Challenge 846 Response
Cygnians and Earthlings
with Bill Kowaleski
“Andrew Comes Out” appears in Creative Destruction, in issue 846.
Is the power plant construction just beginning or is it far along? Has the sudden and apparently miraculous discovery of practical fusion power been given a false explanation prior to the news conference, or has it been simply taken for granted?
[B.K.} The discovery of fusion power is attributed to Dr. Landis’s papers, and I can’t imagine anyone would think there was anything more to it. At the press conference, Landis explains from where he got the knowledge. Was there deception? Perhaps deception by omission, but McDermott is secretive and wants to be always in control of events, thus the reveal of Andrew and the Cygnians is carefully staged and timed.
Is the power plant completed or not? Andrew gives the status report in Chapter 3, but is what he says actually true? Stay tuned!
Dr. Landis is identified as a slender, middle-aged black man while McDermott is an athletic-looking “Caucasian,” i.e. white. What color is everybody else? Why the racial emphasis? And Mary Steenman knows that Dr. Landis is “famous”; why has she never seen a photo of him before?
[B.K.} The race of a character can often be inferred. Elka is clearly Caucasian, and it was earlier stated that Keyshawn is black. McDermott could be anything; it doesn’t matter to the story. But Dr. Landis’s race is important to the story, as you will see later on. Sci-Fi is so often lily white; I wanted my characters to be more diverse.
Why Mary hasn’t seen a recent photo of Dr. Landis is explained soon. He hasn’t been seen in public since his return from Cygnus Prime, because of the top secret nature of his work. Reporters always like to include photos in their stories, and a photo of Landis with the UZPG backdrop would have been an especially good one.
[Don Webb] So far, the action has taken place on Cygnus Prime and on Earth. Now, on Earth, the Prologue is set somewhere in the Near or Middle East. Otherwise, it’s in the midwest of the USA. The year hasn’t been mentioned, but the race relations seem to be those of the first quarter of the 21st century, i.e. today. The implication is that little will have changed in that regard between now and the time at which the story takes place.
Readers may infer that the black characters’ exceptional status is a form of social commentary tied to a particular time and place. For example, an extended family that includes native speakers of all five of the original official languages of the United Nations as well as African-American, Latin American, Chinese, and various European ethnic groups would have been fantastical in the USA half a century earlier and incomprehensible elsewhere. And questions of color range from tragic, as we know, to comical. For that reason, BwS has a motto: “Readers assume everything is normal, from their perspective, unless told otherwise.” And our article on the subject, “When East Isn’t East” is downright funny.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has at least two episodes dealing explicitly with black-white relations in the 20th-century USA. And the original series’ famous episode “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield” drove home so forcefully the point that supposed racial differences are irrelevant that, forever after, regular viewers could take characters’ identity for granted and concentrate on what they did. But you’re right that people often create problems where there need be none. Let’s sit back and see how Creative Destruction plays out!
A reporter asks whether the Cyganians adhere to one particular religion that is native to Earth. Why does the reporter choose that religion to the exclusion of all others? Why does the reporter not ask what religions the Cygnians might have?
[B.K.} This Christian-centric issue is purposeful. You’ll see more of it. This is an example of what I imagine would be some of the questions certain people would ask the first alien from another planet that they encounter. The perspective of the devout, fundamentalist Christian is, as you well know, that what they believe is an absolute truth and thus true in all contexts, including that of an alien species from another planet. So asking whether it believes in Jesus might be something they would ask an alien.
[D. W.] An orthodox adherent of any religion, I imagine — including Christianity — would give the Cygnians credit for being space aliens. One might ask the Cygnian simply whether the Cygnians have one or more religions and, if so, what they’re like. Since the extremist is, as you say, an absolutist, he logically contradicts himself by asking whether the Cygnians wave the same flag as he and thereby failing to assume that they do.
Generalities tell us nothing about special cases, of course, and vice-versa. The questioner at the press conference is, of course, more a devout idiot than he is a Christian. Readers may find it uncomfortable to single out one religion for caricature, but then all religions are diverse, and they all seem to have their share of idiots.
The Cygnian says, “We do not believe in any supreme universal power. Only hierarchical species have such beliefs.” How can the Cygnian stereotype entire species? Might any clues raise doubt that the Cygnian is telling the whole truth about his own kind? What Cygnian relationship in chapter 4 seems to be “hierarchical”?
Humans are hierarchical. Almost all human societies have leaders, and people of well-defined statuses. Cygnians don’t. There are stereotypes and there are traits. This is a trait. Even if you don’t agree with me, remember that this is Sociologist-Andrew talking, and it’s his Cygnian perspective.
I can see why you’d think that the Sales-Manager to Saleman relationship would be heirarchical. But to Cygnians, they are just filling roles. I know this is a difficult distinction to show or explain, but hang in there and perhaps it will become clearer.
McDermott says of the proposed excursion to a planet other than Cygnus Prime: “Everyone who thinks he or she matters in this world wants to go!” Does he mean, “will want to go”? What does McDermott seem to imply about anyone who might not be able to make the trip or feel the need to do so?
“Wants to go” vs. “will want to go.” Good catch! But I do mean “wants to go,” because that’s my way of saying that certain people have already been contacted about going to Tertia.
[D.W.] That is funny, BK. Advertising still rules the world, and McDermott is his own pitchman. Anybody who is somebody already wants to go to Tertia. And if you want to be somebody of importance, you’ll want to go, too!