When Two Worlds Collide

On Writing The Aleutian Trilogy

      

The aliens can always speak English. This is one of those absurdities of pulp fiction and B movies, like saucer shaped spaceships and hairdryer machines that track your brain waves, that might well come true -suppose the visitors avoid those disconcerting forms of long haul space travel, that whisk you across the galaxy and dump you in the concourse of Lime Street station before you have time to say 'Non Smoking'. If they come in slowly they'll spend the latter part of their journey travelling through a vast cloud of human broadcasting signals, which they'll easily pick up on the alien cabin tv. They'll have plenty of time to acquire a smattering of useful phrases. Or so the current received wisdom goes -I'd love some expert to tell me if this idea makes sense, by the way. By now it's not completely inevitable that they'll speak English, and with a United States accent, in the traditional manner. They might get hooked on Brazilian soap opera.

But whatever formal, articulate language our visitors use in real life, all the aliens we know so far speak human. They speak our human predicament, our history, our hopes and fears, our pride and shame. As long as we haven't met any actual no kidding intelligent extraterrestrials (and I would maintain that this is still the case, though I know opinions are divided) the aliens we imagine are always other humans in disguise: no more, no less. Whether or not hell is other people, it is certainly other people who arrive, in these fictions, to challenge our isolation: to be feared or worshipped, interrogated, annihilated, appeased. When the historical situation demands it science fiction writers demonize our enemies, the way the great Aryan court poet who wrote the story of Prince Rama demonized the Dravidian menace, in India long ago. Or we can use imaginary aliens to assuage our guilt. I think it's not unlikely that our European ancestors invented the little people who live in the hills, cast spells and are 'ill to cross' -who appear so often in traditional fiction north of the mediterranean and west of Moscow- to explain why their cousins the Neanderthals had mysterious vanished from public life. I see the same thing happening today, as science fiction of the environmentally-conscious decades becomes littered with gentle, magical, colourful alien races who live at one with nature in happy non-hierarchical rainforest communities. Even the project of creating an authentically incomprehensible other intelligent species, which is sporadically attempted in science fiction, is inescapably a human story. Do we yet know of any other beings who can imagine, or could care less, what 'incomprehensible' means?

More often than not, the aliens story involves an invasion. The strangers have arrived. They want our planet, and intend to wipe us out. We have arrived. The native aliens -poor ineffectual technologically incompetent creatures- had better get out of the way. The good guys will try to protect them: but territorial expansion, sometimes known as progress, is an unstoppable force. This pleasant paradigm of intra-species relations obviously strikes a deep chord. We, in the community of science fiction writers and readers at least, do not expect to co-exist comfortably with other people. Which ever side is 'ours' , there is going to be trouble, there is going to be grief, when two worlds collide. And whatever language everyone is speaking, there is definitely going to be a break down in communications.

When I invented my alien invaders ' The Aleutians' I was aware of the models that science fiction offered, and of the doubled purpose that they could serve. I wanted, like other writers before me, to tell a story about the colonisers and the colonised. The everlasting expansion of a successful population, first commandment on the Darwinian tablets of stone, makes this encounter ' the supplanters and the natives' an enduring feature of human history. Colonial adventure has been a significant factor in the shaping of my own, European, twentieth century, culture. I wanted to think about this topic. I wanted to study the truly extraordinary imbalance in wealth, power, and per capita human comfort, from the south to the north, that came into being over three hundred years or so of European rule in Africa, Asia and the Indian subcontinent: an imbalance which did not exist when the Portuguese reached China, when the first British and French trading posts were established on the coasts of India; when European explorers arrived in the gold-empire cities of West Africa. I also wanted -the other layer of the doubled purpose- to describe and examine the relationship between men and women. There are obvious parallels between my culture's colonial adventure and the battle of the sexes. Men come to this world helpless, like bewildered explorers. At first they all have to rely on the goodwill of the native ruler of the forked, walking piece of earth in which they find themselves. And then, both individually and on a global scale, they amass as if by magic a huge proportion of the earth's wealth, power and influence, while the overwhelming majority of those native rulers are doomed to suffer and drudge and starve in the most humiliating conditions. But why? I wondered. How did this come about? Why do most of the women get such a rough deal?

