Ok, so here are some of my thoughts after letting the idea sit a bit and then reviewing it. This is my refinement stage where I try to poke holes in my idea and see if plugging them makes it better. Again, this is a raw stage, not worried about cleanness or anything – poke the holes, explore the ideas… The point of this step is to continue to brainstorm in preparation for a rework of the plotlines. After the rework, and assuming I’m happy with it, we will need to find an editor to poke holes in it too and provide other input.
First, the ending is straight out of Twilight Zone – sure, I love that show, and I love content with that motif (Heavy Metal Magazine, Creepy Magazine, etc.). But, is it too predictable? Sort of bugging me. I felt like I avoided that well in writing Envoy 82, so need to pay attention to that here.
What if the ending was this instead: the aliens fight internally debating if they should exterminate the humans… mirror the struggle the humans had? Maybe the compromise is to cull and teach – they show a better(??) way to manage it than the humans could come up with. (IS it better? Is that a good concept to dig into?) Would that be more interesting or ruin the surprise factor? Or by simply avoiding the obvious, is the idea stronger?
One inspiration to consider – I adore Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star/Judas Unchained books. He was able to delve into an alien race from their very creation to present and showcase how *they* thought – telling the story from their perspective. Maybe explore this more and see if it can work neatly into this idea or not. It is intriguing to consider this, Hamilton is one of my writing idols.
Other problems with the idea so far:
The aliens may look “too human” – will need to really work hard to make it seem they are just evolutionary animals, not sentient beings worth saving. Why would we consider exterminating them if they just seem like dumb cavemen that *could* evolve into human-like intelligence? This is tricky because they have to be “sexy enough” for the abuse sequence (and, well, DarkBrain *is* a porn site). An excusable plot hole? Maybe.
(And, I don’t want to just rely on human/human sex – again did so much of that in Envoy 82, the story needs to be different).
So maybe Nate keeps finding no way to prove they are smart, not just evolutionary perfect. Perhaps in the contact sequence his real intention is to show the humans how smart they are, but they react too quickly and divert – they just avoid the humans and don’t have an “E.T.” or “close encounters” mojo at all?
There was a fabulous short story in a Nebula anthology about humans evolving, but not based on intelligence – based on knowing the next hour of the future; that it may not be intelligence that pushes evolution in the end. That is a strong theme in this story and the aliens need a culture that is not based on intelligence. Morals and ethics? Sure. But not raw intelligence. This is important in this story for it to work.
The story needs to really show Nate trying to determine if they are intelligent. It’s not just about observation, he has to make the call if they are sentient. More will need to exist in his journey of discovery – and for his pivotal decision to be highly questionable. His emotion overriding his rationality is important, so the sequences have to be the aliens basically failing all the human-style intelligence tests.
This is also perhaps the time to allow the humans to showcase some darkness – some real desperation as to why they have to colonize? Something that would put more pressure on the decision – something so plausible that even the reader would think that maybe Nate is wrong? But hopefully not trite and predictable – Earth poisoned and all of that. This will require some thought – an idea for why that is not simple and easy.
Although I do like Nate ending the story in fear – because it really isn’t ok for the aliens to murder 17 of the 20 team members – the aliens can feel him; they are connected. So if they feel his fear, is he “ruined” and should be scrapped for the next batch? That’s a point that will need a little thought too. Although there are people who feel fondly for sharks – so it’s not like pure killers are always hated either. If it is nature and their honest defense, can they be redeemable? (To Nate? No, he just would be terrified of them now… ponder this Andrew!)
Given the depth of real world studies of animals and sentience, it is going to be worth some study on my end. The arguments pro and con on this; use of animals in science; the ethics of clearing areas of “bad animals” – would be solid research as a backdrop for this piece. It’s been a while since I really did work on that – maybe even my college days as a philosophy major? Yeah, long enough to refresh.
Bingo! The fairies' way of consuming food can be perfectly balanced for their world as it is now - but would be in the way of human colonization as we will need to alter how the food grows to support our much larger population. This can provide the base point of contention for the story to work and for Nate's decision to be questionable.
Bingo 2! One activity Nate's team can do is to alter the way the soil replenishes and try to get the fairies to stay in place instead of being nomadic. That fails miserably, of course. This also provides a much-needed time sink for the story - weeks of effort that fails and grows the tension in both the military and science teams.
Bingo 3? What if I do tell the story from the alien's perspective as we go - like Hamilton did in Pandora's Star? Maybe that's just more interesting anyway - and will help the reader go with their journey and appreciate their decision late in the story to cull? It would certainly be more visual for the comic format as we can completely change how the art looks when speaking from the alien point of view. We could even distort the humans so they are seen like weird aliens to the aliens (and the aliens more human than how the humans see them?) That could be quite fun indeed.
And no robots/AI in this story – sci-fi stories seem a bit too enamored with this, the theme even showing up where it’s not needed like the Alien franchise… should have been kept to the Blade Runner franchise, imo. Although ironically, it really is a similar philosophical quandary… so perhaps also be aware to avoid cliché stuff due to that too.
Sort of feels like we need a “prime directive” for Nate’s science to abide by? A sentience level that qualifies a species or not. That may be the answer for this story and the struggles – and when Nate makes the call for Sally to think he is not following the directive.
Another idea – what if Sally is romantically involved with Nate? Perhaps that is the angle that keeps her from wanting to go against him; yet she has to by the end of the story? That struggle could be fun to deal with. That she goes to Doven for help in the end is the ultimate betrayal – the choice she finally makes against her boyfriend for the sake of her science?
Ok, will ruminate more - maybe even another brainstorming sessions, perhaps some research...
July 9, 2017