06 April 2013


Locus Focus: Take Eighty-Seven!

Welcome to Outer Space Day!

Finally, I can make the official announcement that April's theme is . . . In Space, No One Can Hear You Blog! I will be reading, watching and thinking about a lot of space-set Science Fiction this month--and I'd like to invite you to come along for the ride. =)

For the first three weekends of April, I will be featuring settings from books; on the last week, I'll have a "movie edition"! If you'd like to write your own Locus Focus post about an outer space setting, please feel free to grab the badge on the sidebar and leave me a link to your blog in the combox so that I and others can read it, too.

Our first setting is from the very first book I thought of when I started considering this theme.

Mr. and Mrs. K's Home
The Martian Chronicles
by Ray Bradbury

They had a house of crystal pillars on the planet Mars by the edge of an empty sea, and every morning you could see Mrs. K eating the golden fruits that grew from the crystal walls, or cleaning the house with handfuls of magnetic dust which, taking all dirt with it, blew away on the hot wind. Afternoons, when the fossil sea was warm and motionless, and the wine trees stood still in the yard and the little distant Martian bone town was all enclosed, and no one drifted out their doors, you could see Mr. K himself in his room, reading from a metal book with raised heiroglyphs over which he brushed his hand, as one might play a harp. And from the book, as his fingers stroked, a voice sang, a soft ancient voice, which told tales of when the sea was a red steam on the shore and ancient men had carried clouds of metal insects and electric spiders into battle . . .

If you went on an expedition to the planet Mars, what would you expect to see? Would it be anything like the home of the gracefully civilised, if prosaically named Mr. and Mrs. K?

There's something about a house whose crystal walls give fruit and whose fluted pillars bring mists . . . one which is open to the breezes in the daytime and which closes up like a flower in the nighttime . . . It doesn't feel like a setting in outer space, but like a dwelling in a dream. Indeed, it is in the very literal dreams of Nathaniel York, an astronaut on the First Expedition to Mars: dreams that might embarrass his rational scientist self, should he share them with anyone else upon waking.

But if so, it will only be because he, like us, has forgotten that before interplanetary travel could become a reality, it started as a dream . . . and it was romantic.

Of course, at the time Ray Bradbury was writing The Martian Chronicles, interplanetary travel had not yet crossed over into reality. Which is probably why York doesn't get to see Mr. and Mrs. K's home with conscious eyes, and why even the first successful Earth settlers can only imagine what the Martian civilisations must have been like, as they wander through the ruins of vast Martian cities.

It remains so for us today, which only enhances our experience of this book. Bradbury plays his haunting key with finely tuned prose that both gives flesh to this space fantasy and keeps it dancing elusively out of our grasp. This counterpoint runs through the entire narrative: the silent song of each wave of expeditions and settlers who come to Mars seeking something they cannot name . . . and often finding what they never would have dreamed of. Mr. and Mrs. K's home is the first Martian setting and is never seen again after the first chapter--but that fleeting glimpse of it is enough to set the tone for this entire novel.

Question of the Week: What would you expect to find on another planet?

Image Source: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury


Sullivan McPig said...

In most SciFi books I read the aliens are humanoids who look so much like humans they could just as easily have been just humans. I'd want to see real aliens when I visited another planet. Weird, unfathomable, disturbingly looking non humanoid aliens!

Enbrethiliel said...


And just when I thought I had my Locus Focus lineup for the month, you reminded me of another novel I could use! One with non-humanoid aliens! =D

The Martians of The Martian Chronicles may indeed be humanoid, but this reread may just shape up to the best book of the month for me! =) I may do a full Reading Diary entry . . .

I know there's at least one scientist who has argued that life would evolve along pretty much the same lines on other planets, so aliens, if they exist, really would be humanoid. Not that I need a justification for my own tolerance of humanoid aliens (LOL!), but I think it would take an exemplary imagination to make an intelligent but non-humanoid race and culture both rich and plausible. For instance, they'd have books, I'm sure--but of course, not books anything like ours. Mr. K's book in the excerpt is like ours in that it is written in heiroglyphs, even if he reads it by "strumming" the heiroglyphs and listening to what has turned out to be an "audio book." But even the fantasy is our fantasy--more out of the ordinary for us than ordinary for them, if you know what I mean.

If you can recommend any books with non-humanoid aliens whose civilisations are both intricately structured and highly believable, Sully, I'll be glad to look them up. =)

Sullivan McPig said...

I wish I could, but I'm still searching myself as well. Closest I have come are tales by H.P Lovecraft. His elder gods are actually aliens from far away places. The Color Out Of Space is a really great attempt to describe something that comes from space and isn't what we know here on earth. But technically his stories are horror stories....

