Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Depiction Part 17 - Depicting First Contact - Take Me To Your Leader by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 17
Depicting First Contact
Take Me To Your Leader 
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts of the Depiction Series are listed here:


This Tuesday blog is generally about Alien Romance Novels, about how to blend science, fiction, and romance into romance stories where love conquers all and brings a couple to a happily ever after "ending."  Science Fiction is largely defined as, "The Literature of Ideas."

So you wouldn't think politics was our beat.  Just look at current election coverage, political ads, and punditry of political analysis.  What could politics have to do with Leadership or Literature of Ideas?

However, this blog is about science fiction romance, and in science fiction one must build the entire world behind the characters around some one, single, unique, new, concept or premise.

There is an entire sub-genre of science fiction called sociological science fiction where the science being fictionalized is Sociology.

Such novels examine the fallacious assumptions humans make about "reality" -- such as which traits are inherently just human, and which traits human infants acquire from parents.

What is cultural, and what is genetic?  What precisely defines "human."  Are we just another species of Great Ape, or something else?

And if we're just another Great Ape right now, does that mean we will be nothing more than a Great Ape thousands of years from now?  Or thousands of years ago?

We are now accumulating data about exoplanets, and how common the conditions for life are in the galaxy.  What would Aliens on other planets have in common with Great Apes?

One common organizational theme among chimps and bonobos is that there is a single, dominant individual in each group.


With chimps, it is a dominant male, and with bonobos it is a dominant female who creates order in the grouping.

It can be argued that humans likewise pick an "alpha" male, a leader to follow, such as Donald Trump, or any of the 15 other men and 1 woman, Republicans, who ran for the office of President of the United States in 2015-2016.

And on the Democratic side, in US Politics, we have Hillary Clinton.  I see Bernie Sanders as an alpha male, and Hillary as an alpha-female.

To "depict" a human grouping, do you (the writer of romantic fiction ) have to designate a "Leader?"  Does the definition of human grouping include a Leader?

And if so, are we chimps or bonobos.  Do read that article.  It depicts chimps as war-like, belligerent, because they are dominated by a male, but bonobos as peaceful, easier to negotiate with, because they are dominated by a female.

If you look at humanity around this Earth, you see we seem to have some of each kind, but the problem is any particular human can be this kind on Monday and that kind on Tuesday.

The USA has never had a female president (yet), but other countries have been "led" by females.  Has that change in gender of leadership changed the behavior of those groups?

If you listen to the political rhetoric bandied about today, you will hear the word Leader (or related leadership, leading, etc) quite frequently.  The pundits analysis seems to be that everything that's "wrong" with the USA is due to a lack of "leadership."  That may be one of the fallacious assumptions we discussed in parts 3, 4, 6, and 7 of the Theme-Plot Integration series.

Here's the index to theme-plot integration:

And we built on those concepts later:

To create a theme and a plot for romance novels set among the stars, you need to build your Aliens (maybe not their World, but the Alien species itself) using the human template but with some, single, element different.

Only one difference (per alien species) is not an unbreakable rule, but it is the most reliable rule.

Since this is science fiction romance, you formulate the aliens using the kind of thinking trained into students of science. When designing an experiment, science teaches us to vary just one element at a time -- one feature -- one parameter at a time, and compare the results.

Note how Gene Roddenberry created Vulcans with the single "difference" of being non-emotional.  Yes, there's a long story behind that -- originally Number One (a female First Officer) was un-emotional and the Vulcan science officer was emotional but extra-smart.  To get the show on the air, Roddenberry had to eliminate the female bridge officer because no viewer would believe a man would take orders from a woman.  (how times have changed!)

So we ended up with the non-emotional Vulcans, and Roddenberry redesigned his aliens to suit the network executives so that their entire world culture, perhaps biology, was non-emotional.  Then to make the drama work, of course the non-emotional Vulcans turned out to have raging emotions.  But for Depicting First Contact, we learn to hide all differences except one.

Take C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner novel series, which I have been reviewing here for years.  Most recently #16 Tracker #17 Visitor :


Cherryh depicts her human "lost colony" as having all the varied traits humans have, included complex politics.  Her aliens on this planet, the Atevi, are at first depicted the way Roddenberry  presented the Vulcans to us, as having a single trait at variance with humans, and most everything else pretty much similar.

