At the beginning of this month, my first professional publication was published in Clarkesworld 77: a short story titled “The Wanderers.” (It’s available to read or listen to free through the Clarkesworld website.) The story is about a group of sadistic aliens who come to Earth after viewing some of our movies and news broadcasts. As members of a violent society, they are drawn to our planet’s violent nature; their favorite transmissions have been our gory horror films, and they intend to conquer us, as we will prove a better challenge than their masochistic subjects on their home planet. When they reach Earth, however, they find their plans thwarted.
Now I have always liked a certain kind of alien story, one that focuses less on action and more on the alien sensibility, on the way aliens might see us, ways they may differ from and, perhaps a more intriguing sentiment, complement us. Thus, in honor of my first pro publication, I bring you ten of my favorite alien stories; innovative stories which concern the presence of alien life.
1.”Beautiful Boys” by Theodora Goss
A scientist investigates and studies the presence of alien life here on Earth in the form of attractive men and becomes involved with one of her study’s participants. The aliens in “Beautiful Boys” are less literal aliens and more an attempt to explain the irresistibility some men seem to exude. The main character, an intensely rational woman, tries to give a scientific explanation to otherwise inexplicable emotions. A definite contender for this year’s Hugo award for Best Short Story.
Lightspeed (February 2013)
. EscapePod 107
. Originally appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction
, June 2006.
A failed, cult television show called Invasion of a Small World may or may not really be an alien transmission. This story leaves all of the questions it asks unanswered, and though no physical aliens appear in the story, the storytelling style of a feature-type news story provides an unbiased and interesting way to absorb the story.
The most refreshing aspect of Das’ “muo-ka’s Child” is the depiction of alien life. When the main character, Ziara, lands on a foreign planet, she is saved by an alien life form named muo-ka, who becomes a parent to her. The relationship between them, which is both very similar and much different from our own parent-child relationships, proves, in the end, to be both touching and a tad unnerving.
4. “Think like a Dinosaur” by James Patrick Kelly
Michael works for an alien species called the Hanen, who have acquired the nickname dinosaurs because of their dinosaur-like appearance; Michael’s job is to facilitate human teleportation to the Hanen’s planet. The teleportation in “Think like a Dinosaur” works by creating a duplicate copy of the person and then destroying the original, but when the transfer goes wrong, Michael is supposed to “balance” the equation and kill the young woman’s extra copy. This story explores the dark side of technological advancement and asks what might threaten our humanity in the face of that advancement.
Eclipse Three and What I Didn’t See: And Other Stories
A young woman is sent away to a boarding school whose inhabitants are tortured and essentially stripped of their humanity. The reader isn’t aware that “The Pelican Bar” is an alien story, or even a speculative story at that, until the last couple of paragraphs, and though I hate to ruin the surprise, Fowler’s withholding of this information makes this one of the most innovative stories I have ever read, period.
SciFiction. Originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Sheldon/Tiptree’s “The Women Men Don’t See,” the oldest story on this list, is told from the point-of-view of an American government agent named Don, whose plane crashes with a woman named Ruth Parsons and her daughter aboard. Throughout the story, the man thinks he knows how the women will behave and is agitated when the women do not act panicked or helpless. Although the aliens in this story are present only briefly, it is what they represent that makes this story one of the best I’ve ever read.
7. “Light and the Sufferer” by Jonathan Lethem
While a young man tries to help his drug-addicted brother, they are trailed by one of the strange aliens called sufferers which are ubiquitous in the story’s world. The aliens here, sphinx-like and unexplained, are treated more like scenery than an integral part of the plot and become a conduit for people’s desire to attach meaning and find a reason for all things in life.
Abandoned on an alien planet for murdering a woman, the main character of “The Far Oasis,” a man called Sikes, mercilessly hunts and kills the planet’s creatures, called Geets, performing an artificial selection experiment in an attempt to recreate in the slightly-humanoid creatures the features of the woman he killed, as well as his own likeness. A haunting, disturbing story.
9. “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang
Beautiful and heart-wrenching, “Story of Your Life” does a great job describing what it might be like to try and communicate with aliens who do not speak our language, or a language anything like ours. Told from the point-of-view of a linguist given the task of figuring out how to communicate with the aliens, the alien visitation here is much more complex and realistic than in any other story I’ve ever read.
10. “Gone” by John Crowley
The aliens who visit Earth in “Gone” offer to complete chores in exchange for a checkmark on a “Good Will Ticket,” the meaning of which is never quite figured out. A woman struggling with retrieving her children from her ex-husband who has taken them waits for them to visit her. An optimistic story, which is always a rare find.
And Helena Bell’s “Robot,” which I discovered the day after I composed this list, certainly deserves mention. The aliens in this story are utilized by people as caregivers for the disabled. Told in an imperative style, “Robot” is reminiscent of Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.”