I felt that my historical model would be better for throwing up insights, mental experiments, refutable hypotheses about sexual politics, than other popular ' alien invasion' narratives based on the history of the United States. The possibilities of an outright lebensraum struggle would soon be exhausted; a situation involving any extreme division between master race and slave race would be too clear cut. I needed something in a sense more innocent. A relationship that could grow in intimacy and corruption: a trading partnership where neither party is more altruistic than the other, whichever manages to win the advantage. Most of all, I needed something slow. I needed to see what would happen to my experiment over hundreds of years: over generations, not decades. So, the Aleutians appeared: a feckless crew of adventurers and dreamers, with only the shakiest of State backing, no aim beyond seeing life and turning a quick profit; and no coherent long-term plans whatever.

Interview With The Alien

Some stories about meeting the aliens are recruiting posters for the Darwinian army. Explicitly we're invited to cheer for the home team, or enjoy the pleasurably sad and moving defeat of the losers. Implicitly we're reminded that every encounter with the other, down to office manoeuvring and love affairs, is a fight for territory: and the weak must go to the wall. Some people invent aliens as an Utopian or satirical exercise, to show how a really well-designed intelligent species would live and function, and how far the human model falls below this ideal. I confess to adopting elements from both these approaches. But above all, I wanted my aliens to represent an alternative. I wanted them to say to my readers it ain't necessarily so. History is not inevitable, and neither is sexual gender as we know it an inevitable part of being human. I didn't intend my aliens to represent 'women', exactly; or for the humans to be seen as 'men' in this context. Human women and men have their own story in the Aleutian books. But I wanted to make them suggestive of another way things could have turned out. I planned to give my alien conquerors the characteristics, all the supposed deficiencies, that Europeans came to see in their subject races in darkest Africa and the mystic East -'animal' nature, irrationality, intuition; mechanical incompetence, indifference to time, helpless aversion to theory and measurement: and I planned to have them win the territorial battle this time. It was no coincidence, for my purposes, that the same list of qualities or deficiencies -a nature closer to the animal, intuitive communication skills and all the rest of it- were and still are routinely awarded to women, -the defeated natives, supplanted rulers of men- in cultures north and south, west and east, white and non-white, the human world over.

They had to be humanoid. I didn't want my readers to be able to distance themselves; or to struggle proudly towards empathy in spite of the tentacles. I didn't want anyone to be able to think, why, they're just like us once you get past the face-lumps, the way we do when we get to know the tv alien goodies and baddies in Babylon 5 or Space Precinct 9. I needed them to be irreducibly weird and at the same time, undeniably people, the same as us. I believe this to be a fairly accurate approximation of the real-world situation -between the Japanese and the Welsh, say, or between women and men: or indeed between any individual human being and the next. Difference is real. It does not go away. To express my contention -that irreducible difference, like genetic variation, is conserved in the individual: not in race, nationality or reproductive function- I often awarded my Aleutians quirks of taste and opinion belonging to one uniquely different middle-aged, middle-class, leftish Englishwoman. And was entertained to find them hailed by US critics as ' the most convincingly alien beings to grace science fiction in years' . Now it can be told...

Since they had to be humanoid, I made a virtue of the necessity, and had someone explain to my readers that all those ufologists can't be wrong. The human body plan is perfectly plausible, for sound scientific reasons. This lead me into interesting territory later on. Whether or not it's true that another planet might well throw up creatures much like us, I don't know. But humanoid aliens certainly make life easier for the science fiction novelist. The control our physical embodiment has over our rational processes is so deep and strong that it's excruciating trying to write about intelligent plasma clouds -if you're in the least worried about verisimilitude. It's a trick, it can be done. But the moment your attention falters your basic programming will restore the defaults of the pentadactyl limb, binocular vision and articulated spine. You'll find your plasma characters cracking hard nuts, grappling with sticky ideas, looking at each other in a funny way, scratching their heads, weaving plots and generally making a third-chimpanzees' tea-party of your chaste cosmic emanations.

They had to be humanoid, and they had to be sexless. I wanted a society that knew nothing about the great divide which allows half the human race to regard the other half as utterly, transcendently, different on the grounds of reproductive function. I wanted complex and interesting people who managed to have lives fully as strange, distressing, satisfying, absorbing, productive as ours, without having any access to that central ' us and themness' of human life. I realised before long that this plan created some aliens who had a very shaky idea, if any, of the concept 'alien' -as applied to another person. Which was a good joke: and like the cosmic standard body plan, it lead to interesting consequences. But that came later.

