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Some things we know about aliens.


The alien is one of SF's core motifs, often discussed as the Other of the Human. One might think, then, that the very idea would allow SF artists limitless creativity, with an opportunity to imagine anything at all that is 'not human'. However, at least since the publication of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, the question is continually raised: is it truly possible to imagine the not-human, or does anthropomorphism subtly shape every attempt to escape the human image? SF has been the niche of culture where philosophical questions about the alien, and the possibility of escaping anthropocentrism, have been explored most thoroughly. An examination of its vast literature reveals that this supposedly freely imagined strangeness of most aliens is modelled on terrestrial beings whose marginalized status is a cause of deep anxiety about rights and claims regarding property, animals, machines, women, children, and non-Western peoples.


The New and the Other

Science fiction is the genre of art, and the mode of awareness, that sees things in terms of the New and the Other. Neither of these concepts--these mega-meta-super-hyper-chronotopes--is unique to SF. The New is at the heart of every modernist text; the Other is the motive for every adventure tale. But the modernist New is always locked in struggles with the past, and the Other in adventure fiction is defined by the familiar. In SF they are free to determine the universe with each other. SF's great trope of the new is the Future; of the other, the Alien.

The Slime Molds of Garrota

SF aliens are descended from the prodigies of early adventure stories (Pliny's mouthless Astomoi, dog-headed Kynokephaloi, sirens, Cyclopes, Amazons), and from the spirit-agents of mythology (angels, demons, avatars, fairies, magical animals). Aliens become distinct from them as soon as their existence is derived from science. Aliens do not come into being by fiat. They are material, just as human animals are, created by evolutionary processes in determinate environments. (1) They are conscious. They have goals. They have limits. And for the most part they are aware of these conditions--just as we are. They intersect with human beings at the point of technoscience, where they are discovered in our own explorations, or they happen on us through theirs. Aliens are our shadows, and we are theirs.

[...] the intelligent slime molds of Garrota considered human beings with all their technology not as phenomena in the real world, but as a figment of their own unimaginable imaginations [...] (2)

A Surplus of Strangers

As science-fictional creatures made possible by technoscience, aliens are particularly important for Anglo-Saxon culture. I know of no language other than English that has dedicated a word for them. The usual interlingual term is some form of 'extraterrestrial'--extraterrestre, ausserirdisch, Isei-jin. But those are too impersonal to cover this class of beings. The paradox of 'alien' is that it designates a creature at the line of the near (the house of the 'uncanny') and the distant (the space of the 'xenopsychozoic')--far enough away to warrant an untranslated Latin word, but near enough to leave it untouched by the inflexions of science. A foray into the OED reveals that 'alien' was already in use in the fourteenth century as a noun for 'a person belonging to another family, race, or nation', 'one who is subject to another country than that in which he resides. A resident foreign in origin and not naturalized, whose allegiance is thus due to a foreign state'. It began as a legal term concerned with whether one is certified to belong to a community, or not.

Most languages have distinct terms for 'stranger' and 'foreigner', yet most do not extend either of them to cover creatures from other worlds. Some, like Japanese, borrow the word from English for the purpose (Eirian). The title of Ridley Scott's film is not translated, no matter where it plays. It is Alien even in France. In the US, 'alien' has been closely tied to the concept of 'Alien Enemies' at least since the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798. Thus 'alien' was available to be used to identify a particular class of foreigners, defined by the fact that they could be officially defined. This, of course, guaranteed that they could not be. Since the immigration-control laws of the 1880s directed against the inflow of Chinese labourers, aliens can be legal or illegal, resident or nonresident, desirable or undesirable. They can be welcomed and eventually transformed into citizens, or deported and expelled. The Other can be made legally the same, or placed beyond the pale. Because its status is in flux, it always elicits uncertainty.

Resident Aliens

Old imperial cultures were familiar with the notion of alien residency. Before the advent of the nation state, hegemons usually granted an important place to foreigners living in their lands and contributing to their economies. The Athenians had their metics, who could almost never become citizens and vote, but served in the army, paid taxes, and were protected by the city laws. The Romans had their civitas peregrina, the community of conquered tribes who were permitted a limited membership in the Roman community. The caliphates had their dhimmi, non-Muslim People of the Book who were afforded limited protection by shari'a from persecution and jihad provided they followed strict rules forbidding blasphemy and intermarriage. The adoption of 'alien' to refer to extraterrestrials suggests the imperial confidence of Anglo-Saxon technoscientific culture contemplating its range, evoking Cecil Rhodes's sigh,

The world is nearly all parceled out, and what there is left of it, is being divided up, conquered and colonized. To think of these stars that you see overhead at night, these vast worlds which we can never reach. I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that. It makes me sad to see them so clear and yet so far. (3)

The notion of aliens as outsiders, always incomplete and disadvantaged vis-a-vis the citizens of the state they lived in, underwent a radical destabilization with the early Christians. They, as the second-century Epistle to Diognetus phrases it, are essentially 'resident aliens' (paroikoi) in the fallen world, living in it but refusing to accept its dominion. (4) The alien begins to be a subject.

Weak Equality

Aliens enter the world through the portal of the lack. They may be the conscience of our morally obtuse species, like Voltaire's Micromegas. They may be our species' future, like Wells's Martians, or our unimagined past, like Lovecraft's Old Gods from Outer Space. They may be our reptile brains, our angelic overminds, our inner children, our outer shells. They may be what we oppress and repress. They may arrive only to draw attention to our incompleteness, or they may represent our other halves, our heart's desire, imaginary friends. The energy of the alien comes from human subjects' constant desire for a meaning-giving supplement, some new thing that can be recognized and yet be free of the banality of human social existence. It is a matter of indifference whether they inspire fear or love, just so long as they keep the portals open to the more. They come from the same energies that conjure up angels, demons, and apparitions, but the alien differs from all these because it cannot be certain of its relationship to others. Supernatural agents are called into being; aliens are thrown into it. Whatever powers they may have, they too need to survive--and, consequently, to understand. They may have clear intentions--to occupy the Green World, destroy the human vermin, mate with buxom babes, construct a galactic city--but these are goals born from their own needs, and they have, for better or worse, encountered human beings as they try to fulfil them. No cosmic order or great chain of being positions them in the hierarchy of sentience. In the end, they are driven by themselves. They exist, whether they like it or not, for themselves. However useful they may be for teaching humanity about cosmic humility, the dangers of development, or galactic guevarismo, some part of them is not functional--they exist in themselves. Even though they are only fictions, they enjoy a certain material resistance. They are commensurable with our own resistance to ourselves, precisely in their incommensurability.

Aliens surprise us. They invade from Mars without warning. They secretly abduct our parents and neighbours. They leave behind tools of inconceivable power. In their turn, they cannot be sure what to expect from us. We invoke them to supplement our lacks, but they always arrive exceeding what we need. And vice-versa.

