Thursday, October 05, 2006

Aliens Among Us

Recently I read an unusual "aliens among us" romance, THE DEMON'S DAUGHTER, by Emma Holly. Set in an alternate-world analogue of Victorian London, this novel envisions an Earth on which "demons" called the Yama dwell in the far north and have begun to mingle with ordinary human beings. Not truly demonic, the Yama are another species, humanoid but not human, capable of draining "etheric energy," and some of them find human etheric energy irresistibly tempting. Scotland Yard Inspector Adrian Phillips specializes in tracking down missing children, including those illicitly sold to the Yama. He has undergone enhancement with Yama implants that endow him with superhuman strength, a benefit that comes at a price of exhaustion in the aftermath of each use of this power. His colleagues view him with suspicion because he has accepted this operation, but the department needs him because he is one of the few officers who can function effectively in the part of the city where the Yama are in the majority. His work brings him into contact with Roxanne, an artist who takes him in after he has been injured while incognito in a dangerous sector of the metropolis. Soon afterward, Roxanne discovers that she is half "demon," a crossbreed previously thought to be impossible. Adrian's enemies and those of Roxanne's newfound Yama father, a prominent diplomat, place the two protagonists' lives as well as their relationship at risk. Moreover, Adrian's love affair with Roxanne threatens his law-enforcement career, the core of his identity. Since the late Victorian period is my favorite era, I found Holly's adaptation of that world enthralling, an excellent piece of world-building. Also, she writes some of the best erotic scenes I've read in a long time, both hot and tender. Reflecting on Holly's world started me thinking about other scenarios in which aliens establish a presence as a minority amid the human population.

In the "Tripods" YA trilogy by John Christopher (THE WHITE MOUNTAINS, THE CITY OF GOLD AND LEAD, and THE POOL OF FIRE, later supplemented by a prequel, WHEN THE TRIPODS CAME) extraterrestrials have built enclaves on Earth. As hostile conquerors whose motives are mysterious, they present a frightening enigma to the human characters, who know them only as monstrous, three-limbed machines (apparently modeled on the Martians in WAR OF THE WORLDS). Young people approaching adulthood are "capped" with helmets that make them docile slaves to the Tripods. Will, the teenage hero, escapes to the White Mountains and later infiltrates the City of Gold and Lead, a Tripod metropolis, where he becomes servant to one of the aliens. The ETs turn out to be tentacled creatures who can't survive in Earth's atmosphere. Knowledge brings Will some degree of understanding of them, but the Tripods are still implacable invaders.

More interesting in terms of a wide range of interactions between locals and interstellar visitors is Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series. The earliest-published books focus on encounters between native Darkovans and the Terran newcomers. Darkover is, in fact, a lost colony from Earth's early period of interstellar exploration, but this fact isn't generally known until late in the series' chronology. So, to the feudal society of Darkover, where psychic powers called "laran" take the place of hard science, the Terrans in their spaceport compound, with their advanced technology, are aliens from a strange culture with odd customs and suspicious motives. Freedom of contact between Darkovans and Terrans varies over several generations, so that much of the time the two peoples appear exotic and mysterious to each other. THENDARA HOUSE involves a particularly interesting situation, with a Terran and a Darkovan woman essentially changing places, each having to adjust to life in the opposite culture.

Then there's the archetypal spaceport bar setting, like the tavern where Luke first meets Han Solo in STAR WARS. Neither invaders nor permanent residents, throngs of wildly different aliens from many worlds mingle on neutral ground. These four fictional universes suggest a few kinds of modus vivendi that might develop if the aliens came to us (instead of vice versa) without annihilating us on sight.

1 comment:

  1. Margaret,
    You have the most fascinating book shelf!

    Best wishes,