The interplanetary Bechdel Test

25 Oct

With apologies to the actual Bechdel Test, which is about gender in TV, film, and other fictional media.

I am reading Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells, which got 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon with 1,115 raters. Honestly, I am not sure how it got that rating. The story was pretty good up to the point where the intrepid ship of Earth astronauts docks with the mysterious alien craft parked out in the asteroid belt and our heroine, a linguistics expert, starts up a telepathic correspondence with the ship’s one remaining alien. After that, it gets… well, dorky. Granted, I think that’s due to the stiff, stilted way this author writes aliens.

Writing space aliens is tough to do convincingly, at least when you’re writing “Earth’s first contact”-type stories. One thing that made Arthur C. Clarke’s Odyssey series work, and James SA Corey’s Expanse series work (so far) is the aliens never make an appearance. They are mysterious. You see their footprints, rather than them. Star Trek aliens, on the other hand, work, I think, because that story universe never even attempted to make them convincingly “alien.” They were all humans under the skin.

But honestly, I am searching for something that just doesn’t get written very often: space exploration in which humans are venturing out on their own and the plot is classic “man-vs-nature” (I’d even settle for classic “man-vs-man” human political stuff re: outerspace), rather than OMG!Aliens.

Not that I have anything against stories with aliens, but there is a perception out there in sci-fi land that “aliens” is why people want to read about space. Which isn’t always the case. Sometimes, stories about space are the story of us. Human beings.

I have the Edge of Infinity anthology in my queue. It’s supposed to be about colonizing our solar system. I am also searching for similar short stories in SFF periodicals. I am hoping they’re not all “our solar system, plus (butofcourse) aliens.”

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