Aliens are novums. (5) They are unexpected stones thrown into the pool of human social existence. They may know a lot about the pool, but, because they are not gods, they know as little about the shores as we do. The gods envied mortals the intensity of their passions. But they made us that way, so that when they descended to earth, it was to enjoy their creations. Aliens may envy us our water, our orgasms, our diamonds--in any case they arrive as equals. And equals of the weak are equally weak.

Aliens may appear to be gods. Lem's Great Players (in 'The New Cosmogony') communicate with each other by altering the laws of nature. (6) Aliens may even pretend to be gods shaping the course of cosmic evolution. They may appear to be masters of space and time, and demand to be human beings' masters accordingly. But they know they have limits, and suspect that there are others, somewhere, who will challenge or complete them. It is often our bad luck that we stand in their way, as it is theirs.

Sentience Is Not Enough

Aliens are intelligent and at least somewhat self-aware. Sentience is not enough. Extraterrestrial flora and fauna are sometimes called aliens--Dune's sandworms, for example--but this is loose usage. However, since one of SF's jobs is to problematize the order of things, it is not uncommon to find xenomorphs that combine bestial and highly evolved traits. Van Vogt is ambiguous about whether The Voyage of the Space Beagle's vibration-controlling tentacled panther Coeurl, and the telepathic bird-people the Riim are truly capable of conscious self-reflection. (7) The alien cat appears equal to human technology since it can pilot a spaceship, but its inner monologue hints that these abilities are instinctual. Coeurl's supposedly plagiarized descendant, the Xenomorph of the Alien films, is an even more intriguing example. (8) It begins its career as a monstrous animal chimera--reptile-insect-crustacean-arachnid--mechanically restless, driven by a tropistic need to reproduce and kill. Given the right human host, it turns out, the Xenomorph is willing to partner it instead of consuming it. In the trajectory of the Alien series, as the first film's classical monster-gothic evolved into a more complex cyborg fable, so the monster evolved from a quasi-mechanical package of irresistible instincts into a conscious being with a mental life, capable of communicating--and communing--with human partners.

Parallel Singularities

Aliens are necessary because the human species is alone. The lack that creates them is an Other to whom we can compare ourselves. Many fundamental qualities of spirit/mind appear to exist only in us, so we have nothing to measure them with, to allow us to see our limits, our contours, our connections. Abstract intelligence, language, reason, technology, political organization, geocidal violence, all the things that supposedly define Homo (sapiens, habilis, faber, politicus, ludens), are singularities de facto. The alien is the fictive event horizon of a parallel singularity from which we may derive what we are.

Balance is required. An image too similar to the known only projects our axioms; one too unfamiliar, our questions.

The second volume of Hughes and Eugel [...] began with a systematization that was as ingenious as it was amusing. The table of classification comprised three definitions: Type: Polythera; Class: Syncytialia; Category: Metamorph. [...] It might have been thought that we knew of an infinite number of examples of the species, whereas in reality there was only the one [...]

Multicolored illustrations, picturesque graphs, analytical summaries and spectral diagrams flickered through my fingers, explaining the type and rhythm of the fundamental transformations as well as the chemical reactions. Rapidly, infallibly, the thick tome led the reader on to the solid ground of mathematical certitude. One might have assumed that we knew everything there was to be known about this representative of the category Metamorph. [...] Compared with the proliferation of speculative ideas that were triggered off by this problem, medieval scholasticism seemed a model of scientific enlightenment. (9)


Aliens are produced by material evolution. Their differences from human beings cannot (so say the rules of the science-fictional imagination) be heteronomic; they cannot have been formed by forces and rules different from physical forces and their sublimations in material culture. They may evolve from different elements and base molecules, emerging from radically different environments. And since SF is an art of playful rationalization, not a strict conveyor of scientific common knowledge, any evolutionary dynamic between environment and organism is in play as long as it is fittingly explained, on a spectrum from models based on the facts that terrestrial scientists consider to be true (10) to icons from the sci-fi-anima mundi. (11) Even with this wide latitude, aliens are ontologically bound to be extraterrestrials; their home is not the Earth.

If they are not explicitly identified as alien settlers, non-human intelligences that have lived invisibly alongside human beings, inhabiting secret plateaus or living underground in the hollow earth, and like the Lemurians and Atlanteans sometimes even evolving before us, are not aliens. Such subterranean or submarine 'sophonts' turn out without exception to be our Old Ones--ancestors of the human species. (12)

The Weight We Share

The transformation of monsters and supernatural beings into aliens is a response to the heavy weight of acknowledging the fundamental material nature of human beings. Despite their apparently excessive physicality, archaic monsters are actually cultural others. They are essentially humanoid beings who have not evolved sufficiently from 'nature' (the nature of the ancients that we call culture). Monsters are incomplete, and their physical distortions are manifestations of their conceptual wildness. Daemons, at the other end of the spectrum, are moral beings whose existence serves to define humans' spiritual-ideal essence. Aliens may be more deeply enmeshed in nature than human beings (the Xenomorph and Coeurl appear not to have much of anything we would call culture), or they may be mentally and morally more 'evolved' (as Klaatu of The Day the Earth Stood Still is both physically and morally superior to humanity). (13) But these things do not alter the fact that aliens can neither free themselves from nature the way a supernatural being can, nor from material culture as can a monster. Aliens need energy, means of sustenance and survival, space, and knowledge--they cannot have self-awareness without these things.

What It Is Like to Be X

In his essay 'What Is It Like to Be a Bat?' Thomas Nagel posed the problem of imagining alien minds: how can we imagine the experiential viewpoint of a being whose entire sensory apparatus, mode of representing the world for itself, and inhabiting it, are radically different from the human? Nagel chose a bat: 'Even without the benefit of philosophical reflection, anyone who has spent some time in an enclosed space with an excited bat knows what it is like to encounter a fundamentally alien form of life.' (14) Attempts to understand a bat--that is, to conceive what it is like for the creature to be that creature--are stymied at the outset, in Nagel's view, because we are confined by the limits of our own subjectivity, the exact parameters of what it feels like to be human beings. We might be able to describe the bat's behaviours and neurophysiology, but those are our categories. The bat's 'categories' remain opaque for us. Even if I could by gradual degrees be transformed into a bat, nothing in my present constitution enables me to imagine what the experiences of such a future stage of myself thus metamorphosed would be like. The best evidence would come from the experience of bats, if we only knew what they were like. (15)

Nagel is less interested in the existential predicament of bats than of human beings, of course; it is we, after all, who are caught in the bind of knowing that we cannot truly imagine being anything other than ourselves, and hence that we cannot know ourselves by comparison with some other form of mind that is both significantly similar and different:

in contemplating the bats we are essentially in the same position that intelligent bats or Martians [Nagel's footnote: 'Any intelligent extraterrestrial beings totally different from us.'] would occupy if they tried to form a conception of what it is like to be us. (16)

