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And also a pony. An alien pony. - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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And also a pony. An alien pony. [Aug. 4th, 2011|07:39 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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So I'm going to tell you a thing I want, and you will either tell me where I can find more of it or why I can't find more of it.

What I want is a fairly classic mode of science fiction that I call "planets and aliens." It's mostly about the people on one planet, although there may be more, and they're learning to deal with the aliens on that planet, although again there may be more. It isn't about wars in FTL spaceships, although there may be FTL spaceships (or there may not, there may just be FTL communications, or not even that). And I can come up with all sorts of classic examples and very few new recent things. (C.J. Cherryh's atevi books, for example, fit the bill, but she started writing them so long ago. There's a lot of LeGuin in this mode.)

So why the fewer recent things? Did people become stymied for things to say after they realized that using aliens as code for particular racial/ethnic groups here was a bad idea? Someone I was talking to suggested that it was because modern physics made long-distance space travel look less plausible than once it did, but there are so very many implausible things that are written about in great detail that this seems like not the explanation to me. Did everything just get pulled over into the Military SF realm and have the aliens mostly sucked out? What's the deal here?
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[User Picture]From: rosefox
2011-08-05 12:58 am (UTC)
The only recent thing I can think of that even comes close is Zoe's Tale, and Vernor Vinge's forthcoming The Children of the Sky. Felix Gilman's The Half-Made World owes a fair amount to that mode of storytelling but is also very different.

Did people become stymied for things to say after they realized that using aliens as code for particular racial/ethnic groups here was a bad idea?

Yeah, I think awareness of the downsides of colonialism happened.

In addition, I don't think many people these days think it would be awesome to be a colonist. Mostly it sounds like a lot of work.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-08-05 02:36 am (UTC)
Huh. I don't really know what you mean about The Half-Made World in this context. I can very easily see the very different but not so much the debt it owes.
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[User Picture]From: wshaffer
2011-08-05 01:14 am (UTC)
I think that in addition to the factors you named, the resurgence of space opera (which shares some features with "planets and aliens" but isn't doing quite the same thing) might have stolen some of the energy that used to go into "planets and aliens" stories.

I'm rather fond of "planets and aliens" stories myself, so I'm kind of hoping other people will come up with recent examples that I don't know about.
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[User Picture]From: matociquala
2011-08-05 01:18 am (UTC)
Two books about froggie aliens: My UNDERTOW and Amy Thomson's THE COLOR OF DISTANCE.

There's Robert Charles Wilson's BIOS. No sentient aliens, but a nifty dangerous biosphere.

There's Scalzi's Fuzzy reboot, though (don't look, John) I'd recommend the Piper version if you haven't read it.
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[User Picture]From: marydell
2011-08-05 02:07 am (UTC)
[edited because I put the other comment in the wrong spot. What I meant to say here was:]

Seconding the rec of BIOS; it's one of my favorite planetary-exploration books. I thought the diggers might be sentient because they [rot-13]pbbcrengviryl yherq gung bar qhqr vagb enatr fb gurl pbhyq rng uvz. (IIRC) But there's probably a bug on our planet that can do that...

Edited at 2011-08-05 02:25 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: apis_mellifera
2011-08-05 02:09 am (UTC)
What about Embassytown?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-08-05 02:35 am (UTC)
Haven't read it. It's this sort of thing, then? I was not at all a fan of Mieville's earlier work, but The City and the City was not bad.
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[User Picture]From: marydell
2011-08-05 02:17 am (UTC)
Whoops, I'm re-posting this so it's top-level and not a non-sequitur reply to Bear.

A Woman of the Iron People by Eleanor Aronson has interesting & classic-feeling aliens, although the human anthropologists interacting with them are a bit irritating at times. It's one of those "wander around the planet getting to know each other" stories and it's overall quite good, I think.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-08-05 02:35 am (UTC)
It's also twenty years old. Which doesn't disqualify it from the goodness, by any means, but it isn't very recent.
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[User Picture]From: timprov
2011-08-05 04:56 am (UTC)
I suspect the fact that so many people love to interpret such books as being code for particular ethnic groups, or as statements about colonialism, is very offputting for more people than me. I have three P&A projects that I really haven't terrible interest in taking anywhere in the current critical environment.

