Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Breadcrumbs for an alien

This week, Futures is delighted to welcome back Bo Balder with her new story, Breadcrumbs for an alien. Bo has previously introduced us to Skin hunger and the story I die a little, and in her latest piece, she wrestles with some curious communication difficulties. You can find about more about Bo’s work and her novel The Wan at her website or by finding her on Facebook and Twitter. Here, she reveals the inspiration behind her latest story — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing Breadcrumbs for an alien

I wrote Breadcrumbs for an alien while thinking about communication.

I grew up with Star Trek the Original Series, where aliens are just human actors with bits of rubber stuck to their faces. Everybody spoke the same language, American English, and the problem wasn’t usually understanding each other’s goals and desires. Klingons wanted to fight. Starfleet officers wanted peace. The humans always won.
Jabba the Hutt was a bit uglier and more alien than Spock. And sure, aliens have become more complex and more alien since. The movie Arrival is a great example of that.
But still, it’s usually clear that there are sentient aliens, that they understand we are sentient, and that both sides are trying to bridge the communication gap. It’s only a matter of movie time and the heroine’s insights to get there.
And  yet human beings don’t really need to meet aliens to experience misunderstandings. Isn’t trying to get our meaning across and ourselves understood what we do every day of our lives? And isn’t it usually hard, even between persons of the same species, language and culture?
I think when we meet real aliens, if we meet them, the gap we need to bridge is a bit wider than an episode of space opera or the length of a book.
Suppose we managed to meet aliens living concurrent with us in this Universe that is vast in both space and time, would we be able to communicate with them? Would we even recognize them as sentient beings, and they us?
What if a human astronaut landed among a civilization so different to her own she couldn’t even recognize its existence? No matter how hard the other party tried to signal to them, how willing and eager they were to find common ground? There is both tragedy and comedy to be found in such a situation, and that’s where I went with this piece.


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