How the Other Half Lives, Part 4: Life, The Universe, and Everything
Copyright David Belt 2014
This is the forth and final part of my series on Xenofiction, stories told from the point of view of something other than human. I am endeavoring to write a story from birth to eventuality of a unique non-human species. Along the way, I have learned a great deal about the process of living in order bring forth something original, yet familiar, plausible, yet fantastic, and humane, yet non-human. Now, I am passing the torch of what has burned in my mind and in my heart that it might shed some light on your own world, be it real or otherwise. This final topic will cover the eventualities of this thing we call life.
Why am I here?
This question is the quintessential quagmire of sentient life as each of us vainly stumbles to answer the unanswerable. Rene Descartes gave us the truth “I think, therefore I am,” but its inverse is just as true, “I am, because I think.” We create our own sense of purpose, our own goals, to give our lives meaning.
What such goals would a non-human culture poses? Would they really be so different from our own? What would make their lives complete? These questions are complex and difficult enough to answer in our own lives, but are too often over simplified in fictitious non-human cultures. Some of the worst abusers of over simplified goals would be in the realm of alien invasion plots. Is really plausible for a species to be so socially unified, technologically advanced enough, and to possess sufficient resources as to conquer an entire world, yet forgo any possibly of peaceful coexistence and immediately jump to war as the first line of diplomacy?
When you rule out the fantastic, the mundane remains, and there is nothing wrong with that. Propagation of the species should be at the heart of any culturally fundamental goals, while individual goals are often more selfish: establishing prominence in society, effecting change in one’s life, or raising a family. The more realistic your characters goals, the more real your characters will be. The Host by Stephanie Meyer is great example of a culturally purposed alien invasion. The Souls require hosts for propagation of their species, and they have developed methods and technologies to allow them to conquer whole worlds in a manner that their entire culture deems “humane” with minimal losses of life or resources.
Once we have our goals established, how do we meet those goals? The acquisition of wealth of often seen as an ever present human goal, but in most cases the acquisition of wealth is not our goal. It is a means by which we achieve our goals, and unfortunately, spend the majority of our time doing. What does your species do, day in and day out, to meet its goals? I want my readers to spend a day in the life of alien culture and experience what it is like to be a species that is not their own. We humans worship ourselves multiple times per day before a visage of our own reflection in small temples called “washrooms.” What sort of rituals does this new culture perform in its quest to achieve its goals?
Life as we understand it has a finite existence. How we view death is at least as important as how we view life and weighs heavily on the values we place on existence. These perceptions of life and death would be equally important in a non-human culture. Such perceptions would determine how a species cares for its own as well as how it would value the lives of other species.
For example: I have created a species with a life span of thousands of years. Births only occur every hundred years. They much reach 1200 years before they can become fertile, and become infertile after 2000 years. Therefore, they place a very high value on the lives of their people. They do not kill their own kind. Any faulted death of one of their species is met with swift and severe repercussions. On the other hand, they place very little value on the lives of those sentient species that live for only a few decades and spawn annually, such lives are so short lived and so busied as be beneath their notice on an individual level.
As I struggle with the idea of ending this series, I realize that There is still so much more to explore. Xenofiction is about the exploration of life and the infinite possibilities therein. It cannot be concluded; it has to be lived.