Once my roughly humanoid aliens reached earth, interrogation proceeded along traditional lines. I whisked them into my laboratory for intensive internal examination, with a prurient concentration on sex and toilet habits. In real life (I mean in the novel White Queen) the buccaneers resisted this proposal. They didn't know they were aliens, they thought they were merely strangers, and they didn't see why they had to be vivisected before they could have their tourist visas. The humans were too nervous to insist, but a maverick scientist secured a tissue sample... With this same tissue sample in my possession, I was able to establish that the Aleutians were hermaphrodites, to borrow a human term. (I considered parthenogenesis, with a few males every dozen or so generations, like greenfly. But this was what I finally came up with). Each of them had the same reproductive tract. There was an external organ consisting of a fold or pouch in the lower abdomen, lined with mucous membrane, holding an appendage called 'the claw' . Beyond the porous inner wall of this pouch, known as ' the cup', extended a reservoir of potential embryos -something like the lifetime supply of eggs in human ovaries, but these eggs didn't need to be fertilised. When one or other of these embryos was triggered into growth -not by any analogue of sexual intercourse but by an untraceable complex of environmental and emotional factors- the individual would become pregnant. The new baby, which would grow in the pouch like a marsupial infant until it was ready to emerge, would prove to be one of the three million or so genetically differentiated individuals in a reproductive group known as the ' brood' . (I should point out that I'm going to use the human word 'gene' and related terms throughout, for the alien analogues to these structures). These same three million people, each one a particular chemically defined bundle of traits and talents, would be born again and again. In Aleutia you wouldn't ask of a newborn baby, 'is it a boy or a girl?'. You'd ask, 'who is it?' Maybe there'd be a little heelprick thing at the hospital, and then the midwife would tell you whether you'd given birth to someone famous, or someone you knew and didn't like, or someone you vaguely remembered having met at a party once, in another lifetime.

So much for reproduction, but I needed to account for evolution. How could my serial immortals, born-again hermaphrodites, have come to be? How could they continue to adapt to their environment? It was a major breakthrough when I discovered that the brood was held together by a living information network. Every Aleutian had a glandular system constantly generating mobile cell-complexes called ' wanderers' which were shed through the pores of the skin, especially in special areas like the mucous-coated inner walls of the 'cup' . Each wanderer was a chemical snapshot of the individual's current emotional state, their status, experience, their shifting place in the whole brood entity: a kind of tiny self. The Aleutians would pick and eat 'wanderers' from each other's skin in a grooming process very like that which we observe in real-life apes, baboons, monkeys. To offer someone a 'wanderer' would be a common social gesture: ' Hello, this is how I am- ' . Once consumed, the snapshot information would be replicated and shuttled off to the reproductive tract, where it would be compared with the matching potential embryo, and the embryo updated: so that the chemical nature of the person who might be born was continually being affected by the same person's current life. It was a Lamarkian evolution, directly driven by environmental pressure, rather than by the feedback between environment and random mutation, but it looked to me as if it would work well enough. Nothing much would happen from life to life. But over evolutionary time the individual and the whole brood entity would be changing in phase: growing more complex, remembering and forgetting, opening up new pathways, closing down others. I noticed, when I was setting this up, that the environment to which my Aleutians were adapting was the rest of Aleutian society, at least as much as the outside world. But that's another story...

I had done away with sexual gender. But if I wanted a society that seemed fully developed to human readers, I couldn't do without passion. I had no wish to create a race of wistful Spocks, or chilly fragments of a hive-mind. The Aleutians must not be deficient in personhood. Luckily I realised that the wanderer system gave me the means to elaborate a whole world of social, emotional and physical intercourse. The Aleutians lived and breathed chemical information, the social exchange of wanderers was essential to their well-being. But they would also be drawn, by emotional attachment, infatuation, fellow feeling or even a need to dominate, to a more intense experience: where the lovers would get naked and lie down together, cups opened and fused lip to lip, claws entwined, information flooding from skin to skin, in an ecstasy of chemical communication. They would fall in love with another self the way we -supposedly- fall in love with difference. Romantic souls would always be searching for that special person, as near as possible the same genetic individual as themselves, with whom the mapping would be complete.

