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Would Contact with Real Aliens Kill S/F?


Raymond Coulombe

Yes. . . and no.

First a definition. When I mean contact, I don't mean Billy Bob and Bubba meeting aliens while bass fishing. I mean actual contact to the point where everyone knows about it. Maybe to the point where the average Joe could actually see an alien in person. Enough contact so that we know something about their culture and technology.

That would certainly put a dent in the demand for S/F dealing with aliens. Knowledge and technological information from a space faring species would make a lot of our S/F look silly. Picture Edgar Rice Burroughs's portrayal of Mars. You've got to remember that because of the observations of Percival Lowell, it was believed that Mars had canals. That implies at least the remains of a civilization. We still read the old Burroughs's stories, as they are fun tales, but we don't much think of them as possible. While more recent stories have been written about Barsoom, (Edgar's name for Mars) for example Heinlein's, Number of the Beast, it's a limited market. He used some literary tricks to make it work.

There used to be a subset of pulp fiction called "Sea Stories." It usually involved the daring tales of sailors in strange lands. The genre worked because much of the world was still unknown. Every year there were real life discoveries in strange lands. When places like Easter Island were discovered, one could imagine anything being out there in this wide world. Now that the world has been explored, there's no market for that kind of story. Imagination once filled in the blank spaces of the map, but now the blank spaces are gone. There's less room for imagination.

Should an advanced space faring alien race make regular contact with humans, a lot of mystery would got out of the universe. That's fine. It's happened ever since man began to figure out how the world around him worked. Our expanding knowledge of space and advancements in science have changed S/F. There are no maidens on the moon, no princesses on Mars, or swamps on Venus.

Even so, there are still plenty of S/F stories that take place on the moon, Mars and Venus. However, the conscientious S/F writer does his best to incorporate known science into the story. If they don't, it's not S/F, but Fantasy.

Meeting with real aliens will expand our circle of knowledge. Some of our speculations will turn out to be outrageously wrong. That's the nature of things. We can adjust our stories to incorporate new facts.

Here's the wondrous thing though. Knowledge is like a candle in the darkness. The brighter the candle, the larger the circle of light, the more darkness is revealed. At that thin boundary layer of light and darkness, where knowledge comes to an end, at that boundary where S/F can take off once more.

2010-07-01 07:16:01
I wonder what alien science fiction might be like? If we ever do meet any aliens, it would be interesting to delve into their literature. And what would they think of meeting us? On another note, if we really do get out there and start exploring the universe, there might be a new kind of fiction born-- a new class of "sea stories" driven by discoveries we make in space. I doubt we'll have perfect knowledge of science or of the universe any time soon, though. There's room for science fiction for a long time to come.

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