That single different trait is the first defining attribute presented, and often repeated in various forms.  For the Atevi it is that they don't love, and can't understand Love, but have all other emotions plus one humans can't understand.  They bond in couples, and have vast and complicated political alliances often based on family relationships.  In other words, they're more human than we can realistically expect any aliens we meet (or find the ruins of) to be.

The Atevi form their political alliances around a Leader - a single dominant individual.  And the dominant individuals vie with each other to be the most dominant among all dominants.  But with Atevi, that dominate individual may be either male or female, and the distribution seems fairly random.

We have also seen Gene Roddenberry's Vulcans at least revere an elderly but dominant female, T'Pau.

So, according to that article on chimps and bonobos, there is a distinct difference in brain configuration that developed when a river formed and divided their mutual ancestors geographically.  They evolved in separate directions, and today that brain distinction manifests as a difference in gender of the Leader.

So, should that cliche opening line for a First Contact story be, "Take Me To Your Dominant Female?"

And if so, then what for?  I mean why would Aliens land and make a bee line for a Leader?  Doesn't that plot-element require that the Aliens only do business leader-to-leader?

Is there a fallacy embedded in the whole concept of Leader?

Note, Roddenberry and Cherryh both depict their main Aliens (who will produce individuals who bond with humans) as having leaders.  The Atevi need leaders.  All hell breaks loose among Atevi if Leadership fails.  They are essentially evolved from herd creatures and physiologically need a Leader.  Vulcans, on the other hand, appear to have chosen a social structure organized around a Leader, and a group of Leaders creating a structured government.

The question a writer of romance stories should address when designing an Alien Lover is, "Do humans need leaders?"

When you have a vision of human "society" (as opposed to generic Great Ape society), what humans absolutely need and what humans choose as convenient (because we're lazy apes) or what we choose because some among us are big bullies and grab leadership, then ask yourself what humans need Leaders for.

What purpose or function do human leaders serve?  What happens among leaderless humans (such as a random collection of survivors of a lost colony -- or maybe a colony on Mars).

What is the connection between social Leadership, and Command of "the economy?"

What is "economy" -- where does it come from, who makes it happen, why does it happen, what is it for, and who needs it anyway?

Does an "economy" need a leader as society does?

Now presumably, aliens operate their economy according to the same laws and principles that humans do.  It is something we ought to have in common with any space faring species.  Many famous First Contact stories ...

(such as In Value Decieved In Value Deceived by H.B. Fyfe
Analog/Astounding Science Fiction, November 1950, pp. 38-46
http://www.unz.org/Pub/AnalogSF-1950nov-00038  )

...depict Trade as the first transaction, not friendship, love or even war.

C. J. Cherryh took that approach with the story of how the first human colonists moved from the Space Station around the Atevi world, down to the ground.  At first meeting, the humans managed to start trading with the local Atevi -- much as the first colonists in North America traded with the Native Americans.  It was only later that misunderstanding due to that single Atevi trait that differs from human caused war to break out.

In human sociological history on Earth, we have seen trade precede war many times.  Trade (or an economic transaction -- Value for Value) is perhaps more fundamental to human nature than even sex or war.

Language evolves rapidly and diverges when there is isolation.  If you are writing Historical Romance, you should keep in mind that modern characters could not pop back in time and understand spoken English.  Even written English is not that easy, if you look at some actual manuscripts.


Even today, with the internet, populations that do not communicate with each other (such as the age-gap) evolve different meanings for the same words. Thus on this blog, I try to define the difference between what I designate as Plot and what I designate as Story, many times.  Plot is the sequence of events or character actions; story is the characters' reactions to those events, feelings and motives, lessons learned. Plot is generally external, Story is generally internal. Many writing teachers reverse the meanings of the words, but all identify these two separate moving parts of the novel's mechanism.

So when you are building an Alien Civilization from scratch, keeping in mind the "one-difference" rule, you might decide that since C. J. Cherryh has already done "Love is Incomprehensible" and Gene Roddenbery started to do "Emotion is Incomprehensible" then chickened out (but I did it in Kraith
http://simegen.com/fandom/startrek/  ),
you might want to explore what single difference your Aliens might have in the realm of Commerce that would make, say, MONEY incomprehensible.

We make many assumptions about "money." It is such a common idea, dating back before Biblical Times, that we often assume that all creatures in the cosmos have money.

But really, what we use for money now is very different from what it was 4 thousand years ago.