Enemy Within by Marcella Burnard does have insectoid aliens as the bad guys, so that's a cool one too. But she also uses humanoid aliens.

Speaking about insectiod aliens: Have you ever read Yargo by Jacqueline Susann? It was the first SciFi I ever read. Still a favorite.

Sheila said...

For non-humanoid aliens -- The Conqueror Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn. Come to think of it, read anything and everything by that guy, if you haven't. The Quadrail books reminded me of Murder on the Orient Express, and The Green and the Gray is everything urban fantasy tries to be. The man has an imagination on him, to be sure.

Oh, and The Gods Themselves, by Isaac Asimov, has some very non-humanoid aliens. They're only vaguely described physically, but their culture is something else.

When I was about thirteen I made up species after species of aliens: reptiles, rodents, birds, and so forth. The birds were my favorite. Ever wonder what the culture of intelligent birds would be like, the sort of houses they'd build ... and what they'd think of humans? Sadly I never did much with all these aliens. I drew a lot of pictures though.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sully -- I'd love to read about insectoid aliens who are the good guys attacked by Earthlings. ;-) But until that story gets written, I'll look for the Jacqueline Susann book you've mentioned.

And suddenly I'm reminded of The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells! How could I have forgotten such an excellent example??? His Martians are definitely not humanoid!

Sheila -- Imagining fantastic creatures is easy enough, but building them a civilisation that makes sense is a real achievement! If Timothy Zahn's imagination is half of what you say it is, I'll be happy camper. =) Thanks for the recommendations!

I never made up different alien species, but I have often tried to imagine what would happen if a species already on earth succeeded in supplanting humans and building its own civilisation. The insects produced the most fascinating results . . . with the plants in a close second place!

Belfry Bat said...

Greg Egan writes "hard" sci-fi, and his aliens include things with exoskeleta, furry eusocial snake-shaped creatures, and bunch of others I can't remember. He has also imagined variously universes in which space travel as-such is hopeless, but most of the inhabitants are essentially programs that are happy to zip around as messages (but they seem to remember being embodied creatures too... ) --- and others in which Man has figured out not only warp drive but how to re-shape the space we live in so that "between" here and the Kuiper belt there's a sneaky branching network of space pockets (in this one I only remember meeting humans, but they had invented a way to incrementally replace their brains with something more mechanically resilient... ) in fact, the main recurring notion in his writing seems to be this annoying metamaterialistic belief that a "person" is exactly a continuum of accumulating memory. His website isn't playing well with my browser right now, but there's lots of his stories available for free.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thank you, Bat! =)

I probably won't be able to get to everyone's recommendations this month--because I started with a bit of a plan, just in case I got no other leads--but everything has been noted.

Sheila said...

Insectoid species as the good guys, attacked by earthlings ... so you haven't read the Ender's Game books? Sadly, you don't get to see the aliens' point of view though. The Conquerors Trilogy is one that does give you an aliens' eye view of humans. I'm afraid it's not particularly flattering.

Enbrethiliel said...


I've thought of two more books I've read (or sort of read) with non-humanoid aliens, but I hope it's all right to save them for future posts instead of this discussion! =)

Sheila -- No, I haven't read Ender's Game yet. But it has been "on my list" for years, for whatever that's worth these days.

I don't mind unflattering impressions of humanity. In fact, the potential for satire being so rich in these books, you could even say that I seek them out! But it would be nice to have some balance: an alien who can see both problem areas and strengths when he looks at the Earthling race. =)

Sheila said...

Well, that's exactly what the trilogy IS. The first book is the aliens from the humans' perspective, the second is the humans from the aliens' perspective, and the third has both. So, yes, it's balanced.

Ender's Game is going to be in theaters this year, so you may want to read the book first. Your TBR list just keeps getting longer, doesn't it? If you have to choose, go with Zahn. Orson Scott Card is only good. Zahn is perfect.

Enbrethiliel said...


I always say that I am finally prepared to do any of my blog events on the day I'm done with them, and "In Space, No One Can Hear You Blog" is no exception. So I see now that the readalong vote should have been between Orson Scott Card and Timothy Zahn . . . but it's too late for that now!

Sheila said...

I did think your choices were somewhat cheesy. But ... I get the impression somehow that you are not averse to cheese. ;) You'll just have to read Zahn later. He is the awesomest. Perhaps of any genre.

In sci-fi, Isaac Asimov would be second. The Foundation Trilogy. :D

Enbrethiliel said...


Over here, sometimes cheese is the whole point! =P

Another factor that goes into choosing the books is their "distance" from previous picks. I've done a classic, a Horror novel, a children's series, and a work of serious theology. Following those up with cheesy SF was only logical! LOL!