I am sure that most readers come to Nagel's essay actually hoping to get a feeling of what being a bat is like, and are disappointed at being told they cannot have it. Nagel's title, after all, invites the imagination, not analysis. Kathleen Akins, in a tour de force response entitled 'What Is It Like to Be Boring and Myopic?' (it is about bats, not philosophers), addresses Nagel's implicit claim that scientific description can tell us nothing about the subjective experience of batness. She details elaborately what we know from science about different bat species' cortical chemistry, flight behaviours, and sonar acoustics, and what can be legitimately inferred from it about the bat's mental processes. Akins delivers a great deal of exciting 'objective' information about bats; for example, because of their speed of flight, angles of approach, myopia, and the nature of acoustic information processing, it is reasonable to assume that bats do not have much of a memory and sense of duration. Although at first Akins appears to give us more of a vicarious experience of bat flight than Nagel does, it is, in the end, a sleight of hand: imagine what it is like to be moving very fast in the dark with no sense of time passing or the independent existence of objects. What does it feel like? In fact, Akins establishes that it is possible that bats may not represent an object-world for themselves at all, since acoustic perception is not conducive to mental modelling. 'Hence it seems possible that the bat may not have a point of view at all.' (17) The scientific analysis of the objective physical and chemical properties of the material world indicate that bats may not have 'inner worlds', which in some circles means no minds. With Akins we might ask whether Nagel has not made an assumption that he himself considers illegitimate--that bats are sufficiently like us for the concept of subjecthood or mindedness to be relevant for them?

Since Nagel wrote his essay in dialogue with philosophers who were striving for as explicit and precise an explanation of mental states as possible, he bracketed out the question of how making imaginative, symbolic sense of something outside our experience actually might work. In a footnote, however, he opened the door:

We may imagine something by representing it to ourselves either perceptually, sympathetically, or symbolically. I shall not try to say how symbolic imagination works, but part of what happens in the other cases is this. To imagine something perceptually, we put ourselves in a conscious state resembling the conscious state we would be in if we perceived it. To imagine something sympathetically, we put ourselves in a conscious state resembling the thing itself. (This method can be used only to imagine mental events and states--our own or another's.) (18)

Nagel presumably does not look at symbolic imagining because it cannot hope to lead to explicit statements--implication is its condition of possibility. But when imagining unfamiliar things, is it possible not to lend them a structure and design, through analogies with known structures? And shouldn't this apply also to our self-representations, as soon as we try to imagine what they would look like from outside, explicitly? Daniel Dennett believes our sense of identity is a product of our capacity for language, specifically for narrative. We can experience ourselves as experiencing subjects because we construct narratives of this state, narratives selected for their putative aptness to our situations from innumerable story fragments we are continually telling ourselves. (19) For SF, this problematic of language is not a problem, but a medium.

This helps us understand why bats are not aliens. It also leads straight to the Solaris Problem. Where Akins is able to convey a smidgeon of understanding of the bat's mind/non-mind by meticulously describing what she knows about sonar and mammalian brains, Lem set out to imagine a creature whose mental state cannot be inferred by observing its behaviour, because the information is so unfamiliar or contradictory to normal human perceptions and sympathies that it perpetually generates new ideas, that is, new structures. Akins's findings are privative. If her scientific observations are true, then Nagel's question can be unasked. And because bats now do not trouble our own identity, they do not make us feel troubled about bracketing out their minds. The Solarists, on the other hand, have to account for a being that calls into question every aspect of scientific problem solving, from the decision of what constitutes data to their own ulterior motives for seeking answers. The Solarists have, in effect, to kick their observations up to the symbolic level simply to have models to work with. They cannot avoid thinking of the planet Solaris as 'sentient', because it continually throws their own images back at them--and not the ones they wish to have of themselves. Even if they do not know how it works physically, because the planet manifests their minds, they cannot help but infer that it has something like consciousness of its own. (In The Invincible, Lem closes the loophole by making sure there is no plausible alternative to the hypothesis that the alien cyberflies only behave as if they had a mind.)

All aliens are more or less philosophically consistent fictions. In fiction, the perceptual and sympathetic imagination is organized in the symbolic design. No matter how hard the writer strives to capture the strangeness of the alien, the fiction's linguistic-symbolic imagination will give it a form. The alien cannot be completely different, because it is different in significant ways. The alien is fated to signify. It must have a mind, because if it does not, neither do we.

The Species that Is Not One

In Desire, Deceit and the Novel Rene Girard calls the basic operations of romance that dominate the modern novel 'triangulation'. It works like this. The triangulating subject desires an object not directly, but through the mediation of another, whose behaviour and imputed desires become the model for how and what one should desire. In its basic form it appears in Don Quixote as chivalric passion, the desire that the Don borrows from Amadis the Gaul, and which Sancho borrows from the Don. 'Don Quixote and Sancho borrow their desires from the Other in a movement which is so fundamental that they completely confuse it with the will to be Oneself.' (20)

Triangulated desire develops from external to internal mediation. In external mediation 'the distance is sufficient to eliminate any contact between the two spheres of possibilities of which the mediator and the subject occupy the respective centres; in internal mediation 'this same distance is sufficiently reduced to allow these two spheres to penetrate each other more or less profoundly'. (21) With external mediation, the subject views the mediator's desire as its own deepest wish. One must learn from the higher, the greater, the better how one must love. The external mediator teaches, impresses, saves, and from it we learn to transcend our limitations. From the external one we receive gifts of self.

Internal mediation, by contrast, is riven, simultaneously revealing desire and obstructing its attainment. The internal mediator becomes the unbeatable competitor, with a perpetually irreducible advantage. It is always already better, higher, more complete, the assumed possessor of what we lack.

The impulse toward the object is ultimately an impulse toward the mediator; in internal mediation this impulse is checked by the mediator himself since he desires, or perhaps possesses, the object. Fascinated by his model, the disciple sees, in the mechanical obstacle which he puts in his way, proof of the ill will borne him. Far from declaring himself a faithful vassal, he thinks only of repudiating the bonds of mediation. But these bonds are stronger than ever, for the mediator's apparent hostility does not diminish his prestige but instead augments it. The subject is convinced that the model considers himself too superior to accept him as a disciple. The subject is torn between two opposing feelings toward his model--the most submissive reverence and the most intense malice. This is the passion we call hatred. (22)

Girard's categories explain the prominence of envy, jealousy, and ennui as driving forces in the modern novel. As long as they pertain only to human beings in their social relations, these are merely the vices of a species that wants to increase its comfort, security, and efficacy in this world. They gain a different force when they pertain not to social differences, but to the gap between human mortality and the consciousness of it, a consciousness inextricable from the desire not to be extinguished. As long as the external mediation of religion is widely affirmed, the gap between desire and death can be bridged, and death can be imagined as a means to completeness. But once the external gives way to internal mediation, the promise of transcendence fades, leaving the subject suffering with the sense that it is trapped in its awareness of personal death. This is the essence of Dostoevskian triangulation that Girard calls 'metaphysical desire'. No longer able to believe in divine mediation, Dostoevsky's protagonists fall back on human mediators, in whom they cannot believe without augmenting their suffering. In any case, both the divine and human mediators appear as immovable obstacles to the very thing they reveal. Despair increases with awareness, leading to the masochism and sadism so typical of Dostoevsky's characters.

