First Contact can come in many guises. And, if such a thing every happens, what would the reality of Aliens arriving be like for us here, on planet Earth? Would First Contact be benign or an all out alien invasion?
Well, there’s been enough written by various SF authors over the decades about who, what, how and even why aliens might come to Earth. From invading forces sent to conquer us, through to subtle ‘Overlords’ quietly subverting us with ‘gifts’ that, in the end, alter our DNA, changing us from within only to be absorbed into the ‘Overmind’. Right through to alien flora landing on Earth via a meteorite shower, and colonizing Africa from the roots up, as it does in Chaga!
The creepiest novel I’ve read about first contact or, should that be, alien invasion? Was The Puppet Masters, by Robert A. Heinlein, in which an alien spacecraft lands in nowhere Iowa. And slowly, the alien ‘slug-like’ creatures start attaching themselves to human hosts, taking over their minds and bodies. Invasion of the Body Snatchers anyone? We’ve all probably seen the movie but the book is just as creepy and, like The Puppet Masters, is all about strange seeds, grown from a plantlike pod, replacing sleeping victims with identical duplicates.
In Clifford D. Simak’s novel, The Visitors, the aliens appear begin, as they do in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, in which first contact with aliens appears to bring about a veritable utopia. But, again, in the end, after decades and decades, things are never exactly as they seem. In the case of the aliens in The Visitors, we’re dealing with aliens so alien, there is no ability to effectively communicate with them. But hey, they give us plant-like flying cars!
While in Clarke’s novel, we have alien ‘Overlords’ giving gifts to humans in the form of tech and health benefits that we greedily take, that is, till the true nature of the aliens is revealed, and humanity’s fate is sealed. They’ve slowly been subtly changing us, through our children, ready to ‘absorb’ humanity into the hive-mind, the alien ‘Overmind’.
Chaga, a novel written by Brit author, Ian McDonald, has a wholly otherworldly version of first contact with alien lifeforms, when a comet slams into the depths of Africa and starts to grow and mutate. Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, Annihilation, is similar in that it focuses on themes of ‘weird nature’ or, nature gone crazy—areas of Earth over run by a biological aggressor of unknown origins.
But, of all these novels, the only real one about aliens reaching out to us in what I suppose is true first contact, is Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact. Which features Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway, who’s head of Project Argus, a radio telescope array in New Mexico searching for extraterrestrial life (SETI). Sadly, the subsequent film only bears a passing resemblance to Sagan’s masterpiece work, which has so much more to say than the Jodie Foster helmed movie.
Still one of the best books out there if you want to read about first contact.
- THE PUPPET MASTERS by Robert A. Heinlein (Doubleday, 1951)
- CHILDHOOD’S END by Arthur C. Clarke (Ballentine, 1953)
- INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS by Jack Finney (Dell Books, (1955)
- THE VISITORS by Clifford D. Simak (Del Rey, 1980)
- CONTACT by Carl Sagan (Simon & Schuster, 1985)
- CHAGA by Ian McDonald (Gollancz, 1995)
- ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer (Farrer, 2014)
In this segment I want to highlight authors who wrote about distant planets or places humans colonize in a far flung future, and also, encounter a myriad of aliens—some benign, others not so.
Hacking back to the Golden Age and Classics of SF, I started thinking about what authors exemplified my title: in a galaxy, far, far, away. Here’s who I came up with:
• ROBERT SILVERBERG
Bob is another of those prolific authors I was introduced to when I first read, Lord Valentine’s Castle (Bantam, 1981), which is set on the magical planet of, Majipoor. A weirdly, wondrous world populated by shapeshifters, yet settled also by humans. This book is the first in a series in which Silverberg explores a number of themes, including coexistence, destiny (or, maybe, fate) and, of course, what it means to be human.
Check out: Lord Valentine’s Castle, the Majipoor Chronicles, and Valentine Pontifex.
• JACK L. CHALKER
My first Jack Chalker book was the start of a seven book series called, Midnight At The Well of Souls (Del Rey, 1977) — where we are introduced to the Well World. Long before the books and TV series, The Expanse, Chalker was writing about an artificially constructed world by a then defunct alien race known as the Markovians. A world that was both the controller of and the gateway to 1560 other worlds created by the Markovians.
