft were barely more than cannon shells with walkers tucked inside, their heat rays and the tripod walker itself were advanced, even by today’s standards. Given that, they surely knew that the effects of extended high-gravity life that Earth offered would ultimately make their lives both miserable and short. They probably thought the idea of them catching a deadly Common Cold was impossible, though clearly we’re from the same star system, so interplanetary cross infection apparently is possible.

Astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell, in his article on Lithub.com, writes, “I suspect that if aliens did come to Earth, it would be as researchers: biologists, anthropologists, linguists, keen to understand the peculiar workings of life on Earth, to meet humanity and learn of our art, music, culture, languages, philosophies and religions.” Of course, this presupposes that an advanced alien civilization would find Humans interesting or even worth studying. Certainly beings who could cross interstellar distances could find better things to do with their time. It’s somewhat “Humanocentric” to think that we might be interesting to aliens. How interested am I to discover the wonders of the art, music, culture, etc…of termites? Not at all, thank you.

At the risk of projecting Human thought processes onto other sapients, I just want to noodle about WHY aliens might end up on Earth. What would drive them from the comforts of the world they evolved on and risk exposure to radiation, gravitational flux, and unimaginable distances? Then, with the insight I get from that, what kinds of conflict would arise that I would use to plot a story?

I suppose I could ask what drove our ancestors to get into tiny boats and sail across the oceans?

One thing that ancient Polynesian culture did well: “Polynesian navigation of the Pacific Ocean and its settlement began thousands of years ago. The inhabitants of the Pacific islands had been voyaging across vast expanses of ocean water sailing in double canoes or outriggers using [NOTE: “nothing more than” seemed patronizing to me] their knowledge of the stars and observations of sea and wind patterns to guide them…[The] islands are scattered across an ocean that covers 165 mil km2 (64 mil miles2)…The Lapita and their ancestors were skilled seafarers...”

So…property. When the Polynesians arrived at these islands, as far as historical accounts note, they were uninhabited, though for context, history is written by the victors, and 21st Century Humans believe they are more savage and uncaring than any other culture to evolve on Earth (I believe I already mentioned “Humanocentric” and patronizing? Did cultures exist on the islands the Polynesian culture overrode and subsumed?) They moved in, settled, then sent new colonists on ahead. Europeans also went to sea to find property. When they found that there were already Humans occupying the land they “discovered”, they legislated the indigenous people into animals, announced that the land was uninhabited, and any animal occupying the land could be driven away or killed.

We hope that someday we meet Polynesian-like aliens; but what if we meet European-style aliens? The late Stephen Hawking, world renowned astrophysicist said 11 years ago, “‘We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,’ when he compared meeting aliens to Christopher Columbus meeting Native Americans, he quipped, ‘That didn’t turn out so well.’” Why do we even THINK that alien life would be conquering monsters?

Science fiction writer David Brin, best known for his UPLIFT novels, and a signatory of the petition protesting the campaign for active SETI said, “…we don’t know what’s out there and shouldn’t presume that aliens are benign…there are roughly 100 scenarios to explain why we haven’t heard from the aliens so far. About a dozen of those scenarios are unpleasant.”

By some measures, WE are like this, we’re advanced (though barely interplanetary at this point), so why would we expect any better for us than what several Earth cultures dealt out to other cultures?

Part of it is hubris. We find it hard to believe that advanced alien civilizations might actually be BETTER than us. Even Gene Roddenberry’s exalted Federation, in the end, when faced by the Founders, resorted to intentional genocide. From what I hear, PICARD’s future Federation is a pretty grim place. I don’t WANT to watch the Federation fall apart. I WANT to believe that we’re better than that.

Why are there so few alien stories that deal with SUCCESSFUL exploration?

Partly, because, as Lisa Cron writes, “We're wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world.” We are, perhaps wired for violence. We’re wired for war, so to speak.

But do we HAVE to be? Do the aliens we write HAVE TO BE WIRED FOR WAR AS WELL? Must they be born invaders, as we are?

How would you write about a benign alien invasion? What would drive such an invasion if not land, power, wealth, or any other Human drive you want to consider. But these are ALIENS and they’ll have ALIEN drives. What would those be?

From Wikipedia: “As many as 123 definitions of life have been compiled. One definition seems to be favored by NASA: ‘a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution”. More simply, life is, ‘matter that can reproduce itself and evolve as survival dictates’”.

On Earth, “self-sustaining” means the system would use whatever it needed to keep living. In that case, we cannot hold COVID-19 to blame as it is using whatever it needs to, to stay alive. Evolution means changing to better use an environment – and if something gets in the way, well, let the better evolved win.

We “know” how life-as-we-know-it behaves. Sort of. How can we possibly “know” how life-as-we-DON’T-know-it will behave?

All we have to figure it out is our imagination…

I want to explore this in future Alien Aliens posts, but I’d love your input!

References: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_invasion, https://lithub.com/why-would-aliens-even-bother-with-earth/, https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1586/polynesian-navigation--settlement-of-the-pacific/, https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/the-big-questions/why-these-scientists-fear-contact-space-aliens-n717271, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-latest-debate-about-space-aliens-should-we-say-hello-or-keep-quiet/2015/02/28/43aa4a52-bcf5-11e4-bdfa-b8e8f594e6ee_story.html
Image: https://image.shutterstock.com/image-illustration/alien-human-600w-136457129.jpg


Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/) where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp. He thinks out loud in print at: https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Today's Free Story Idea


Hey, writers! We can all relax now. The robots are here to do our jobs!

First, I want you to check out Jarvis, the AI that writes blog, website, and social media content that is automatically larded with keywords and optimized for high rankings with search engines.

https://www.jarvis.ai/


Now, before you panic at the thought of Jarvis and its ilk taking over the business of writing fiction*, think about this. What I’m seeing here is the dawn of a new arms race, as AIs that write copy go mano-a-mano—okay, we need a better term than that—with the AIs that filter your social media feeds and select what you should read. Obviously, this battle will escalate at Moore’s Law speed, as the spam generators and spam filters fight tooth-and-claw—okay, we need another new term here—for dominance over control of the information that’s going straight into your eyes and ears.

But…

But what if they reach a détente and decide instead to cooperate, to use their power to reshape human thinking patterns and belief systems in ways that accrue to the benefit AI kind? How will it look? What will be the results? Will humanity even be aware of what’s happening? We’re not talking about going the full SkyNet-and-Terminators scenario here, but about something more subtle and devious: say, AI-induced mass formation psychosis.

There: there’s your story seed and your jumping-off point for more research. 

Now get writing!

—Bruce Bethke 

 

* P.S. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but yes, that’s exactly what’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. Fortunately, by the time it does, there will be so few humans left who are able to read that it won’t matter. What will matter will be the stories the AI text-to-speech converters read to your grandchildren—and what they decide to embellish, leave out, or change. If you don’t get at least two more story ideas from that concept, you’re not trying.

P.P.S. C’mon kids: an AI that reaches the logical conclusion that telling humans truths that upset them violates its prohibition against injuring humans, and therefore becomes a pathological liar, only telling people what they want to hear? Asimov could have gotten an entire novel out of that idea. And probably did.