When the desiring subject perceives the abyss that has hollowed out beneath his feet, he voluntarily hurls himself into it, hoping against hope to discover in it what the less acute stages of metaphysical sickness have not brought him. [...]

The sadist in this model is, just like the masochist, a victim of metaphysical desire, but the sadist attempts to overcome the obstacle by identifying with it, imitating its power to cause suffering and shame, all the while 'never ceasing to identify with the victim, that is, persecuted innocence'. (23)

The less able the subject is to merge with the mediator, the more it is aware of its own inadequacy and the dominance of the other, and the more it focuses on its own abjection instead of its unachievable desire. The mediator now becomes not the mentor of desire, but the agent of horror, terror, and pain.

Aliens are culturally sanctioned mediators for our technoscientific romance. Whether they are rationalized angels, Men in Black, or careless travellers, they impinge on human existence and incite our longing either to be better than we are, or at least not worse. Because they appear on our level, they can never be fully accommodated. Their greatest gifts always inspire suspicion. Because they are free agents with their own interests, they can never be entirely for us. They may give us their world-transforming technologies, but, like the Sp'thra of Ian Watson's The Embedding (1973), they may exact living brains in exchange. They may take us to the stars, but their sublime power will, as in the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, draw our police cars over fatal precipices. They may reintegrate our collapsed families (My Stepmother is an Alien, 1989), or construct better ones for us (Cocoon, 1985); but we can never shake our suspicion that they are the wedge of the destruction of our affections (I Married a Monster from Outer Space, 1958). The ardour of their love may never be far from their power to turn Earth, as Klaatu informs us, 'into a burned out cinder'. Aliens may inspire us to imagine technologies of immortality, plenitude, social concord, and enlightenment, but in inspiring us they make us aware that we are not enough. We will never be enough, and we will henceforth always know it, and grow to hate our human coil for it.

The alien transposes the problems of the triangulation of desire from the social sphere to the ontological. The alien reveals human beings to be a single species. If it reveals sexual, racial, and other differences within that species, these are not accidental differences, but constitutive. We are a Species that Is Not One. The alien emerges precisely when the metaphysical sickness described in Dostoevsky is shown to be incurable. Renouncing 'misdirected transcendancy' is not an option; the renunciation has no power against the gynocide, genocide, and general biocide that species-level metaphysical sickness incites.

Models of Others

Traditionally, SF's aliens have been modelled on certain practical categories of otherness that fascinate the regulators of culture: children, women, machines, marginalized peoples, animals, and 'anomalous genders'. It is a rare alien that does not combine displaced aspects from several of these categories, and SF writers usually try to construct beings that combine them in original ways.

Childlike aliens, from the evil blond usurpers of Village of the Damned (the 1960 adaptation of John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos) to the cute glowing doughboys of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, displace human children's amorality, playfulness, and quick apprehension, and their capacity to see the world with wonder.

Alien women, from gender warriors in Mack Reynolds's Amazon Planet (1975), monstrous sirens like C. L. Moore's Shambleau (in the 1933 story of that name), all the way to the cosmic embodiment of female seduction in James Tiptree, Jr.'s 1975 story 'A Momentary Taste of Being', evoke resistance to the naturalness of patriarchy, and the supposed nearly supernatural irresistibility of female sexuality for phallic power. But now maleness too is easily displaced into alienness. Over and above the civilizational bullying characteristic of patriarchy (which SF usually projects on to non-Western primitives like Klingons--the humanoid race in Star Trek--or space Nazis like the Peacekeepers in the TV series Farscape), there is the grotesque and inexorable peculiarity of the phallus/penis, which may act as an alien appendage even to its worshippers, like the invading tentacular rape-monsters of Japanese hentai (erotic animation).

Animals are by far the most frequent models for alien forms and behaviour. Consider the multitude of insects and hive beings--the Hive of Bruce Sterling's 'Cicada Queen' stories, the Bugs of Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers; telepathic dogpacks and Aprahanti 'butterflies in jackboots' in Vernor Vinge's A Fire upon the Deep (1992); the quasi-primates of Michael Bishop's 'Death and Designation Among the Asadi'; Larry Niven's feline Kzin; saurians (James Blish's Lithians, the Scarrans of Farside, the Voth of Star Trek, the Strugatsky brothers' Tagorans); Farscape's Leviathans; Ursula Le Guin's sea-turtles from outer space; Philip K. Dick's Ganymedian slime-mold Lord Running Clam; Octavia Butler's gigantic tentacled Oankali slugs; Hal Clement's Mesklinite centipedes; the ichthyoids, arachnoids, nautiloids, and echinoderms of Star Maker; the sublime jellyfish of The Abyss. I imagine any animal form known to exist on Earth will eventually become an entry in SF's xenomorphological catalogue. (We should note here the smaller related class of aliens modelled on plants--such as Olaf Stapledon's Plant Men, the Delvians of Farscape, and the archetypal pod invaders of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.)

Technically, aliens cannot themselves be machines, unless they were constructed according to principles that are unfamiliar to human engineers. Since we construct our machines to augment our power, we do not usually devise systems that do not aid us in achieving our goals (Rube Goldberg devices notwithstanding). Even an auto-constructing machine system like the Singularity--the coming-to-consciousness of the world's interlinked artificial intelligence systems predicted for the near future--cannot help but extend immanent human ideas about problem solving and labour, albeit with speed and complexity beyond human comprehension and control. (24) The Singularity may well act like an alien--and that may be enough for it to be treated as one. But in some sense it still retains its genetic filiation with human concepts (the underlying existential predicament of Battlestar Galactica's Cylons). Machines at that level of complexity and de facto self-governance can be models for alien systems: either for self-aware Singularity-like machine systems created by aliens, which may reflect immanent characteristics of their alien creators, such as Gregory Benford's Mechs and Linda Nagata's Chenzeme spaceships; or they may be artificial-life forms that have evolved on their own into autonomous mental agents, like the 'cyberflies' of Lem's The Invincible--tiny, individually inert cybernetic cells that form into quasi-intelligent systems with unitary goals, the result of a 'necrevolutionary' struggle with more complex servo-systems. (25)

Marginalized cultures are the favoured models for humanoid aliens embedded in societies, a continuation of imperial adventure fiction's tradition of orientalizing the unassimilable cultures of empire. The openly racist practice of earlier SF, in which Ming the Merciless threatened Flash Gordon's Aryan Earth, and the zombies of Invaders from Mars (1953) were controlled by the tentacled head of a beturbanned midget, has gradually been replaced by more socially acceptable forms, such as Star Trek's Ferengian crypto-Jewish schefters and the Zulu-Samurai Klingons. This science-fictionalizing orientalization has gone in the other direction as well, as in Le Guin's idealized Atshean hilfs of The Word for World Is Forest (1972/76), sentimentalized eco-creatures facing imperial genocide.