The series features the irascible Nathan Brazil, a starship captain who goes on a rescue mission only to find himself suddenly transported to the Well World. And, of course, several books of adventures in time and space!
Check out: The Saga of the Well World series (7), The Watchers at the Well World series (3), and so many more!
• GORDON R. DICKSON
… is another author I am sure no one has heard of, but this Canadian/American wrote about humanity seeding the stars in the 23rd century and, in Soldier, Ask Not (Dell, 1967)—part of the Childe Cycle series—has humanity splintered into specialized groups and cultures: such as ‘Exotics’, ‘Philosophers’, ‘Mystics’ and ‘Psychologists’ and then, those who are hired and trained to protect them, the Dorsai, professional soldiers.
Rebellion, mayhem, murder, and them against us, and how one man has the power to manipulate people, and events, into happening.
Check out: Tactics of Mistake, The Spirit of Dorsai, and Lost Dorsai.
I guess this post also fulfils another ‘Blast From The Past’ of books and authors I’ve read. With more to come, soon!
I’ve been talking a lot about various science fiction books and authors I’ve read and love, so today, I thought I would delve into a few of the characters I’ve met over the years who’ve left a lasting impression on me.
Those of you that read my blog regularly might remember me talking about the novel, Serpent’s Reach, by C. J. Cherryh. A book I read back in 1980, which had a huge impact on me. Not just because a number of strong female characters in it, but because I could identify with the main protagonist, who was about my age at the time. Both of us had, inadvertently, been dropped in at the deep end and left to sink or swim. Although it’s true, I wasn’t on a far flung distant world, nor being chased by an unseen enemy, but I was battling my own demons at the time.
So when I discovered Raen a Sul hant Meth-maren, the sole survivor of her family—murdered by a rival clan in what was an attempted coup—I felt an affinity with her struggle for survival and the need for revenge. I don’t know what it was about this particular character, and the set of circumstances, but I found a certain solace in Raen’s journey. Maybe it was the fact, despite everything she went through and endured, she never gave up hope. And, in the end, she bested them all. Okay, maybe she had a little help from the Majat—an insectoid race with a hive-mind consciousness—my other favourite thing about this book. Don’t mess with a sentient race who are all but immortal.
For more info about the book and characters, check out: Serpent’s Reach.
AS DAWN BROKE, the first few fingers of light pierced the dark. Clouds ran to cover the moon. A woman dressed in white huddled against the chill of night, a chill that seeped into her very marrow. Pulling the heavy cloak about her did little to ward off the cold. Arms pulled tightly about her she bowed her head and wept. Wept till deep-racking sobs finally over took her and her slender body shook. The quiet stillness of night slowly passing into day, oblivious of such grief.
The Carthagian Prefect, Rhé Elissa-Dido, lost in sorrow, was unaware that someone stood behind her concealed in dark shadows by a cluster of shrubs. Someone, who, up until that moment, had been unaware of her presence, someone who, like her, had come to a quiet place to be alone to reflect through a night of solitude. But instead, had inadvertently shared a night of soul-searching.
Fleet Captain Hel Jarvik moved out of her concealment, drawn to the emotion of the woman sobbing. The terrible sound of a heart breaking. The ache in those plaintive notes reaching deep inside her, touching her soul. She moved cautiously forward and then stopped a few feet away, arguing with herself. Propriety told her it wasn’t polite to approach the stranger, let alone invade their moment of grief. Though her heart told her otherwise.
Hel made to leave, to slip off into what remained of the night, but stepped on a fallen twig. It cracked underfoot. She looked down at the offending appendage then looked up. Looked straight into an oval face surrounded by light and shadow. The sun had partly crested the mountains behind the woman, radiating light about her so that she glowed.
The mysterious woman pushed back her cowl to reveal a sculptured face, crowned with luxuriant curled hair as black as space itself.
“How simply wonderful. The universe always sees fit to listen in on me whenever I choose to have a theatrical moment.” The voice was soft, low and resonant. Use to commanding, Hel noted.
“I’m flattered you think me the whole universe, I am but one.” Hel responded with a formal bow from the waist, dressed as she was in full military uniform.
