A few weeks ago, I published a short story on Wattpad about a female named F
çñp (don’t worry: the name’s deliberately unpronounceable). Here are a few of my thoughts explaining my choices and some of intentions with the short story.
Several years ago, I was lying in a hammock under a cloudless blue sky at a beachside eco-resort in Belize (now there’s an opening clause!) reading Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow when I was overcome with an irresistible urge to parody it. The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God, are two highly imaginative and wonderfully well-executed examples of “first-contact” narratives: stories of what happens when one civilization meets an alien society and there are no obvious means of communicating with and/or understanding the other. Russell is an anthropologist by profession, and her story of how a Jesuit-led mission to a distant planet in search of the beings who produce a beautiful music, and what happens when the mission arrives, is informed by the history of Western civilizations’ encounter with the Aztec, Inca, and Mayan empires (as well as the societies of the native peoples of North America). She admirably demonstrates in her two books that these conquests weren’t simply about scientific curiosity, pure greed, and the desire to grab as much land for one’s patria as possible, but were also motivated by genuine spiritual beliefs. She also shows how what results on first contact—often accompanied with turmoil, destruction, and loss—isn’t necessarily anybody’s fault or bad faith, but the result of the inevitable cross-pollination of preconceived cultural expectations.
It turns out that the haunting music emanates from a highly refined race of beings whose aristocratic, even exquisite, civilization is founded on the brutal exploitation and suppression of the more numerous, but more agrarian creatures. The arrival of the Earth mission inevitably sets in motion the upending of the social order and tragedy for the human beings. Russell demonstrates that sometimes beauty arises from terror and that democracy sometimes requires the destruction of the aristocratic culture that came before.
As a vegan used to being greeted with mystification and occasionally suspicion over my choice of diet and lifestyle, I’ve occasionally felt that I’m a creature from another planet. It was too good a joke to miss in making fun of myself and the bafflement that greets me not to turn myself into a Vegan. It was an enjoyable challenge to create wholly unlikely creatures by rephrasing common idioms based on physical gestures—“to bat one’s eyelids,” and so on. I let the parody flow and it turned, quite rapidly, into a space version of Casablanca: where an impossible love briefly flourishes before the heroine is forced to leave and the hero returns to virtually certain death.
To my surprise, the story evolved into something more serious—an indication that my urge to pastiche The Sparrow overlay an actual emotional and intellectual impulse. The short story becomes a reflection of my fear that Earth will suffer the same fate as our hero’s adopted cluster because of our failure to grasp how serious our predicament is. In that regard, I had in mind the admonitions of that wonderful (and funny) Cold War film The Day the Earth Stood Still (the 1951 version, of course). I would hope that we will wake up before it’s too late, but I can see us following exactly the trajectory that awaits the doomed mission and its cluster.