4/05/2007

Say, It Ain't So, Spock

By Adam Graham

I grew up in a home headed by a sci-fi geek, my dad. My dad claimed his interest in science fiction was because of the technology. He figured that new technology would make into sci-fi movies before it would make it into Civilian use. I've seen the vast majority of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes. It was practically a family tradition while DS9 and TNG were on the air together, my dad, my brother and I would be in the living room from 5-7, watching the exploits of Captain Picard and Commander (later Captain Sisco.)

We watched the Star Wars movies (I've seen all but the last and from all accounts, I didn't miss much), Contact, Farscape, Enemy Minds, cheesy old Sci-fi shows like Lost in Space. You get the idea. If it was sci-fi and not a total blood bath, sexfest, or bad beyond awful, we saw it.

I remember one movie that we watched when I was a dumb kid about alien abductions. I slept with one eye open for about a month, fearing that should I go to sleep, I'd be kidnapped by extraterrestrials.

As a writer, I've used aliens quite a bit. A short story to be released next month in an anthology, "Light at the Edge of Darkness" features a stereotypical sci-fi geek in a humorous alien abduction story. A novel I'm working on features an Alien symbiot that provides a man with an amazing litany of superpowers.

While they might pose a theological problem at one point, that's a, "I'll cross that bridge" when we come to it issue. The way I was brought up, it didn't present a problem. My dad always quoted Isaiah 40:15, "Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust."

My dad took the plural of nations to suggest there was more than just the nations. (After all, if they were a drop in the bucket, what was the bucket full of?)

We may never know, but at this point in my life, I've come to be a skeptic of extra-terrestrial life in our galaxy, the more I've come to realize how rare what we've got on Earth is.

In Star Trek, the Galaxy is divided into 4 quadrants. Our quadrant is called, "The Alpha Quadrant." and there's also the "Beta Quadrant," which is a main focus of the Star Trek shows up to Voyager. In the Alpha Quadrant, you have Earth, and you find countless different species that are a little different. The Federation of Planets is a huge conglomeration made up of hundreds of different Alpha and Beta Quadrant worlds. The Vulcans, Klingons, Cardassians, Ferengi, Romulans, and a slew of minor species all have M-Class worlds. And then, there opens a wormhole and we find hundreds of more worlds in the Gamma Quadrant. Finally, Katherine Janeway and the Crew of Voyager spend seven years running into even more species in the Delta Quadrant.

Gene Roddenberry's universe is teaming with ETs everywhere you look. It is as fantastic as it is improbable.

Guillermo Gonzalez explains this quite well in Privileged Planet:

KEVIN GRAZIER

“A lot of things went right on Earth to have yielded complex life. Absolutely.”


BIJAN NEMATI

“The number of factors that have been postulated has grown. Currently the typical number you’ll see in a typical list would have something like 20.”

Guillermo Gonzalez

“We find that we need to be in the right location in the galaxy…that we’re inside the Circumstellar Habitable Zone of a star…that we’re in a planetary system with giant planets that can shield the other planets from too many comet impacts…that we’re orbiting the right kind of star that’s not too cool or not too hot… that we’re on a planet that has a moon that can stabilize the tilt of its axis…that we’re on a planet that’s a terrestrial planet…a planet that has a crust that’s just thick enough to maintain plate tectonic activity…that has enough heat in its interior that it's still circulating its liquid iron core so it can generate a magnetic field…that has an atmosphere that has enough oxygen to allow for complex organisms to survive…that has enough water and enough continents that allow for the diversity of life and an active biodiversity that you need to support complex creatures such as ourselves…”

“All these factors have to be met at one place and time in the galaxy if you’re going to have a planet as habitable as the Earth, which you need for complex and even technological life.”
Donald Brownlee, author of Rare Earth concurred:

“There’s a general feeling that nature wants to make earth-like planets and that, naturally, life will evolve on them…and, naturally, evolve into something like us, and yet…

“…the conditions, the environmental conditions on a planet that would allow more complex creatures similar to people or plants and animals is very rare.”

“…and so, we wrote the book, Rare Earth, to point out that the Earth is, actually, a rather special place…"
When they try and figure out the odds, they come up with a probability of finding life on another planet at 1/1000 of a trillion.

Certainly, no situation like Star Wars or Star Trek could reasonably be said to exist in the Universe. Whether there's intelligent alien life on some other planet in the Universe, who is to say? Only God knows. But I doubt very much with the given odds that there's intelligent life on other planets in our galaxy.

Does this mean that I'll stop including aliens in my stories? Absolutely not. Sci-fi is really on the same level as Fantasy. Tolkien didn't believe his stories of middle earth were real, but they spoke about reality. So, while I doubt we'll ever find an alien symbiot that gives out more super powers than you can shake a stick at, or enjoy an alien tea far wiser than Celestial Seasonings, there's still a point to this. Because every great story that's featured aliens hasn't been about them at their core, they've been parables to tell us about ourselves.

Think of the Star Trek episode where one race is pursuing another because of a minor cosmetic difference (White on the right, Black on the left and vice versa.) When both escaped the Enterprise and Captain Kirk turned on the view screen, we also saw a burning and charred surface, as racial differences led to the destruction of a beautiful planet. The sci-fi fan can conjure up a thousand different images with messages, both good and bad.

I certainly want to use the talents I have in that particular genre to tell my own stories and send my own messages (and draw convenient plot devices ) using the space alien motif. So, that's why though you'll never see an alien in real life, you'll see plenty in Light at the Edge of Darkness.

6 comments:

Andrea Graham said...

good work, Adam!

cyn said...

Interesting post Adam and it brings a question to mind: the space alien (and, so glad you differentiated; I am tired of being grouped with the 'little green men') concept is an interesting, not to mention popular, vehicle to tell a good story, to deliver a good message. Do you use them because they may exist or despite their non-existance? If it is the latter, why do you feel that the inclusion of aliens (besides myself of course) is acceptable in Christian fiction?

Not challenging, just curious on your opinion.

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Adam Graham said...

Prior to recent study, I thought there was a real possibility. Given that there's probably not another intelligent species within 1,000 Galaxies of us (if there are any) makes the odds of us ever running into one quite remote.

However, I think space aliens are powerful figures that speak to life on Earth. For example, Kai Winn from Deep Space Nine was clearly a figure representing the religious right. The Ferengis were greedy capitalists. Had you gone outright and attacked Conservative Christians and Capitalism, there would be more controversy. Instead, people accepted these figures because like Tolkien's Elves and Hobbits (neither of which existed) they captured our imagination. So, as long as you're speaking truth about our world, I think you're okay, even if your story lines are quite fantastic.

cyn said...

This just in (really!), an email from a reader/ reviewer of whom I am unfamiliar:

Your Average Ordinary Alien was the most fun to read. I’ll admit that my wife and I attended a couple of Star Trek conventions, so I could relate to the character. The Agent, made me reevaluate my reasons for writing and helped get me back on track.

His complete review is at amazon.com (Light at the Edge of Darkness discussion board)).

Thought it would be appropriate to leave here for all to enjoy. Well done Adam!

Andrea Graham said...

that is so awesome. Praise the Lord!

Thank you so much for sharing

Scriptorius Rex said...

Fascinating. I love your take on aliens and it's given me some things to think about. It is truly an exciting time for us because I think we are closing in on an answer. The Terrestrial Planet Finder will launch in a few years and we should be able to quantify some of the variables you mention. We'll get a better idea of the number of habitable worlds and if we can determine what their atmosphere is made of we can get an idea of the liklihood of life. It should be fun.