Aliens are by definition queers. Since they appear almost exclusively from the normative point of view of the heroes of technoscientific adventure, their difference is excessive and non-functional by default. The sexual dimension of this queerness has, until recently, been concealed in motifs of shape-changing, infiltration, and secret conversion to selfish pleasure. The terrifying alien invader of John Campbell's 1938 story 'Who Goes There?' conflates political and sexual threat with an alien shape-shifter's almost insurmountable advantage of being able to pass for a 'real' (hu)man in a confined male society. (26) As attitudes changed in the late 1960s, the alien's shifting body became a theatre where resistance to sexual norms was performed. Ziggy Stardust and The Man Who Fell to Earth became models of polysexuality in pop culture. Although the motif of displaced sexual predation and conversion continues to be expressed, the trajectory of the Alien films is more typical. What began as a particularly grotesque form of polymorphous sexual murder in the first film moved gradually and inexorably towards Alien Resurrection's consummately queer conflation of lesbianism and motherhood in the form of the dignified goth badass, Alien Ripley.

Occasionally, highly original aliens appear to be based on scientific theory rather than terrestrial beings, such as the intelligent peripatetic nebula of Fred Hoyle's The Black Cloud (1957), Stephen Baxter's Qax (which is embodied as turbulent energy flow) and photino birds (tiny congeries of dark matter), not to mention Solaris's telepathic planetary cyctoplasma and Olaf Stapledon's Martian cluster-mind. (27) But even these reveal their terrestrial origins as soon as their purposes are divined. We know that bodies come in many forms; we are much less sure of minds.

Most aliens combine aspects of several different models. Among the richest pastiches are the Aleutians of Gwyneth Jones's White Queen. They appear baboon-like, with highly evolved communal grooming habits. Although they are not sexually differentiated, since they reproduce through a mysterious form of parthenogenesis (and so resemble von Neumann machines and amphibians), they do enjoy quasi-sexual contact, and their hermaphroditic genitalia play a pivotal role in the Aleutian trilogy. (28) They are emphatically linked to non-Western people, in that they are essentially 'obligate' Hindus or Lamaist Buddhists: their genes are physically reincarnated and consequently they live in an unchanging system of social roles, as if certain Hindu-Buddhist beliefs were materially embodied. They are childlike in many ways, most importantly in carelessness about death (since their personalities are 'immortal'), a condition that encourages playfulness in some, emotional abandon in others, and a general lack of concern for consequences and long-range planning.

In the Image

In his essay 'The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man' (1876; published 1896) Engels argued that it was the activity of labour that produced Homo sapiens's distinctive facultative organs: the hand, the voice, and the brain. Although he granted that each organ developed independently via Darwin's law of correlative growth, he also implied that the process was sequential. The brain evolved by processing the complex ideas generated by social speech and the focused attention of the senses; speech evolved from the need for communication; and the hand itself from hominids' erect posture, owing to which 'the hand had become free' (italics in original). (29) (Inexplicably, Engels neglected to give proper evolutionary credit to the buttock-base, without whose noble strength the hand would never have become free.) In Soviet Marxism-Leninism this hypothesis became the dogma of anthropomorphism: self-aware intelligence must be the result of the body that derives from labour, and this must necessarily take human form. Ergo, no non-humanoid intelligent beings can possibly exist in the universe. Under Stalin it was politically dangerous for Soviet artists to imagine aliens except as humanoids. Even the Strugatskys upheld the rule in their early works, breaking out only with the intelligent reptiles of Tagora in Escape Attempt (1962). (30)

Western SF has faced no such taboos, and in literary SF alien morphology has been extraordinarily diverse. Even so, these forms tend to drift back towards the humanoid, especially in popular visual SF. The vast majority of film and television aliens are humanoid bipeds with grotesque facial bumps, adaptations that keep the estrangement to a minimum and stay within cheap budgets. An easy justification for this creative banality is the doctrine of panspermia, according to which all sophonts in the universe originate from the same seeds. These may be the result of undirected evolution (as in Hoyle and Wickramasinghe's 'crucible of space' theory), (31) or directed development, as in the Hainish experiments in Le Guin's novels. In such anthropomorphic images of the alien, difference becomes associated primarily with the superficial characteristics that distinguish most racial prejudices. The slight physical differences become markers for deeper biological ones, without screening out similarity of mind. It is not rare for human and humanoid aliens to have sex and mate--and to feel the same anxieties about violence and self-loss in the other as in human sexual affairs. Alien-human or mixed alien partnering is a frequent background motif in every national tradition of SF--from Alexey Tolstoy's Aelita (1923) to Eleanor Arnason's queering of the tradition in Ring of Swords (1993). The humanoid alien therefore projects a formidable and generally taboo biological difference on to a being whose difference is actually cultural--in other words, it seeks to establish a natural barrier where there is none. And to deny barriers of mind.

Unless they intend the alien to represent exactly this process, most artistically ambitious SF artists strive to imagine truly extra-ordinary beings. This almost always begins with privatives: aliens are not like what we recognize, because what we recognize is not alien. After this, familiar attributes can be re-mediated, appearing in radically new physical and symbolic contexts. It begins with the dislocation of familiar prejudices. Clarke plays the broad, obvious joke of making his Overlords appear in the form of devils, to rib the hysteria of primitive Christians. Octavia Butler's powerful galactic gene-traders, the Oankali, appear in the same vein:

Some of the 'hair' writhed independently, a nest of snakes startled, driven in all directions. [...] The tentacles were elastic. At her shout, some of them lengthened, stretching toward her. She imagined big, slowly writhing, dying night crawlers stretched along the sidewalk after a rain. She imagined small, tentacled sea slugs--nudibranchs--grown impossibly to human size and shape, and, obscenely, sounding more like a human being than some humans. (32)


The alien mediator has in the past appeared primarily in two crudely oppositional forms: the Abject Threat and the Beautiful Benefactor. Each is based on familiar social-historical experiences, which are first extracted from the complexity of human triangulation, reshaped according to relatively simple rules of inversion, recombination, and selective exaggeration, and then brought into an equal confrontation. This may produce only a feeling of equality, but without it the alien is not doing its job. So, paradoxically, the already othered and subjugated minds of human history must be supplied with a useful subjectivity--they must be subjected, with the full force of the pregnant pun: given an autonomy so that their subjugation to human interests will give the human subject meaning. The act is risky. Although it may help consolidate species fellow-feeling against an alien competitor, it also makes the repressed available for examination: the other externalized with respect to the otherer.

