Friday, July 28, 2006

What to do if an alien shows up in your living room

I was asked the above question a couple of years ago by a guy writing a book with practical advice for unusual situations. I never heard back from him, and don't know what happened to the book, but here's my answer:
What to do if an alien shows up in your living room:

First, in the time-honored words of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, "Don’t panic."

The alien standing in front of you evolved somewhere other than here. That means its biochemistry isn’t like that of earthly organisms -- so you don’t have to worry about being eaten; it could no more digest you than you could digest sand.

Also, it’s far less likely that an alien would find you sexually attractive than it is that you’d get turned on by the sight of a squid. Indeed, you’re probably the butt-ugliest thing this alien has ever seen -- so there’s no need to worry about guarding your virtue.

Finally, remember that it takes a large amount of energy to move between worlds, and energy costs money, everywhere in the universe. There’s no material object or natural resource on Earth that it wouldn’t be cheaper for the alien to synthesize at home rather than come here to get. The only reason for traveling between worlds is to access the immaterial: other cultures, other points of view, other forms of art.

So, relax, put on a good CD, and calmly set about trying to communicate. The alien might not use spoken language -- it could rely on sign language, shifting patterns of skin coloration, or any of countless other methods. But the fact that it came here when we don’t have the technology to go to its world means it has greater technology than we do. The alien doubtless has a small computer on its person, which will observe what you’re doing and figure out how to translate between your spoken words and the alien’s language.

Build up a vocabulary of nouns and verbs by pointing at things and demonstrating actions while saying the appropriate words aloud. Be polite and be patient -- although it’s true that the alien is the one in a foreign land, you are the goodwill ambassador for all of us. Do us proud.


At August 28, 2006 10:46 PM , Anonymous tinker said...

I'll try to remember your advice, should the occasion ever arise ;)

At December 11, 2006 7:12 AM , Anonymous Allan Psicobyte said...

I make a translation to spanish of this post on my blog. Does this represent any problem with copyright or similar?

(The translation URI is:

At December 11, 2006 10:43 AM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, Allan. That's fine by me! No problem -- thank you for doing it, and thank you for asking. :)

All best wishes.


At December 12, 2006 12:20 PM , Anonymous Allan Psicobyte said...

You're wellcome. It is a honour for me ;)


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