Tag Archives: aliens

Dawn by Octavia Butler

Dawn by Octavia Butler isn’t for everybody. There is tentacle rape. Nobody has ever accused Butler’s work of being easy or light.

This review contains spoilers.

Lilith Iyapo, a Nigerian American, wakes up in an isolation room in an alien spaceship. The aliens – the Oankali – come to her and tell her that nuclear war has destroyed most of life on Earth. The Oankali will restore the planet and teach the survivors how to live on it. In exchange, the humans must mate with them.

Lilith doesn’t trust the Oankali, but she reasons that if she cooperates with them, she can get herself and a group of human beings onto Earth’s surface and then they can run away.

The Oankali seem quite reasonable at first. Jdahya, the first Oankali she meets, is gentle with her and lets her get used to his horrifying appearance at her own pace. The Oankali are pacifist plant-eaters. They have an egalitarian society.

The first sign something is wrong is that Lilith wakes up with a scar on her abdomen. The Oankali cured her cancer. While she was unconscious. Without asking her.

After that it gets so gradually and creepily worse that I often had to stop and ask myself did I really just read that? The worst things the Oankali do are written in such a matter-of-fact tone that they left me wondering whether the Oankali did something wrong. The entire novel is a case of gaslighting for artistic effect.

The Oankali rarely lie, but they are dishonest with Lilith. They tell her they arrived in the solar system just in time to save humanity from extinction by nuclear war. But does “just in time” mean right after, or right before, the bombs dropped? What are the chances that the sight of space aliens with worms for faces caused the U.S. and Soviet militaries to panic?

They show Lilith their families made out of one male, one female, and one third-gender ooloi. The ooloi don’t make sperm or egg but manipulate male and female DNA as part of sex. They tell Lilith they must mate with other intelligent species or go extinct. The ooloi are so good at manipulating DNA that the Oankali can no longer evolve on their own, and must plagiarize genes from other species.

The Oankali don’t tell Lilith what they do with their perverts. What about Oankali who want twosomes, or the same sex, or who don’t want to reproduce? Considering their genetic engineering skills, I suspect the ooloi “fix” them.

If male and female Oankali mated with each other, wouldn’t they be able to make DNA mistakes and evolve? Do they have to rape humanity, or are the ooloi blind to another way? The ooloi insist on ridding humanity of its warlike nature, but they don’t seem too worried about the problems with Oankali nature.

I spent too much of the book rooting for some sort of compromise. I figured even the tentacle rape was a casualty of first contact, eventually the Oanaki would realize that humanity does better when negotiated with than manipulated, and they would back off. The last straw comes after a man Lilith has grown to love dies. An ooloi impregnates her with his sperm and some alien DNA because it’s what she would have wanted. Without asking her. Lilith’s human clan is sent down to Earth without her because she is no longer human enough to live among them.

The Oankali were never interested in compromise. I should have realized that and turned against them many chapters before. The ending left me asking whether Lilith’s clan is a bunch of hairless apes who wouldn’t see reason, or whether Lilith has turned into a monster. Lilith is likely asking herself the same question.

The Mulatto Cyborg

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The things you read about in academia…

As part of my job, I have access to the University of Minnesota library system and all its digital subscriptions to academic research journals.  Mainly I use this library to keep up with what’s latest in the field of plant cell biology, but it does let you stumble across stuff in other fields sometimes.

In 2005, LeiLane Nishime of Sonoma State University published an article in Cinema Journal called “The Mulatto Cyborg: Imagining a Multiracial Future.”  I wish I could share this article with you, but I’m going to have to go over the gist of it instead.  Nishime makes the argument that we use science fiction to tell stories about social issues in our own real life.  Since it’s at one step remove (we’re talking about space aliens, not humans), writers can be more daring than if the story was set in the real world.  So far, so good.  Anybody who’s seen that infamous Star Trek episode where the people are black on one side and white on the other side … yep.  We sure use science fiction to explore our own issues.

The second part of Nishime’s argument is this: if robots are our science-fictiony slaves in the future, then cyborgs are mulattoes.

Okay.  Let’s just never mind that a union between Data and Tasha Yar is not where cyborgs come from, and examine her argument a little more closely.  She says that movies deal with these mulatto cyborgs in one of three ways: they’re bad, good, or truly cyborgean.  Bad cyborgs are more roboty and want to destroy all humans (like the Terminator).  Good cyborgs have a stronger human side and want to become human.  And the truly cyborgean cyborgs come to terms with their half-and-half nature and are not really either.

I’m curious what Nishime would have to say about Inspector Gadget.

There’s just one other problem with this paper.  Robots with high-quality silicone skin aren’t cyborgs.  Nishime argues that Bishop from Aliens and that little kid from A.I. are good cyborgs who are trying to become more human.  But they’re robots.  Whatever these characters are made out of, the other characters treat them like 100% robot, and there’s nothing borderline or half-and-half about them.  That little kid is a robot trying to be a human.

And that’s my nerd rant for the day.

If you want to try to get your hands on “The Mulatto Cyborg: Imagining a Multiracial Future,” here is a link to Cinema Journal’s website.

The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

The Search for Wondla (by Tony DiTerlizzi of Spiderwick Chronicles fame) originally drew my eye because of the lush, art-noveau-inspired illustrations throughout the book.  All the pictures of wacky aliens remind one of the first editions of the Wizard of Oz series from the early 20th century.  There’s a good reason for that, but I won’t spoil it for you.

The plot itself is decent enough.  Our heroine is Eva Nine, an 11-year-old girl who’s been raised by a caretaker robot in an underground bunker all her life.  The story gets off to a slow start because Muthr, the robot, is as dull as plain toast.  Things get much better around pg. 68, after Eva has left her bunker and met her first cool-looking alien, Rovender Kitt.

Eva, Rovender, and Muthr set out on a quest to find more members of the human race.  On the way they find all sorts of strange creatures that are definitely not human.  It turns out there’s good reason Muthr’s so stodgy at the beginning.  She has a lot of character development to do over the book.  Rovender, too, has his depths.  I don’t think DiTerlizzi fully captured Eva’s 11-year-old mind, though.  There’s nothing exactly wrong, but Eva ain’t no Lyra Silvertongue.

The Search for WondLa isn’t going to change the face of YA lit as we know it, but it was an enjoyable read.

Etsy!

You probably know by now that I cartoon, but I bet you’re not aware that artsiness runs in the family.  My mom is a jewelrymaker, and she has just opened the virtual doors of a new Etsy shop!  It’s going to have all sorts of jewelry in it, but it specializes in cute little stuff like these alien earrings:

Check out her stuff at http://www.etsy.com/shop/TaylorFamilyCreation.

Why the Alien Invasion Hasn’t Happened Yet

Supposing a pair of extraterrestrials from the vicinity of Deneb are orbiting Earth, preparing the attack.

“All right, Zarquod, I haven’t got all day.  Sum this planet up in a few words.”

“Yes, sir.  The Earthlings are creative, stubborn, selfish, and altruistic.”

“Well, which is it?  Selfish or altruistic?”

“No, both, sir.”

“You can’t be selfish AND altruistic!”

“They really are that screwed up, sir.”

“… You know what?  Never mind.  This planet is giving me a headache.”