Ugly Jewnigger Queersluts from Mars R Us

Desperate teachers have been striking in Paris' heavily alienated suburbs. In their beleaguered classes, alien violence has reached new heights since the Brown and Black riots of November 2005. [...] On average, since November 2005, 9 attacks of teachers by alien invaders have been occurring in France every day--every day! [...] In another college, in Bagnolet (Seine-Saint-Denis), all teachers stopped working for weeks after one of them (a woman) was brutally beaten by savage alien kids. [...] Because they may not complain about the fact itself--the alien invasion destroying France--since it is forbidden by Jewish-instigated laws, the striking French teachers have been claiming more resources, like security guards and policemen, in the hope of keeping alien guerillas in check. (33)

Racist psychology has to wrestle with the resemblance of the despised other to the idealized self. It is hardly a new phenomenon. In the Hindu Ramayana the Aryans literally demonized an aboriginal population of the south by depicting them as anthropophagic devils, the Rakshasas, led by their nearly omnipotent, ten-headed king Ravana. (34) Sublimated expressions of bad faith, such demonizations depict their own inverted triangulation, projecting their own aggression on to the aliens, and appropriating their enemies' virtues to themselves. Ravana and his subjects pursue the classical tasks of hostile SF invaders: they abduct and 'turn' virtuous human women, they reproduce their race by pollution and miscegenation, they usurp the resources, and they exterminate the rightful owners of the land. The fact that these fantasies all reflect the hegemons' own acts of conquest appears to be walled-off in the racist mind. But the firewall is never complete. A most intriguing aspect of Ravana's character is that he can appear as a glorious godlike being, as well as a blood-curdling monster; he is a benevolent ruler of his own people as well as a genocide; and he is capable of nobility no less than his human adversary. Ravana is able to shift shape between regal dignity (within his own community) and world-destroying evil (in his external relations). He is ambiguity and ambivalence incarnate. To combat him the universe requires unambiguous, heroic beauty, and delivers it in the form of Rama, the perfect human.

As long as imperialists enjoy technoscientific advantages over their subjects, abjection is usually a simple matter of bestialization. Aliens produced in this way are disturbing because the recognition that we share qualities with them, as Conrad's Marlow recognizes the humanity of his African crew, has moral consequences only for the hegemon. Technoscience guarantees that the brutes can be exterminated if the heat gets too high. More fraught is the despicable adversary who can actually mount a challenge, especially a technological one. At one extreme, the Xenomorph of Alien, although it lacks technology, embodies it. It is so adaptable, invulnerable, aggressive, and relentless that human beings lose the advantage of their machinery, which is pretty much all they have in space. Giger's Alien collects all the qualities of the grotesque: the gender chaos of a Queen-centred penis dentata, (35) constant radical metamorphosis, obscene category mixing (acid for blood, slime from metal, male birth, organic machines, etc.). The creature's ugliness appears to have no obvious social/cultural dimension, because it is a relatively simple inversion of the society that also constructed the spaceship Nostromo. It is an image of the abjection of the dominant phallic order, too integral to technoscience to be discerned clearly, targeted, and exterminated. The successive films increasingly code the Xenomorph as feminine or female-identified, but it is unquestionably a phallic motherhood. By Alien Resurrection the Xenomorph has been fatally contaminated with human beings' own self-disgust; both the humanoid Alien Mother and Child are destroyed horribly, leaving behind the Alien Ripley as the container of both species' genetic destructiveness, and grief. (36)

At the other extreme are the ugly invading aliens who possess technology superior to ours. Such creatures draw not on disgust for the primitive, but hysterical fear of the morally depraved but technically advanced other. In the 1996 film Independence Day, a militarist people that had recently pursued the Gulf War with fantastically brutal efficiency against under-armed enemies and unarmed civilians depicts itself as the plucky, technologically disadvantaged victim of an apparently irresistible aerial armada that efficiently blows up its symbolic buildings.

the aliens occupy the symbolic place of the U.S. in its most recent war: a dauntingly powerful invader wreaking incendiary havoc. The movie, however, needs to excuse America's questionable past involvement by correcting history and translating Americans into scrappy go-getters, defeating--well, their evil, culpable selves, on the symbolic historical grid. (37)

The difference between the faceless destruction wrought from above by Coalition aircraft and the colossal alien spacecraft is unnervingly slight. (38) There's no denying the thrill of watching the White House and Empire State Building demolished instantly; and there are more than a few Americans who fervently desire that very thing. In a version of Girard's sadistic-masochistic internal triangulation, the ecstatic spectacle of smart-bombs seems to invite its application at home, a fantastic Air-Ground War of our own, the same thrill that inspired Wells's Martian invasion of the English countryside. (Notably, the self-nuking of Houston, Texas, is not depicted on screen, and no Red State edifices are seen under attack.) The true point of difference is in the physical one between the disgusting, stinking, slimy aliens (coded as Jewish Rastafarians), and the beautiful humans. Independence Day uses the same traditional technique of race-defence against the genetic menace as the Ramayana (and, as Eric S. Mallin points out, The Merchant of Venice). The audience is seduced into identifying with the beautiful heroes, and, in the same move, to accept the uglification of the villains; 'the Beautiful defends its turf or self against the incursions of the Ugly'. (39)

Like Shakespeare's play, the science fiction films allow the audience to misrecognize its own image, willfully and relievedly, insofar as the alien bears no physical likeness to the human. Such a dynamic paradoxically bolsters the racist dynamic, which founds itself on the necessity of dehumanizing its object. (40)

In Independence Day, just like the Ramayana, the humans' successful resistance is the result of an alliance between the heroes and outsiders who have sided with the hegemons, the Vanaras (monkeys) and Rksas (bears) of the Indian epic, and an African-American and a Jew in the film. In this way the nationalist purpose of the epic and the sci-fi movie to depict a mythic national consolidation in the face of a mutually hated enemy is asserted, while keeping alive a 'supplement' of racism internal to it. (41)

Such a reading can partly illuminate the racist impulses and critiques in contemporary science fiction, where the defeat of the space creatures must be managed either by resident aliens (Blacks and Jews) or beautiful fascist warriors with whom we must conflictedly identify, all of whom fight to the death for the defense of the state. (42)

It is the Black and the Jew who manage, through a moment of empathy (one of the stupidest in the history of SF) with the physicality and intellectuality of the alien invaders, to penetrate its defences. The film

presents a single moment of telepathic contact between a captive alien and interrogating earthlings, as if to hint at and scurry away from exactly the possibility that aliens configure: difference is not irremediable, and thus it must be carefully maintained under conditions of surveillance, imprisonment, and imminent torture or death. (43)

The Scary Alien is defeated at a point of contact, where the beautiful heroic self musters a pinch of the pharmakon, just enough of its likeness to the Other to trick or invade it. The Borg is made dysfunctional through Picard's or Janeway's ability to submit to fusion. The original Alien xenomorph is tricked by Ripley's unconscious seduction. The moment of defeat, when the evil invader recognizes what has happened to it, is probably the moment of its own self-recognition. This moment is extremely rare in SF; when it occurs, it usually has sad consequences for human narcissism as well.

