Thursday, December 15, 2011
You Say Alien and I Say Extraterrestrial. Plus a Follow-up on "My Future History"
First, two quick updates.
I want to correct an error in my last post. The proprietor of the Evangeline Walton has informed me that it wasn't the author of "The Island of the Mighty" who gave that book the original title of "The Virgin and the Swine" Both that title and the later title were the constructs of publishers. It makes sense that as sensitive an author as Evangeline Walton wouldn't have come up with such a rather coarse title.
Also, I now almost have the permissions on the very essential Robert Graves quotations. I say, almost, because the paperwork had to be revised, and then I have to pay the fee. So I'm almost set to begin formatting the first half of "Termite Queen." I just have to get the "Beowulf" sewed up and the Evangeline Walton itself. However, one hitch -- I have to go to a different publisher for the ebook rights to Graves. What a pain! The ebook rights holder charges an arm and a leg. I may delay the publication on ebook for a while. People who are really interested in "The Termite Queen" may have to break down and actually read a proper book for a change!
Now to the real topic of this post. First, I want to speak of the word "alien." I use the term from time to time in my writing, but lately I've begun to dislike that word and to favor "extraterrestrial" or "off-worlder." "Alien" carries a lot of unfavorable connotations. If you look it up in Dictionary.com, it means a person who has been estranged or excluded; and as an adjective, it can mean "unlike one's own, strange" and also "adverse, hostile, opposed." Of course, it also means an extraterrestrial. What gets me is that we have so many aliens living among us right now -- all those human beings who moved without permission from one geographical unit of the Earth to another. How can a member of our own species be an alien? Why should being from inside another nationalistic boundary make such a person "estranged, excluded, strange, adverse, hostile, opposed, unlike one's own"? Why should stepping across an imaginary line alienate a person from his or her fellow human beings?
So when we finally make first contact with extraterrestrials, are we going to treat them the same way? Sure, they won't have human DNA and they won't have human culture or customs or religions, but are we going to construct the same kind of jealously guarded imaginary boundaries in space that we have on Earth? Are we going to have a new variety of what we have already -- the illegal alien? Or are we going to grow up intellectually and emotionally? Anyway, I'm just throwing that out there to think about.
On my future Earth there are no nationalistic boundaries. Earth is united and while administrative regions exist, freedom of movement is universal. No passports, no visas. One currency. If you come from Scandinave and you want to work in Ostrailia, all you have to do is buy a ticket on a flyer, disembark, find a place to live, and go to work. People may be encouraged to move to certain parts of the planet in order to equalize the distribution of the population, but nobody is forced to do that. And it's true that everybody has an ID number so the Demographic Authority can keep statistics, but each individual has only one such number for the whole planet.
There is no army because there are no countries to fight one another, but there is a Terrestrial Security Force (known as TeSeF [pronounced "Tessef"] in the 28th century -- I don't think I ever refer to it by that name in "The Termite Queen," where we're mostly concerned with off-world security -- the responsibility of the Joint Defense Force of the Confederation of Four Planets). The primary function of TeSeF is keeping the peace -- police work, basically -- making sure that the planet remains a safe place to live. TeSeF members do have access to guns (which have become energy weapons by the 30th century), but they don't always carry them. Private gun ownership is forbidden. Now, I can hear the outraged screams, and I can hear people saying, "Boy, that situation is really ripe for abuse!" but the Security Force buys into its role and it works. And without guns in the general population, the opportunities for murder and mayhem are reduced (you never get rid of that sort of thing entirely).
Likewise, private ownership of personal vehicles is forbidden. For one thing, it's too costly in a world recovering from a total meltdown to allow every individual to own a vehicle; there is road maintenance, the cost of upkeep, the need for parking space, the availability of whatever fuel is used (and fossil fuels are strictly regulated -- there is no petroleum left anyway) -- to say nothing of the health benefits of walking more. Railroads (maglevs for cross-country use by the 30th century and interurbans within cities) are the transportation of choice, and methods of flight have been invented that don't require fossil fuels.
I can see all this getting an interesting response (there are a lot of people out there who are horrified by the concept of one world). The weapon and vehicle ownership questions, along with a million others, were debated for a hundred years prior to signing of the Global Charter. The ultimate decisions were globally approved. This global unity both simplifies and complicates things. It simplifies because you don't have to jump through a thousand different bureaucratic hoops in a thousand different nations. But it also complicates things because it creates a huge centralized bureaucracy, bigger than anything we have now. I don't know whether it would really work or not in practice, but that's the vision I have for my future. I would love to get comments.
In my next post I plan to stay away from controversy and to give more information about my three species of "alien" who are not termites.