“One is all it takes.” Rhé answered, eyeing the blond Valkyrie resplendent in black, noting the insignia, a full-ranking officer of the Line.
Hel heard the weight of sadness in the words, and was intrigued.
“One alone, against the night.” She quoted the Fleet motto. The regal-looking woman seemed to regard her a moment. The perfect brow creased imperceptibly.
“But I wasn’t alone, was I?”
“No.” It was all Hel could think to say.
The sun was climbing higher. The stranger now seemed on fire, backlit with blazing light. Eyes followed her gaze, turning to face the sunrise.
“Beautiful.” Came the single word, exhaled on a breath.
“Yes.” Hel heard herself say, but she was no longer looking at the sun rise.
The woman turned back to face her. A hand reached up and brushed at a still damp cheek. Hel looked away for a moment aware of the fact she’d witnessed such an intense and private moment. She glanced about the small clearing. The soft golden light made everything look surreal, serene. It belied the turmoil of emotions that still raged, deep inside her, screaming for her attention. She ignored them all, turning back to face the stranger and found herself being regarded head to foot.
“I’m sorry.” Hel said into the ensuing silence. Eyes continued to regard her. The face before her, unreadable.
Like a soft sigh, the woman said, “So am I.”
The words hung between them a moment. Hel didn’t know what to say, she wanted to stay and question the woman. Wanting to know what had brought them both to this place, of all places, at the same time. It made her think about her mother’s words and her prediction. Had that moment arrived?
Turning slowly, with grace, Rhé faced the rising sun. “Show’s over, better buy a ticket, join the queue, I save the Galaxy next week.”
Hel paused but a heartbeat.
“Next week’s too late, tomorrow would be better.” She took a couple of steps forward. The woman turned back to face her. Another heartbeat passed. Hel thought she saw the woman’s lips curl into a faint smile.
“Tomorrow’s booked, heal the sick, raise the dead, you know how it is.”
Funnily enough, she did.
“How about the day after tomorrow?” Hel asked in the same offhand mocking tone the woman used. “Are you free then?”
“Possibly…I’ll check my schedule.” Rhé mimed thumbing the pages of a non-existent old-fashioned book. “Oh, look, wouldn’t you believe it. No, nothing planned, not for today, not tomorrow or, as a matter of fact, for the rest of my life—” Rhé paused, staring at her hands as if realizing what she was doing, aware of her audience. Her arms fell to her side.
The face came up slowly. Liquid chocolate-brown eyes once again regarded Hel. There was a look of resignation that seemed forever etched into the lines at the corners.
Sucking in a quiet breath, Hel took the final step and now stood in front of the other woman. Rhé, in turn, pulled herself up to her full and diminutive height, staring up at the officer, almost in defiance. The officer towered over her. Their eyes locked.
As if in self-defense, Rhé turned away. “What did your mother feed you as a child?” The tone was clipped.
The sun was now well above the far mountains as light bathed the land, glinting off a distant sea.
“The usual—” Hel began feeling her mouth twitch.
“That being what…the seeds of wild weeds?” Rhé intercepted.
Hel grinned. “I was born in space.” The lighter gravity and living for extended periods of time in space, made all the difference.
She knew from the way the woman was dressed and more, the way she carried herself with a straight back, and that certain poise, that she was Carthagian born and bred. She had already assessed the woman was probably a member of the Delegation that was there, on Central, petitioning the Council for aid and supplies. Carthagia was under siege and in desperate need, a world caught between space, time, and warring sectors, as well as warring factions. A fact Hel knew all too well, having spoken vocally out about sending aid, namely her ship and any other that would join the fight, only to be reprimanded—in no uncertain terms—by the Admiralty.
It wasn’t their fight.
Hel, however, had other ideas about that.
The retort, when it came, was tart. “Space? Really? I’ve never met anyone yet who could breathe vacuum.”
Hel stifled the laugh that erupted by coughing into her fist. Not the response she had expected. The woman was quite the surprise, given what she had witnessed earlier.
Today, she mused, just might turn out better than she had hoped for.
I wanted to share this short snippet with you, and no, before you ask, it’s not part of what I’m writing for NaNoWriMo 2018. It’s the opening gambit to a short story that’s been tumbling around in my head for some time. I hope you enjoyed it for what it is, a teasing taster.