I think one of my neighbors is an alien. He works nights, so I’ve never actually seen him. He drives an old beat up Volkswagen bug with dark tinted windows, which is exactly what an alien would drive to avoid detection. According to local gossip, he hates football and never watches TV. Some say he doesn’t eat meat. I realize this is circumstantial, and he could be just another weirdo. But then how do I explain what I saw through his window? Now mind you, I’m not a peeping Tom. I was just walking past his house one night and noticed the shade was up in a back room from which light blazed into the neighborhood as if daring me to look inside. So I did.The room was filled with table high beds of soil, over which hung rows of grow lamps suspended from the ceiling. Poking out of the soil were weird-looking plants that looked like a cross between an artichoke and a pitcher plant. Attached to each of them was a plastic tube running up to a bottle filled with red liquid. It was like they were being fed intravenously with…. Well, if that isn’t proof I don’t know what is.
Of course, there’s also a teensy possibility that I might have imagined this. The night before, I had watched one of my favorite classic flicks—the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World, which scared me so silly as a kid I had to hide under the kitchen table whenever it appeared. It was supposed to be some giant alien plant which needed blood to feed its young. Sensitively portrayed by James Arness in one of his first big screen roles, it still looked more like a man than a plant.
From earliest childhood I thrilled at the thought of aliens from distant worlds, yet was always disappointed by the unimaginative ways in which they were depicted in fiction and movies. Mainly, they all seemed so human.
Why should aliens be made to look like us? You would think somewhere in this vast universe evolution could have produced something other than forward-facing bipeds, with bilateral symmetry. But all we get are more little green men in their flying saucers. Sure, they may sport antennae, big heads, or pointed ears, but they’re still from the same hominid mold.
I guess it’s only natural for a species so in love with itself that it imagines our form to be the pinnacle of perfection. Godlike, we create aliens in our own image. Sometimes we even give them godlike powers like the Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
We also create aliens in the image of other strange earth creatures. We give them tentacles, fearsome heads and big teeth. But in the end—even if they burst out of our chests—we’re still stuck on earth, imagining only what we know.
Not that there haven’t been some great aliens. In the original Star Trek there was the Horta—a silicon-based blob which could drill through solid rock by secreting acid. Star Trek writers got even better in future series. In a Next Generation episode, a microscopic form of crystalline life is discovered living within a thin layer of saline water, which allows the crystals to communicate and form a kind of super-intelligence. Now here was a true alien—something completely foreign and strange from our understanding of life on earth.
In his 1934 science fiction story “A Martian Odyssey,” Stanley Weinbaum created one of the most memorable aliens I have ever encountered in fiction: “It was a nondescript creature—body like a big grey cask, arm and a sort of mouth-hole at one end; stiff, pointed tail at the other—and that’s all. No other limbs, no eyes, nose—nothing! The thing dragged itself a few yards, inserted its pointed tail in the sand, pushed itself upright, and just sat… Then, with a creaking and rustling like—oh, like crumpling stiff paper—its arm moved to the mouth-hole and out came a brick! The arm placed the brick carefully on the ground, and the thing was still again.”
In the final analysis, we are limited both by what we know and don’t know. Our brains are hardwired to perceive and interpret reality in a certain way. I tend to agree with J.B.S. Haldane when he wrote, “Now, my suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose….” (Possible Worlds, 1927).
In other words, if aliens do exist they are like nothing in our wildest dreams.
©Gene Twaronite 2014
Originally published in 5enses Feb. 2014 http://www.5ensesmag.com/imagining-aliens/