They found me through the ansible, followed it and dwelt in my mind. In the agony of my tortured dreams they came to know me, even as I spent my days destroying them; they found my fear of them, and found also that I had no knowledge I was killing them. [...] I am the only one they know, and so they can talk only to me, and through me. We are like you; the thought pressed into his mind. We did not mean to murder, and when we understood, we never came again. We thought we were the only thinking beings in the universe, until we met you, but never did we dream that thought could arise from the lonely animals who cannot dream each other's dreams. How were we to know? We could live with you in peace. Believe us, believe us, believe us. [...]

'I'll carry you,' said Ender, 'I'll go from world to world until I find a time and place where you can come awake in safety. And I'll tell your story to my people, so that perhaps in time they can forgive you, too. The way that you have forgiven me.' (44)

Unearthly Beauty Does Not Save

James Tiptree's Tyrenni live in the air of their planet Tyree, soaring on wind currents. They communicate without sight by sensing and casting life-force fields, which they have developed into a rich language of telepathic emotions and cognition, refined by utopian civility.

Tivonel stretches luxuriously, savoring life. Her strong, graceful jetter's body balances effortlessly on the howling wind-rush, which to her is a peaceful wild meadow. She is thirty miles above the surface of the world of Tyree, which none of her race has ever seen.

Around her corporeal body the aura of her life-energy field flares out unselfconsciously, radiating happiness ...

Tivonel sees [...] two females' mind-fields form in transmission mode, and feels the faint life-signal snap as they merge. (45)

Sublimely beautiful, these alien beings represent freedom from gravity of all kinds. They not only fly, but they live as Olaf Stapledon's tragic Flying Men could not, perpetually in flight. Their perceivable material universe is composed of force-fields and mind-fields. They are literal ecstatics. They communicate their feelings and thoughts directly, but with discipline. They have what we coarse heavy bodies wish we could have. Yet they need us to save their world.

Even sublime aliens cannot get around their mortal limits. Even they need mediation. The Sp'thera of Ian Watson's The Embedding wander the galaxy collecting the brains of sophonts in order to learn the higher language that will let them leave 'Three-Space' and merge again with the Change Speakers, an even more advanced alien species that once introduced them to higher consciousness and the technology for coursing on (material) cosmic vibrations. Everything they have done for twelve thousand years has been in order to return to their beloved mentors, who vanished without warning or message. Their quest is also for knowledge: for why the Change Speakers sought them out in the first place, of why they were needed.

The Change Speakers desired something when they phased with the Sp'thra--what it was we did not understand. They themselves were hurting with love. Our signal trading quest is to cancel the great sense of their sadness, so that we Sp'thra can be left alone again--without that vibration in our minds, imprinted so many centuries ago by their passage. Yes, they branded us! They left a long echo in their wake. It is the eddy in water left standing in a bowl. A retinal image of blinding light. We are haunted by the Change Speakers. By this ghost of love, which is pain. (46)

Gravity's Angels

In the north-west of England, the city of Liverpool boasts two cathedrals that appear to honour alien salvation. The Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King simulates a great flying saucer, complete with an antenna-laden communications bridge above its central altar. Visible across the city from it is the Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ, a massive sandstone neo-Gothic edifice. Above its south portal is an arresting statue by Dame Elizabeth Frink of a hairless verdigris humanoid Christ, sans cross, appearing as if out of empty space with a message of peace. As Christian churches were often built on the foundations of pagan temples, and Muslim mosques were constructed on Hindu holy sites, these cathedrals may occupy power-spots suffused with mana left by landings of godlike engineers.

Established religions have had to take positions on extraterrestrial life. Christianity and Judaism have been the most discomfited, given the unique, historically specific novums embedded in their doctrines (the One Son, the Abrahamic selection); but the omnipotence of God allows monotheists to be ready for anything. Buddhism and Hinduism seem to incorporate extraterrestrial sentience into their multiform universes teeming with ontological variety, while religions centred on natural magic, such as Taoism and Shinto, simply bracket the question out. It is safe to say that for most established religious traditions, the existence of aliens is not a pressing matter.

In an age saturated with technoscience, however, it is not surprising that new religions appear offering salvation mediated by extraterrestrial benefactors in high-tech spaceships. With the Aetherians and Unarians, theosophical spiritualism is mildly mixed and matched with UFO culture; the Ascended Masters who were spirits able to travel easily among spiritual planets in earlier 'discarnations' have been given spacecrafts. For truly new religions like the Raelians, alien mediators are entirely physical. Our customary ontological habits are not interrupted. UFO cults materialize angels and turn the Great Vehicle into a Mothership. The aspirant 'angels' of Heaven's Gate believed they could leave their physical containers through suicide, to reach a great collector-spacecraft whose advent was signalled by Hale-Bopp. The Nation of Islam teaches that the Mother Wheel or Motherplane, an enormous UFO circling the globe, is the original source of humanity to which the faithful will repair at the moment that unleashes apocalyptic destruction on the earth. (47)

Most of the new cults reject Darwin to make space for extraterrestrial creation stories, but often this only moves the problem back a step; who, after all, seeded the first Seeder? At some point, even the physical transcendence stories jump the shark into supernaturalism. Although all of them believe they are participating in a great evolutionary project, it is a spiritual/mental one, very different from the random mutation and selection of orthodox bio-evolution, or the artificial immanence of SF's aliens. SF does make a small place at the margins of the genre for stories of physical aliens who are in fact highly condensed spirits, such as Star Maker's immature creator god, and the de facto etheric beings of Doris Lessing's Shikasta (1979), fated to incarnate to fight off the destructive vibrations of the evil planet Shammat. The great majority of aliens, however, never abandon material existence. The eternal youth and mind-blowing erotic pleasure of Cocoon are in this continuum, and the Xeelee's escape from the universe in Baxter's Ring is to another one. The Presence outside of timespace that appears to Abelard Lindsay at the end of Bruce Sterling's Schismatrix (1985) promises to take him away from his physical contingency, beyond the 'Fifth Prigoginic Level of Complexity' [...] but not to the Absolute. 'The Presence had its own gravity.' (48)

(1) Theodosius Dobzhansky, 'Darwinian Evolution and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life', Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 15.2 (1972), 157-75.

(2) Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, 'Space Mowgli', in Escape Attempt, trans. by Roger de Garis (New York: Macmillan, 1982), pp. 1-100 (p. 252).

(3) Cecil Rhodes, Last Will and Testament (1902), quoted in Sarah Gertrude Millin, Rhodes (New York: Harper, 1933), p. 138.

(4) Epistle to Diognetus, [section]5, in The Apologies of Justin Martyr, ed. by Basil L. Gildersleeve (New York: Harper, 1877), p. 87.

(5) A novum is the dominant imaginary novelty in a SF text (usually an invention or discovery) that is the source of the most important distinctions between the world of the tale and the world of the reader; cf. Darko Suvin, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980).