More revelations followed. The whole of Aleutian art and religion, I realised, sprang from the concept of the diverse, recurrent Self of the brood. Their whole education and history came from studying the records left behind by their previous selves. Their technology was based on tailored skin-secretions, essentially specialised kinds of wanderers. Their power to manipulate raw materials had grown not through conscious experiment or leaps of imagination, as ours is held to have developed, but by the placid, inchworm trial and error of molecular evolution. Arguably there was only one Aleutian species -if there had ever been more- since this process of infecting the physical world with self-similar chemical information had been going on for aeons. The entire Aleutian environment: buildings, roads, furniture, pets, beasts of burden, transport, was alive with the same life as themselves, the same self.

Once I'd started this machine going, it kept throwing up new ideas. I realised their society was in some ways extremely rigid. Any serial immortal might be born in any kind of social circumstances. But no one could change their ways, or even retrain for a new job, except over millenia of lifetimes. An Aleutian couldn't learn to become a carpenter; or to be generous. You were either born with a chemically defined ability or it was not an option. Aleutians, being built on the same pattern as ourselves but with a highly conservative development programme, revert easily to a four-footed gait. This is good for scaring humans, who see intelligent alien werewolves leaping at them. The obligate cooks use bodily secretions to prepare food: a method quite acceptable in many human communities, where teeth and saliva replace motorised food mixers; and Aleutians all use toilet pads to absorb the minor amount of waste produced by their highly processed diet. I made up this because I liked the image of the alien arriving and saying 'quickly, take me somewhere I can buy some sanitary pads...'; but then I noticed this was another aspect of the way they don't have a sense of the alien. They don't even go off by themselves to shit. Aleutians live in a soup of shared presence, they are the opposite of Cartesians. They have no horror of personal death, (though they can fear it). But things that are intrinsically not alive -like electrons, photons, the image in a mirror or on a screen, they consider uncanny... I could go on, but I won't. We'd be here forever. I believe the elaboration, the proliferation of consequences, could be continued indefinitely. It all goes to show, if anyone needed another demonstration, how much complexity, and what a strange illusion of coherence within that complexity, can be generated from a few simple, arbitrary original conditions.

It's said that the work of science fiction is to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. I often find that what we do is to take some persistent fiction of contemporary human life, and turn it into science. By the time I'd finished this phase of the interrogation my Aleutians had all the typical beliefs and traditions of one of those caste-ridden, feudal tropical societies doomed to be swept away by the gadget-building bourgeois individualists from the north. They were animists. They believed in reincarnation. They had no hunger for progress, no use for measurement or theory, no obsession with the passage of time. They were, in short, the kind of people 'we' often wish we could be, except we'd rather have jet transport and microwave ovens. But in the Aleutians' case, everything worked: and their massively successful ambient-temperature bio-technology was exactly tailored -as if by a malignant deity- to blow the mechanisers away. They were on course to take over a world, although they didn't know it. Not because they were sacred white-faced messengers from the Sun God or what have you: but because they were not weird. By chance they had arrived at the historical moment when that jaded mechanist paradigm was giving out, and they had the goods that everybody on earth was beginning to want. They could do things the locals could do themselves, they had skills the locals could well understand, and they were just that crucial half a move ahead of the game.

Speech and Silence

I interrogated my aliens in the language of science, looking for differences that would work. Eventually I became uneasy about this process. If the Aleutians were in some sense 'supposed to be women', it was disquieting to note that I'd treated them exactly the way male-gendered medicine has treated human women until very recently -behaving as if their reproductive system was the only interesting thing about them. I approached their own speech and language with more humility: deliberately trying to remove the division between experimenter and experiment. I had travelled, fairly widely. I had been an alien in many contexts. Not least as a girl among the boys. I had observed that though the colour of my skin and the shape of my chest would always be intriguing, I could often be accepted and treated like a person, as long as I made the right gestures. Wherever you go there will be busfares, light switches, supermarkets, airports, taps, power sockets, street food, tv cartoons, music cassette players, advertising hoarding, motorway landscape. Watch what the locals do, and you'll soon adjust to the minor variations in the silent universal language.

