Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction

Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction

Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction

Aliens: The Anthropology of Science Fiction


How and when does there come to be an "anthropology of the alien?" This set of essays, written for the eighth J. Lloyd Eaton Conference on Fantasy and Science Fiction, is concerned with the significance of that question. "[Anthropology] is the science that must designate the alien ifit is to redefine a place for itself in the universe," according to the Introduction.

The idea of the alien is not new. In the Renaissance, Montaigne's purpose in describing an alien encounter was excorporation- mankind was the "savage" because the artificial devices of nature controlled him. Shakespeare's version of the alien encounter was incorporation; his character of Caliban is brought to the artificial, political world of man and incorporated into the body politic

"The essays in this volume... show, in their general orientation, that the tribe of

Shakespeare still, in literary studies at least, outnumbers that of Montaigne." These essays show the interrelation of the excorporating possibilities to the internal soundings of the alien encounter within the human mind and form.

This book is divided into three parts: "Searchings: The Quest for the Alien" includes "The Aliens in Our Mind," by Larry Niven; "Effing the Ineffable," by Gregory Benford; "Border Patrols," by Michael Beehler; "Alien Aliens," by Pascal Ducommun; and "Metamorphoses of the Dragon," by George E. Slusser.

"Sightings: The Aliens among Us" includes "Discriminating among Friends," by John Huntington; "Sex, Superman, Sociobiology," by Joseph D. Miller; "Cowboys and Telepaths," by Eric S. Rabkin; "Robots," by Noel Perrin; "Aliens in the Supermarket," by George R. Guffey; and "Aliens R' U. S.," by Zoe Sofia.

"Soundings: Man as the Alien" includes "H. G. Wells' Familiar Aliens," by John R. Reed; "Inspiration and Possession," by Clayton Koelb; "Cybernauts in Cyberspace," by David Porush; "The Human Alien," by Leighton Brett Cooke; "From Astarte to Barbie," by Frank McConnell; and "An Indication of Monsters;" by Colin Greenland.


The bliss of man (could pride that blessing find) Is not to think or act beyond mankind.

-- Alexander Pope

Our title, the "anthropology of the alien," sounds like a contradiction in terms. Anthropos is man, anthropology the study of man. The alien, however, is something else: alius, other than. But other than what? Obviously man. The alien is the creation of a need -- man's need to designate something that is genuinely outside himself, something that is truly nonman, that has no initial relation to man except for the fact that it has no relation. Why man needs the alien is the subject of these essays. For it is through learning to relate to the alien that man has learned to study himself.

According to Pope, however, man who thinks beyond mankind is foolishly proud. Indeed, many aliens, in SF at least, seem created merely to prove Pope's dictum. For they are monitory aliens, placed out there in order to draw us back to ourselves, to show us that "the proper study of Mankind is Man." But this is merely showing us a mirror. And many so-called alien contact stories are no more than that: mirrors. There are two main types of this contact story: the story in which they contact us, and the story in which we contact them. Both can be neatly reflexive. The aliens who come to us are, as a rule, unfriendly invaders. And they generally prove, despite claims to superiority, in the long run to be inferior to man. This is the War of the Worlds scenario, where the invasion and ensuing collapse of the Martians serves as a warning to man not to emphasize (in his pride) mind at the expense of body -- not to abandon a human, balanced . . .

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