Coin of the Realm is a term which had literal meaning.  The reason Julius Ceasar's profile was on coins was that The Leader was the creator of COIN.  The coin was "of the Realm" -- the kingdom or empire struck the coins.  The original concept was that the coin was made of something that had intrinsic value (gold, silver).

Common practice was to shave slivers off the edges of coins and then pass off the light-weight coin as a whole coin.  Also coating wood -- the wooden-nickle -- to look like money was done.  Counterfeit Money has always been with us since money was invented.  Today it's hacking into the bank computers and jiggering the numbers.  Or the Federal Reserve (Central Bank) just printing more of what looks like money but is as counterfeit as any criminal's coin, having the same effect on the economy as counterfeit money does.

Remember, counterfeiting was weaponized in World War II to bring down whole countries by flooding their economy with bogus bills.

So would such deception be the expected practice with your Aliens?  Or would they have an economic system which was immune to counterfeit coin of the realm?

How would you design an economic system that was impervious to a counterfeiting flood (or hacking, identity theft and taking out a mortgage in your name which essentially counterfeit's your personal realm's coin?)

Note how Roddenberry created Aliens lacking all emotion, but Cherryh created aliens lacking only Love, but replaced "Love" with another emotion rooted in different biology.

Look at chimps and bonobos. They trade in mutual grooming, share food, and create an "economy" based on sex and dominance.  Yet they're smart enough to figure out how to cooperate to get food.  Wolves bring down large prey in packs, cooperating for food but then letting the dominant wolf apportion the meat.  Apparently, human tribes can develop a society based on that cooperative model on a tribal level.

One question you, as world builder, have to answer is, "Once food (wealth) is acquired by cooperation, does The Leader apportion the wealth among His/Her followers as he chooses, or do the individuals who cooperated snatch what they think is their own portion?"

Poul Anderson, among many early science fiction writers, pointed out the way to build Alien Species that "make sense" to modern, human readers is to examine the basic biology of animal species that really exist on Earth and extrapolate what kind of civilization that biology would generate, given evolved intelligence.  He founded a long and prolific career on that method, and modern science fiction writers tend to follow that rule successfully.

Understand the biological drives shaping human cultural choices about Trade (such as they may be free will choices), then find one parameter to change to create your Alien.

Which parameter you change, and from what to what you change it, will define your THEME.

Your plot will explode outward from that premise with natural inevitability. You will have depicted an abstract statement about the nature of Reality in concrete terms as we discussed.


Or in this entry on depicting Dynastic Wealth:


To do that as well as Roddenberry or Cherryh have done with emotion, you have to understand what money is to humans, and why we created it, then change that why to make your Aliens.

Humans started with barter -- trade.  I'll trade you this horse-halter for that bushel of corn?  No, no not THAT bushel, it's wormy.  This nice halter is worth that other, nice fresh clean bushel of corn.

Trade is object for object -- and it is all about what an object is worth to you, right then.

I'll trade you this gold coin for that bucket of water?  No, this water was too hard to come by -- I'll give it to you if you give me that horse.  Well, if I don't have a horse, I don't need a whole bucket of water.

Value is subjective and situational.

If you're dying of thirst, water is worth all the gold you are carrying.

The value of your aching back (drawing a bucket of water up from the bottom of a deep well sans donkey) vs. the value of a bushel of corn you could buy in town (5 mile walk away, then back again hauling a bushel of corn) if only you had a gold coin to give to the farmer in the market (provided you could get there before the market closed or all the corn was gone.)

Calculating the value of a gold coin is a vitally important skill, and always has a wild card factor, a gamble involved.

Today we call that arbitrage.

The value of a material object, or a coin, is fundamentally guesswork.

A gold coin, or a hundred dollar bill (actually a 1 ounce gold coin is about $1200 today), is coin of the realm, and medium of exchange.

You can "sell" a bucket of water for the value of the water, plus the value-added by that water being in a bucket at ground level rather than 200 feet down a well.  You might sell the leaky wooden bucket with the water -- or not.  Separate deal.

You give the water, you get the coin, you carry the coin to town, you give the coin, you get the bushel of corn.  Now you don't have any water to cook the corn in and you're 5 miles from home where you can shuck the corn and cut the kernels from the cob, making the burden lighter.  You have to pay someone so you can borrow their wagon?

That's an economy.  The bushel of corn cost someone a sore back, too, and a year's work tilling the soil, pulling weeds, etc etc -- it's not easy growing corn.  In the price of that bushel of corn is also figured the cost of paying soldiers to defend the land from invaders who would steal the corn and kill the farmer.  To pay the soldiers, the Leader has to create Coin of the Realm as a Medium of Exchange.

