Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: The coupon

In the final Futures piece for 2017, we are pleased to welcome back Judy Helfrich with her unusual take on first contact in The coupon. Judy has previously toyed with history in Playing for keeps. You can find out more about her work by visiting her website or following her on Twitter. Here she reveals the inspiration behind her latest tale — as ever it pays to read the story first.

Writing The coupon

I’ve often wondered what the eventual fate of Voyagers’ two golden records might be. What if they really did fall into the hands (or pseudopodia/tentacles/cyborg extensions) of aliens? Would they figure out how to play them? Would they understand Earth’s message? And would they like Chuck Berry?

What if their interpretation of the golden records wasn’t quite what we intended?

The records carry greetings, images and the sounds of Earth — including music — from many cultures. If the aliens’ language was based on pitches and notes instead of pictographs or graphemes, they might think we were communicating through the music. We could be telling them anything, from “we come in peace”, to “prepare for invasion”, to “big sale on kitty litter”. I thought it would make for a fun story if the alien interpretation was something wacky, and The Coupon ensued.

Of course, the Voyager probes might still be hurtling through space, undiscovered, when the Sun expands in a few billion years and encompasses Earth. But that’s okay, too. It’s comforting to know that those time capsules of our civilization will persist after our planet had died. I just hope if aliens do eventually find the golden records, they interpret them correctly. Because any Earth coupons will have long expired.

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