Saturday, June 10, 2017

Touring With the Alien, by Carolyn Ives Gilman

Touring With the Alien is the first Hugo-only nomination I have read this year, and it's a very strong entry for the award.  We have a pair of protagonists--Avery, the exotic loads driver, and Lionel, the child abducted by the visiting aliens.  They are inscrutable inside their massive, seashell-like "ships".  There is no evidence that these things traveled to get to earth, but they either did that or grew here.

Then an alien wants to tour the country, so Avery is hired to drive the bus.  She starts talking to Lionel and discovers the crux of the story.  These aliens are not conscious, in the exact same sense that we can act without self-consciousness.  They are in the zen flow, every day, all the time.  No self reflection.  No sense of self, so no sense of death.  They act in the world, harnessing technology and other species to work for them, but all without that sense of self that humans have. 

But they get that sense through their abductees--or adoptees.  And it turns out that consciousness is like a drug.  It tears the aliens up and ages them prematurely, but they can't kick it.

The story unpacks this notion, including some of the creepy physical aspects.  The story itself is limited, but the idea is such a dandy one that you just have to admire it.  I will give it four stars for the "zinger".  Fun!

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