Aliens might trade in buckets of water, but might not have corn, or any kind of vegetable crop. Maybe they only eat animals, but they surely eat something.

Last week, we examined the very definition of life, itself.

The value of "life" has mystical variables -- which you can pick through to find that ONE element to change to generate your Aliens.


So what is the "value" of work?  A material object (hunk of wood, for example) is worth something -- variable with how difficult it was to acquire, how rare it is.  That same material object plus "work" might equal a Polished Soup Bowl, a Comfortable Rocking Chair, hoops-and-loops to hold clothing together (frogs), table, shelves, hair clasps, whatever you can make out of wood.  To make those things requires a) skill and b) time maybe c) bleeding from splinters.

The work is intangible, but has VALUE in coin-of-the-realm.

Consider that the realm authorizing that coin is your own, personal, only-you, ecology of one person. You are a sovereign individual.

Read Clan of the Cave Bear .


This famous novel depicts the economy of the sovereign, lone, individual.

Every collected object used for food, clothing, shelter, has an assigned value in time-effort-energy and in how replaceable it is.  When the hero returns "home" to find his little shelter utterly destroyed, you understand what a dollar actually IS.  You understand what ownership and sovereignty is.  And you understand what Capitalism really is (as opposed to what "they" have told you capitalism is.)

The rule of Fallacy being more popular than Accuracy seems to hold with respect to Capitalism.

But words are as variable in value as coins.

Again, consider how language shifts and changes -- the same words do not mean the same thing to all people.

A word is "worth" (e.g. means) what you say it does, just as a coin is worth what you think you can get for it (fallacious thought or not.)

Today's online dictionaries try to keep up with the ever changing definitions of words.


... defines capitalism thusly:

an economic system based on private ownership of capital
capitalist economy
socialism, socialist economy
an economic system based on state ownership of capital
venture capitalism
capitalism that invests in innovative enterprises (especially high technology) where the potential profits are large
Type of:
free enterprise, laissez-faire economy, market economy, private enterprise
an economy that relies chiefly on market forces to allocate goods and resources and to determine prices

--------end quote-------------

No, that's not it.  "Capitalism" is actually just a system of describing what the hero of CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR lost when his belongings were destroyed -- belongings he had gathered raw materials for and crafted into items essential to his survival.

"Capital" is not MONEY.  Capital is not COIN (of any Realm).

Capital, like the "Packing Fraction" from physics, is the Money you do not have BECAUSE you have a thing instead.

The ratio of the total volume of a set of objects packed into a space to the volume of that space. The difference between the isotopic mass of a nuclide and its mass number, divided by its mass number. The packing fraction is often interpreted as a measure of the stability of the nucleus.
Packing fraction | Define Packing fraction at Dictionary.com


----------end quote---------

As in Physics, Capital has stability measured by how much it cost -- how MUCH is NOT THERE, how much it would take to pry your hot fist away from your possession.

Understanding this secret of reality (hidden by changing definitions of words) makes the difference between the rich and the poor.

I've discussed Rich Dad: Poor Dad previously.  The book explains how what we sometimes call the "cycle of poverty" is more a matter of language facility than wisdom or skill at life.  By cycle of poverty, I mean the phenomenon of poor parents raising poor children trapped in poverty all their lives, raising another generation of poor kids.

We have many prominent examples of those who have 'broken the cycle of poverty' among our political candidates in 2016.

We have Dr. Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, even Ted Cruz, -- they all have tales to tell of that steep, hard climb out of having nothing.  They do not seem (from what they say in public) to understand that what they did depended on knowing the difference between money and capital, but look closely at their stories and it is plain as day.

Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money - That The Poor And Middle Class Do Not!   Robert T. Kiyosaki


The secret is simply that capital is not money.  You can 'save' capital.  You can NOT 'save' money.  When you put "money" in a bank, it becomes "capital."  (unless it's in a checking account to be spent).

Money (coin) is a MEDIUM OF EXCHANGE -- it is worth whatever two entities (Aliens included) think or say or determine it is worth.  The real value of "money" lies in its velocity, the rates and direction of movement of the coins.  Money is a force (mystically, you can consider it fueled by the Soul.)

Capital is fixed, real, tangible asset that is worth to you exactly what you paid for it, what it cost you to acquire, and that includes emotional investment.