One can look on the sameness of the global village as an artefact of cultural imperialism, another bitter legacy of White European rule in all its forms. But I felt that these narrative signs of a single human life, repeated the world over, must be connected to that animal-embodiment we all share, or they would not survive. I had invented new forms of difference, now I wanted to celebrate sameness. I made my Aleutians silent, like dumb animals, for many reasons, but first of all because I knew that I could pass for normal in foreign situations as long as I didn't speak. And I made human body language intelligible to them, on the grounds that just as our common humanity makes and recognises the same patterns everywhere, the aliens' wordless natural language had been deeply shaped by the same pressures as have shaped the natural languages of life on earth. The whole bio-chemical spectrum is missing, from their point of view, because we have no wanderers, no intelligent secretions at all. But every human gesture that remains is as intelligible to them as another brood's dialect of the common tongue, that everyone shares at home. To make sure of my point I raised and dismissed the possibility that they were time-travellers returning to their forgotten planet of origin; and the other possibility that they had grown, like us, from humanoid seed sown across the galaxy by some elder race. They were an absolutely, originally different evolution of life. But they were the same because life, wherever it arises in our middle dimensions, must be subject to the same constraints, and the more we learn about our development the more we see that the most universal pressures - time and gravity, quantum mechanics; the nature of certain chemical bonds- drive through biological complexity on every fractal scale, from the design of an opposable thumb to the link between the chemistry of emotion and a set of facial muscles. And this sameness, subject to cultural variation but always reasserting itself, was shown chiefly in the aliens' ability to understand us.

In line with my model of Aleutians as 'women', and 'native peoples' it was right for them to be wary and rather contemptuous of spoken language. I wanted them to be silent like the processes of cell-biology, like social insects exchanging pheromone signals: like larger animals conversing through grooming, nuzzling, eyecontact and gesture. And I wanted the humans, convinced that the barrier between self and other was insurmountable except by magic, to be deeply alarmed by these seeming telepaths -the way characters in classic male-gendered science fiction are so absurdly impressed at an occult power they call empathy: whereby some superbeing or human freak can actually sense the way other people are feeling. (God give me strength: my cat can do that). But I didn't want to do away with spoken language altogether. Words are separation. Words divide. That is the work they do. I know this because I've felt it happen: whenever I open my mouth and speak, and prove by my parlous accent and toddler's vocabulary that I don't belong; whenever I make a public, female-gendered statement in a male group. Everything else that we think we use language for we can handle without what the Aleutians call 'formal speeches'. But for the Aleutians not to have this means of separation, this means of stepping out of the natural cycles would have made them less than people. So I invented a special class of Aleutians, the 'signifiers', who were obligate linguists the way other Aleutians were obligate food-processors or spaceship-builders. Of course they assimilated human articulate languages with dazzling speed. (This is another of the space-fantasy cliches that I think has been unfairly derided. I wouldn't be able to do it. But then, nobody would sign up an obligate monophone such as myself on a trading mission to another planet, would they?)

It also transpired that the aliens did have a kind of no-kidding alien-life-form telepathy for long distance contact: another proliferation of the wanderer system. But that's another story. There was no problem with the mechanics of speech, by the way. I gave them teeth and tongues and larynxes more or less like ours: why not?

I had made the Aleutians into self-conscious intelligences who still manipulated their surroundings the way bacteria do it; or the even simpler entities manufacturing and communicating inside our cells. In their use of all forms of language I elaborated on this conservatism. They were beings who had reached self-consciousness, and spoken language, without abandoning any of the chronological precursor communication media. All life on earth uses chemical communication; then comes gesture, and vocalization comes last. Humans have traded all the rest for words -so that we have to rediscover the meaning of our own gestures, and the likely effect of the hormone laden scent-cells we shed, from self-help books full of printed text. To the Aleutians, by the way, this lack of control gives the impression that all humans have Tourette's Syndrome: we're continually babbling obscenities, shouting out tactless remarks, giving away secrets in the common tongue. I pictured my Aleutians like a troop of humanly intelligent baboons, gossiping with each other silently and perfectly efficiently, having subtle and complex chemical interactions: and just occasionally feeling the need to vocalise; a threat or boast or warning, a yell of ' look at me!' It only occurred to me later that I'd made the Aleutians very like feminist women in this: creatures dead set on having it all, determined to be self-aware and articulate public people, without giving up their place in the natural world.

