(Art) Fantasmagoria!

art by Nelsaon Tai
Giant dark samurai

I am not someone who likes to pick things apart, although I used to be. My adolescence was misspent on it. (See quote below.)

I suspect the people who pick at Star Wars are also those who can’t leave their scabs alone, but maybe not.

However, we can ask serious questions about fantastical topics. Einstein was led to his famous theory by wonder: He wondered what it would be like to ride a beam of light.

For my first novel, FANTASMAGORIA, I asked why an advanced alien race would bother to visit earth, let alone conquer it. Fiction doesn’t require a good reason. Anything enjoyable will do. But I wondered.

It wouldn’t be because Mars wants our women (as if they’re owned) or because the Goa’uld of P3X-888 want to make us slaves. That such fantasies are or were recently popular illustrates just how much we’re little more than large apes fretting over our reproductive success.

There’s also nothing specifically science fiction about any of it. Books like that — which are still being written — are just 19th century pirate stories or 20th century Westerns writ into space.

For one, any alien race would be as sexually attracted to human women as you are to a salamander, or a starfish.

For another, we would make very poor slaves, especially compared to any other practical option an advanced alien race would possess, such as androids or robots. We’re weak. We tire easily. We require water, food, clothing, regular sleep, and the company of others or else we simply cease to function. We get sick. We need places to urinate and defecate. Etc.

Which brings up another point. An advanced alien race would almost certainly send robots in place of themselves, especially if there was the least amount of danger involved. H. G. Wells’ solution to The War of the Worlds was clever for its time, but the idea that aliens could master interplanetary travel and death rays but not the germ theory of disease is rather ludicrous.

Aliens also wouldn’t come for our resources; we’ve largely used them all. But even if we hadn’t, they’d stop somewhere else first. Earth is a dismal little planet and the galaxy a very, very, very, very large place full of all of the same stuff that’s here but in much greater abundance.

The asteroid belt alone would be a better place to start, assuming all of the star systems between here and the alien home world had already been exhausted, which is incredibly unlikely for a race we have any hope of defeating.

You also have to consider the trade-offs. Because space is so vast, the energy required for interstellar travel is enormous. You would expend more simply getting here, even from a nearby star system, than you could hope to recoup from our little blue marble and its neighbors.

It’s analogous to you custom ordering a private jet so you could fly a specially trained crew to Africa and travel weeks into the bush simply to gorge yourself on one specific ant hill in the middle of nowhere, ignoring every other source of nourishment between here and there, including many other ant hills.

We make very expensive ants. We’re not that important.

Humans explore space out of curiosity. In other words, we’re looking for something that can’t be found here: answers.

But there is something here that exists nowhere else in the universe, a species of a genus that seems to be in very rare supply. Culture, our earth-specific ideas, arts, sciences, and modes of expression.

And that was my answer for the book. It seems to me an alien race capable of expanding across the stars would’ve long ago conquered every mundane problem, perhaps even death. If so, they would be very bored. They’d need something to watch.

FANTASMAGORIA takes place on a theme park world built by aliens from earth culture, from our myths and stories, which is why it’s peopled with dinosaurs and dragons and fairies and robots and gangsters and gods.

But they didn’t quite get it right, which is why the fairies are cannibal fairies and the gangsters have mechanical gunslingers and the ninjas are wereninjas. A thousand years after they’ve gotten bored with it, the planet has gone feral, which is where the story begins.


There’s a quote from C.S. Lewis that I like — well, several really, but one specifically related, which I’ve shared before:

“When young people are just beginning to pass from the ranks of the many to those of the few, a ludicrous, but fortunately transient error may occur. The young person who has only recently discovered that there is in music something far more lastingly delightful than catchy tunes may go through a phase in which the mere occurrence of such a tune in any work makes him disdain it as ‘cheap.’ And another young man, at the same stage, may disdain as ‘sentimental’ any picture whose subject makes a ready appeal to the normal affections of the human mind. It is as if, having once discovered that there are other things to be demanded of a house than comfort, you then concluded that no comfortable house could be ‘good architecture.’

I have said this error is transient. I meant transient in real lovers of music or of painting. But in status seekers and devotees of culture it sometimes becomes a fixation.”