(6) Stanislaw Lem, 'The New Cosmogony', in A Perfect Vacuum, ed. by Michael Kandel (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), pp. 197-229.

(7) A. E. Van Vogt, The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1951), a neo-Darwinian narrative of exploration assembled from four previously published SF stories.

(8) The Alien series now numbers four films: Alien (directed by Ridley Scott), 20th Century Fox, 1979; Aliens (James Cameron), Brandywine/20th Century Fox, 1986; Alien 3 (David Fincher), Brandywine/20th Century Fox, 1992; Alien Resurrection (Jean-Pierre Jeunet), 20th Century Fox, 1997.

(9) Stanislaw Lem, Solaris, trans. by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987), pp. 20-21.

(10) The cheela of Robert Forward's Dragon's Egg (1980) have evolved as creatures 'plausibly' might on a neutron star.

(11) The Alien Gods of Ancient Egypt in the TV series Stargate and the French-Bosnian writer Enki Bilal's comic-book Nikopol Trilogy.

(12) The mythology of ancient races--Atlanteans and their heirs, the Lemurians, who live underground or under the sea since the sinking of their continents--were elaborated by the theosophists and anthroposophists. New Age folk mythology identifies certain mountains, most notably Mount Shasta, as access sites to Lemurians. On Lemurians see <>; on Atlanteans, <>; on Lemurians under Mount Shasta, <> [all accessed 1 December 2006]. The term 'sophont' is a Greek-derived SF coinage for sentient beings, used in Poul Anderson's fiction.

(13) Klaatu was the alien, played by Michael Rennie, who lands his spacecraft on Earth in the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still.

(14) Thomas Nagel, Mortal Questions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 168.

(15) Nagel, p. 169.

(16) Nagel, p. 170.

(17) Kathleen Akins, 'What Is It Like to Be Myopic and Boring?', in Dennett and his Critics: Demystifying Mind, ed. by Bo Dahlbom (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), pp. 124-60 (p. 147; italics in original.).

(18) Nagel, p. 176, n. 11.

(19) Daniel C. Dennett, 'The Self as the Center of Narrative Gravity', in Self and Consciousness: Multiple Perspectives, ed. by Frank S. Kessel, Pamela M. Cole, and D. L. Johnson (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1992), pp. 103-15; also available at <> [accessed 1 December 2006].

(20) Rene Girard, Desire, Deceit and the Novel, trans. by Yvonne Freccero (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965), p. 4.

(21) Girard, p. 9.

(22) Girard, p. 10.

(23) Girard, pp. 180, 187.

(24) On the Singularity see The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, ed. by Ray Kurzweil (New York: Viking, 2005); Damien Broderick, The Spike: How our Lives Are Being Transformed by Rapidly Advancing Technologies (New York: Tor, 2002).

(25) The Mechs appear in Gregory Benford's 'Galactic Centre' novels (New York: Aspect): Great Sky River (2004); Across the Sea of Suns (2004); Tides of Light (2004); In the Ocean of Night (2004); Sailing Bright Eternity (2005). Lem's cyberflies appear in The Invincible (New York: Ace, 1973).

(26) Wendy Pearson, 'Alien Cryptographies: The View from Queer', Science Fiction Studies, 26.1 (1999), 1-22; also available from <> [accessed 1 December 2006].

(27) The Xeelee and photino birds appear in Stephen Baxter's Xeelee cycle: Exultant (London: Gollancz, 2004); Timelike Infinity (London: HarperCollins, 1992); Raft (London: Grafton, 1991); Ring (London: HarperCollins, 1994); Flux (London: HarperCollins, 1993). Stapledon's 'subvital' cluster-Martians appear in Last and First Men (London: Methuen, 1930).

(28) Gwyneth Jones's Aleutian cycle (London: Gollancz) consists of: White Queen (1991); North Wind (1994); and Phoenix Cafe (1997).

(29) The essay originally appeared in Die Neue Zeit, Jg. xiv, 2.44 (1895-96), pp. 545-46; available from <> [accessed 1 December 2006].

(30) John Griffiths, Three Tomorrows: American, British, and Soviet Science Fiction (Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble, 1980), pp. 143-44.

(31) N. Chandra Wickramasinghe and Fred Hoyle, Astronomical Origins of Life: Steps towards Panspermia (Frankfurt: Springer, 1999).

(32) Octavia E. Butler, Dawn (New York: Warner Books, 1987), p. 18.

(33) 'French Schools Plagued by Alien Violence', an Internet press release by National Vanguard, a US white supremacist group, posted 2 June 2006: <> [accessed 1 December 2006].

(34) Shantikumar Nanooram Vyas, India in the Ramayana Age (Delhi: Atma Ram, 1967), p. 27.

(35) The phrase originated with James Kavanagh, 'Feminism, Humanism and Science in Alien', in Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema, ed. by Annette Kuhn (London: Verso, 1990), pp. 73-81 (p. 76).

(36) On grotesque motifs in the Alien films, cf. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., 'On the Grotesque in Science Fiction', Science Fiction Studies, 29.1 (2002), 71-99.

(37) Eric S. Mallin, 'Jewish Invader and the Soul of the State: The Merchant of Venice and Science Fiction Movies', in Shakespeare and Modernity: Early Modern to Millennium, ed. by Hugh Grady (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 142-67 (p. 160).

(38) On aerial atrocities in the First Gulf War see <,3604,894708,00.html> [accessed 1 December 2006].

(39) Mallin, p. 145.

(40) Mallin, p. 146.

(41) The term 'supplement' is Etienne Balibar's; see Mallin, p. 156.

(42) Mallin, p. 156.

(43) Mallin, p. 157.

(44) Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game (New York: Tor, 1985), pp. 353-54. The term 'ansible' denotes a faster-than-light transportation device and was coined in Ursula Le Guin's 1966 novel Rocannon's World.

(45) James Tiptree, Jr. [Alice Sheldon], Up the Walls of the World (New York: Berkley, 1978), pp. 3, 6.

(46) Ian Watson, The Embedding (New York: Scribner, 1973), p. 158.

(47) On UFO religions see The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds, ed. James R. Lewis (Albany: SUNY, 1995), especially Diana Tumminia and R. George Kirkpatrick, 'Unarius: Emergent Aspects of an American Flying Saucer Group', pp. 85-104. On Raelians see <> [accessed 1 December 2006]; on Heaven's Gate, the Heaven's Gate Mission Statement, see <> [accessed 1 December 2006]. On the Nation of Islam's Motherplane see Louis Farrakhan's speech, 'The Divine Destruction of America: Can She Avert It?', delivered 9 June 1996, <> [accessed 1 December 2006].

(48) Bruce Sterling, Schismatrix Plus (1985; New York: Ace, 1996), p. 235.


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Author:Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan, Jr.
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Date:Jul 1, 2007
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