But inevitably, insidiously the 'signifier' characters, the aliens with the speaking parts, became an elite. I had already realised that I had to 'translate' the wordless dialogue of Aleutian silent language into words on the page. In this I was up against one of the walls of make-believe. Science fiction is full of these necessary absurdities: I accepted it with good grace, the same way as I'd accepted the human body-plan; and used some funny direct speech marks to show the difference, which the copy-editor didn't like. But now I felt that the male-gendered mechanist-gadget world was sneaking back into power, with historical inevitability in its train, in the Trojan Horse of articulate language. I did everything I could to correct this. I began to point out the similarities between the Aleutian silent language, and our spoken word as it is used most of the time by most humans. I found myself listening to human conversations and noticing the gaps: the unfinished sentences, the misplaced words, the really startling high ratio of noise to signal. I realised that most of our use of language fulfils the same function as the grooming, the nuzzling, the skin to skin chemical exchange that other life-forms share, but which with us has become taboo except in privileged intimate relations. I further realised that everything humans 'say' to each other, either in meaningful statements or in this constant dilute muttering of contact, is backed, just like Aleutian communication, by a vast reservoir of cultural and evolutionary experience. We too have our 'soup of shared presence', out of which genuinely novel and separate formal announcements arise rarely -to be greeted, more often than not, with wariness and contempt.

Re-inventing the wheel is a commonplace hazard in science fiction. It makes a change to find one has re-invented post-structuralist psychology. I recognised, some time after the event, that in the Silence of Aleutia I had invented the unconscious in the version proposed by Lacan, the unspoken plenum of experience that is implicit in all human discourse. Then I understood that my 'signifiers' represented not a ruling caste but the public face of Aleutia; and the Silent represented all those people who don't want to 'speak out', who 'just want to get on with their lives': the group to which most of us belong, most of the time. In Aleutia, as in human life, the 'signifiers' may be prominent figures. But who is really in charge? The intelligentsia, or the silent majority? Which is the puppeteer? The fugitive, marginal latecomer, consciousness? Or the complex, clever, perfectly competent wordless animal within?

Convergent Evolution

It's now several years since I started writing about the Aleutians, and nearly a decade since I first outlined the project... on a beach in Thailand, one warm summer night in 1988. A lot of history has happened in that time, and much of it somehow affected the story. The 1989 revolutions in Europe made a great difference to White Queen. The war in the former Yugoslavia had a grim influence on the second episode, North Wind. The nature of the enduring low-intensity conflict in Northern Ireland had something to do with what happens between human men and women in all three books. The third installment, Phoenix Cafe, is bound to have a fin de siecle feel. I've read and shakily assimilated lots of popular science, and science itself has become more popular, so that concerns which were completely science-fictional and obscure when I began are now topics of general interest; and that's made a difference too. Even the battle of the sexes has changed ground, both in my mind and in the real world. I'm not sure how much, if any, of my original plan survived. But this is okay. I intended to let the books change over time. I wanted things that happened at first contact to appear later as legends that couldn't possibly be true. I wanted concerns that were vitally important in one book to have become totally irrelevant in the next. I wanted phlogiston and cold fusion in my science, failed revolutions and forgotten dreams in my politics. I thought that discontinuity would be more true to life than a three hundred years' chunk of soap-opera, (or so, it's difficult to say exactly how much time has passed, when the master race finds measurement boring) that ends with everybody still behaving the same as they did in episode one. It's true to the historical model too. I don't think anyone would deny that the European Empire builders had lost the plot, sometime before that stroke of midnight in 1947, climactic moment in the great disengagement.

My son Gabriel tells me stories. Not surprisingly, given his environment, he tends to tell me science fiction stories. I'm delighted when he comes up with some motif or scenario that I recognise as a new variation on a familiar theme: and he's furious (like some adult storytellers I could mention) when I point out to him he's doing something that's been done countless times before. Always, already, what we say has been said before. A while ago he came up with an adventure where the characters kept being swept away into the Fourth Dimension, an experience that transformed them, partially and then permanently if they stayed too long, into horrible gargoyles. That was where I found the title of my paper. Sadly, I can't fault his argument. There's no getting away from it, the Fourth Dimension makes monsters of us all. My Aleutians, though, have managed to change the process around. There's a sense in which aliens can represent not just other people, but some future other people; some unexplored possibility for the human race. Maybe my Aleutians fit that description. It has been a surprise even to me, to see how human they have become, how much I've found myself writing about the human predicament, about the mysteries of self and consciousness. But that's the way it has to be, unless or until the great silence out there is broken. Until we meet.

 

This paper was read at a conference run by the Science Fiction Foundation, in Liverpool UK July 1996. It will appear in a collection of essays: Deconstructing the Starships, to be published by the Liverpool University Press, 1999