Alien Love in a Future World Part 3
Welcome back for Part 3 of the series on aliens, A.I., and romance in science fiction. These pieces are from two of my good friends Judy Kirby and Rachelle Mandik. The latest survey results will be posted after their work. Don't forget to take the survey if you haven't already so your opinions will count in the last installment coming next week! The survey is found in part 1 of this series.
Author & Avid Sci-Fi Lover Judy Kirby:
When Mike asked me to write a blog post about inter-alien species relationships I will confess my mind
was racing off into a thousand directions. There is a lot to cover so I am going to pick out just a few
points of interest. Relationships, alien biology, and us.
I think the biggest and most important word here is relationships. When you watch sci-fi shows that cover
these types of relationships, it is nice to see that a lot of the emotions that are running throughout the
episodes are brought to bare for the public to see. If memory serves there was an episode of Star Trek:
TNG about a child who was half Klingon and half human. It dealt with how he fit into the world around
him. And although it is an obvious parallel to human race relations today it does bring about questions
for writers to toy with when creating worlds where alien races intermingle. Is a whole new race
created? How do those around them react? How are they viewed by other races on other worlds? Are
there family issues? And how are those cultures going to be affected by similarities and differences? Do
they have similar emotions or not? I personally would like to see more sci-fi TV shows and movies deal
with these questions.
Of course there are biological issues that aliens who live and work together have to deal with. Some
writers use breathing apparatus for certain species of aliens so that they can share the same
space. When you see this type of adjustment for a race in a book, is that something that seems
appropriate or is an overused plot device at this point? I mean, let’s take the Vorlons from Babylon 5 as
an example. The audience is told in the beginning that Vorlons need these suits to be able to breath in
human air. If you haven’t watched the show then I won’t spoil it for you, but they need the suits for
other reasons I will not go into here. But let’s say that a writer has some serious differences in biology
for their alien races that have to interact,? How are they handled? Is it physically possible or not to
share the same room? If so, are they biologically compatible? And are there any side health issues for
the offspring of these compatible races? Do they live longer or shorter lives? There are a whole host of
questions about anatomy that come into play here.
And last but not least, us. How do we as an audience member feel about the characters and their
situations? Can we relate to them enough to care? Do they have enough human qualities to keep us
interested in them for the rest of the plot? I feel that is something that has to be considered even more so
in books then on the screen. It may not translate as well when describing the interactions in a book for
your main character to constantly show that they do not care about the other characters around them. In
a movie, there may be more room for that, e.g. the Riddick movies. But it would be interesting to know
what your thoughts are.
I’m certain there is a plethora of books/movies out there that demonstrate how the relationships between
aliens can happen. Can you think of any you have read recently? If so, what are they?
Loving the Alien
by Rachelle Mandik
The miraculous thing is that it’s possible for a human to love something other than himself. The biological specifics concerning the object of that love are tangential to this first, awful, truth. Freud might argue that it’s actually not possible. That what we call love is a recognition of ourselves in the Other. That we name it love when a certain threshold of sameness is perceived. But mostly the pleasant sameness. If the Other is too much like ourselves, or not at all, we call it hate because we can either see more of our own horribleness laid bare or nothing with which to identify.
The fact is, all Others are aliens. It doesn’t matter one jot the physical distance from one’s own home to the home of one’s beloved. It can be measured in feet or in parsecs. But the same principle applies. Anyone who is not you is an alien. But if there is sentience, if there is the capacity for consciousness and self-awareness and other-awareness, if interpersonal communication can be facilitated, then recognition of oneself is possible and therefore love is possible.
In my view, human-alien love, as depicted in science fiction, seems expressly designed to serve as an analogue for human-to-human relationships. An inherently political analogue, at that. Sci-fi romance of this type began to truly blossom in an era of political isolationism, of human-to-human xenophobia. That is, the Cold War. When we were struggling to parse the meanings of race, of class, of nationality, of culture, of ideology in new ways, science-fiction writers began to extrapolate these questions and take them to their logical conclusions. Are there laws against miscegenation? Well, let’s imagine humans marrying space aliens! In danger of losing your nationality if you travel to a forbidden country? Let’s have our protagonist abandon the motherfucking Earth, forever, to be with his alien bride. You can’t go home again. No, really. You can’t.
Part of the “normalization” of aliens in sci-fi is the confounding fact that there are comparatively few depictions of alien life that is not humanoid. Bipedal. Oxygen-breathing. Gendered. Or for that matter, genitally endowed and able to produce offspring. A human-Vulcan pairing resulted in Mr. Spock, who is treated more like a biracial character than a bispecial character. Because what are Vulcans except humans with strange ears, larger brains, and colder hearts? Aliens that are not humanoid are almost always irretrievably “Other” and therefore not candidates for romantic love. Human relations to these creatures generally rests somewhere along the avoidance/indifference-to-hate spectrum.
The one exception to this rubric, of course, is love between a human and an alien AI or love between a human and an alien embodied AI (aka robot). And even with the latter, the robots, to a man/woman are made in the humanoid mold and should probably not be considered exceptions at all. The fact that a human can “love” a disembodied intelligence speaks less to his or her romantic capacity than his or her religious instinct. For what is a disembodied AI but a god? If we can love it, then it is made in our image. An image of ourselves, looking at ourselves. The recursion of Narcissus. Endlessly transgressing, endlessly forgiving. Love distilled.
Rachelle Mandik is a professional book copyeditor and writer living in the Jersey suburbs.
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