by Wanderer Werewolf
©2008 Wanderer Werewolf
Welcome back, folks. This marks my first column ever filed from the hallowed halls of the Holiday Inn Select in Memphis, Tennessee. Yes, the wolfie has wandered to Memphis Mephit FurMeet; many thanks to all of you who showed up to give a helping hand to the great folks at Tiger Haven with the proceeds of the charity auction and charity poker tournament. (And if anyone wants to know more about the fine folks at Memphit, just go to their website.)
Those weblinks are to make up for one simple fact about this column: Now that weve moved into the area of science fiction in our study of animal characters and their origins (to say nothing of their plot potential), there will obviously be fewer items that I can point to for research. But lets take a look
Of course, once we move into the future (with or without our flying cars), the first thing that comes to mind is aliens. Its entirely possible that some aliens we meet will resemble animals to one extent or another; in Puppet Show, by Fredric Brown (though I hate to give away a plot twist) the real alien of the story looks like a mule; in A.C. Crispins Starbridge series, there are aliens who resemble baboons and snakes. Gordon R. Dickson has his bearlike Dilbians (Spacepaw and Spacial Delivery), Dickson and Anderson together have the teddy-bearish Hoka, and even the old cartoon series Bravestarr has the gopher-like Prairie People. (The Dingos, as transformed canine humanoids, dont count.)
Obviously, this brings us straight back to the question of How do we define people?. The more different from us the aliens appear to be, the harder its going to be to think of them automatically as people; if you think a Vulcan is strange, what about the race of miniature otters that made a guest appearance in the first draft of Gene Roddenberrys pilot script for Star Trek? What about Browns mule? Just how different from us can they be before the mental disconnect between what we think were seeing and what we know they have to be becomes too great?
If we then throw genetic engineering into the mix oh, the possibilities! Andrew Swanns moreaus are the ill-remembered leftovers of a war fought with genetically-engineered soldiers. If an alien species showed up looking anything like them, the first thought on most peoples minds would be, Theyre just moreaus. (Which can be a real problem in diplomacy.)
In point of fact, the above-mentioned Bravestarr presents a classic example: The Prairie People, because they speak no known language and live underground, arent considered people when the action of the series begins. Its not until a humanJudge J.B.sees their underground city that anyone realizes theyve been treating sentient beings like so many rats.
With the Hoka, the disconnect is somewhat less, at least partially because we (humans) gave them their new culture; the hard thing to remember is that, despite their looking like teddy bears playing dress-up, theyre strong aliens with a tendency to forget how fragile we are. The Dilbians, likewise, are constantly underestimated by reason of their appearance. (Big, remember, doesnt always equal dumb.)
Appearance will always be our first decision point, after all: Its going to take a long time for us to get past it, and ignoring it just isnt going to happen as long as were a visually-oriented species. Just consider species that resemble rats, weasels, or roaches, and are actually peaceful, noble types or, likewise, a cute and cuddly species thats utterly vicious or ecologically dangerous (like the biosphere-destroying Tribble from Star Trek).
Ah, but the convention is over, and weve come full circle at last. From far-away lands to distant planets; it all comes around again. In the end, it can be boiled down to one thing:
When what your eyes tell you isnt necessarily true how do you decide what is?
(bow) With that, Ill close this circular series of segments as they close the Net Room around me. Thank you for indulging a wolfs wordy wanderings, and may you enjoy my next column as much as youve enjoyed this series.
Whats it going to be about?
Youll see. ;)