This is what the Atevi can't grasp -- humans LOVE the objects they invest their emotions into (grandma's hand-stitched quilt is worth more than the scrap rags she made it from).  We make things, and we "love" those things because we made them.  It is a capital investment of Self.  We even accuse people of "loving" Money.

Your potential work (your aching back) has a value to you, independent of anything anyone else might think it is worth.  Your potential work is your human capital.  It is potential 'value' because it is unrealized.  You can't exchange it. You can't move it.  You can't reassign ownership.  It is capital.

Money and Capital share a property that I expect Aliens would understand.  Money and Capital can both be "made."

As in Clan of the Cave Bear, a single individual can gather material objects in one spot and craft mission-critical items from that material.

The gathering costs expenditure of capital (remember, labor, your aching back, is your capital).  The crafting (learning to do it, then doing it, failing, discarding gathered material ruined by failure, finally succeeding) of the matter into a usable object costs an expenditure of Capital.

Life -- time, effort, energy, health, RISK, combat with others, competing for rare stuff -- is your Capital.  You invest that capital by gathering then crafting.  Now you HAVE an object that is mission critical, and that object is Capital.

For more iconic imagery on this abstract definition of what is money and what is capital, watch the film Enemy Mine.


This is a true Love Story, complete with human/alien pregnancy, sans sex!

When corporations report "Capital Expenditure" they do not refer to taking Capital (land, buildings, factory equipment) and selling it.  They refer to taking from incoming cash flow and BUYING land, buildings, equipment.  For example, if you own a house, and it needs a new roof, you do a Capital Expenditure, spending your wages or salary to buy a new roof (or the materials to go hammer a new roof over your head yourself.)

Capital is STATIC -- trapped, concrete -- but MONEY has a value derived from its VELOCITY.  How trade-able is your gold or silver coin?  What is a dollar worth?  Capital is what you exchange (barter) but Money is the medium by which you exchange it.  Money is a SYMBOL.


Coin of the Realm has a value based on the value of the Realm, itself.

Your aching back is the coin of your own, personal, sovereign realm.

I think any living Alien species we meet up with will be able to comprehend an aching back (or carapace), or at the very least, "Whew!  I did it!"

Of course, a hive species might have a problem with "I."  Writing a Human/Alien Romance with a hive species might be a challenge.

But assume your Aliens are individuals, and here they are among 21st Century humans on Earth (or maybe finding a human colony on Mars or "out there" somewhere.)

How will they understand working for a living?  Paychecks?  Cell phone bills.  Starbucks expensive coffee.

The film Starman gives you a start on this problem.


This kind of story fairly well defines science fiction.  In a First Contact situation, you have to set aside your assumptions because they are all probably fallacious.

C. J. Cherryh depicts this process with razor sharp precision in the entire FOREIGNER series, but targets it especially well in the novel VISITOR where the language of the new Aliens, the Kyo, has to be puzzled out nearly from scratch.

Finding your own fallacies amidst your assumptions is extremely difficult, but it is in fact one of the primary skills of the working scientific researcher.  Nothing blinds you to facts more than your assumptions, and how assiduously you have examined your assumptions determines how blinded you will be by Romance.

So, what if your Aliens have as many unexamined and possibly fallacious assumptions as the human Characters in your Romance story?  That could be a source of Conflict for your couple, and misunderstandings greater than C. J. Cherryh has depicted.

Armed with that idea, and your own personal take on what an economy is, where it comes from, why bother to have one, and what "labor" is (Capital or Money?), and who owns the resulting material objects, write a 750 piece of dialog for a First Contact Romance novel.

Consider the subject might be the Minimum Wage.  Suppose the Alien is trying to hire a Security Guard for a foray into the White House and an official, "Take Me To Your Leader" meeting.

What should the Alien pay?  What multiple of the Minimum Wage?  And how do you convince an Alien (with an alien idea about paid labor and skilled labor) to pay that much?

Depict that entire Alien culture's economic system in 750 words of dialogue, and spark the hottest Romance in this Galaxy.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. In Jo Walton's latest novel, NECESSITY, when the human community that has established a model Platonic Republic on a distant planet (under the patronage of the Greek gods) finally re-connects with space travelers from Earth, some of the Platonists are baffled by the concept of money.

    RE male vs. female leaders, some people are skeptical about female leadership making any substantive difference, on the grounds that in our culture a woman has to learn to "act like a man" to rise to the highest political offices.