Also some of it has become fantasy.
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2011-08-05 05:28 am (UTC)
Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow isn't recent any more either, is it? Damn. I love this subgenre too, but I got nothin'.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2011-08-05 06:40 am (UTC)
I wouldn't be surprised if the movie Avatar has contributed toward scaring people off that subgenre by being such an outstanding example of 'white guy rides in to save the colorful (literally!) natives'. Though it was extremely lucrative...
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2011-08-05 07:23 am (UTC)
I'm pretty sure the decline in Planets & Aliens SF has been going on for over a decade now, actually.

Avatar, for all its faults, is actually a (surprisingly mainstream) example of the sub-genre, which seems to have become uncool/something to avoid as of the late '90s and early '00s. Aside from a handful of works like Karen Traviss's Wess'har books and the stuff people have already mentioned, a thread of the genre that used to be central to SF has more or less been abandoned.

For all that works like Avatar (and in different ways, the likes of Purgatory and The Word for World is Forest) are problematic, it feels like people kept on writing this sort of thing in bulk through the late '80s. Then during the '90s, something happened, the Zeitgeist moved away from aliens, and people mostly stopped.

I, for one, would like to be able to put my finger on why.
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[User Picture]From: ellarien
2011-08-05 09:05 am (UTC)
Karen Traviss's series starting with City of Pearl, maybe, though there are several different lots of aliens and several different planets. The author says she doesn't read fiction, so it's not exactly in dialog with the genre, and it's odd in some ways; it certainly doesn't go in for human exceptionalism. That came out between 2004 and 2008, and these days the author seems to be writing video-game tie-ins.

The other thing that fits into that mental category, for me, is Kristine Smith's series starting with Code of Conduct (1999), which wrapped up in 2007. In that case most of the action takes place off the alien planet -- a lot of it on Earth, revolving around the alien embassy.

Oh, and K.D. Wentworth's Black on Black and Stars over Stars, which I got from the Baen Free Library, but those are somewhat older, I think.
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[User Picture]From: mastadge
2011-08-05 10:49 am (UTC)
Huh. I remember really enjoying the first couple City of Pearl novels, but for some reason never finished the series. Maybe it's time to revisit.
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[User Picture]From: columbina
2011-08-05 01:48 pm (UTC)
Well, I can't speak for anyone else, but I wrote a book about a gifted but neurotic young man trying to come to grips with being placed on an alien planet as an exchange student, and I gave it to a test reader who savaged every page of it because the aliens were not nearly alien enough.

So - leaving my own scars out of it - that made me aware that truly alien aliens were kinda hard to write, and I think if we've gotten smarter and more aware as SF consumers - which I believe we have - then perhaps our tolerance for Star Trek stype aliens who are just basically humans with a few unusual behavior quirks and a prosthetic ridge on their foreheads is diminishing.

(My aliens did have a Secret that was realio, trulio alien, but after dealing with all the comments from someone who was apparently unprepared to deal with ANY parallelism of technology, housing, transportation etc, I just said, you know what, it's not worth the pain.)

Um. Sorry for the dump. Very bad morning here at the code farm. Don't mind me.
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[User Picture]From: columbina
2011-08-05 01:49 pm (UTC)
"Stype" is apparently my tired brain attempting to portmanteau "stripe" and "type," and is not an REM vocalist.
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[User Picture]From: the_jackalope
2011-08-05 02:15 pm (UTC)
There's The Knife of Never Letting Go and the books following it. Though I suppose it's more about people dealing with the strangeness of their new planet-though the native population comes in to play there as well.
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[User Picture]From: aedifica
2011-08-05 02:39 pm (UTC)
The first of Lisanne Norman's Sholan Alliance books has something in common with what you describe, but it's more the story of one human and the alien she meets, set against the backdrop of her planet which has been invaded by a different set of aliens.

And apparently it's almost twenty years old now. I'm not used to the 90s being that long ago! (But also I didn't read any of the books til maybe seven years ago.)

Later the series turns into "one human on a planet of aliens, some of whom are sympathetic and some of whom are not," with some cross-species romance which could be read as an analogue to what some human mixed-race couples have to face, though I have no idea whether the author meant it as commentary or not. There is also culture shock and "telepathy doesn't fix all misunderstandings" and things like that.

I stopped reading after three or four or five books; I didn't consciously decide to stop reading, I just never picked up the next one.
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From: zwol
2011-08-05 04:06 pm (UTC)
The only recent thing that comes to mind is Nina Kiriki Hoffman's Catalyst, which is ... odd. Deeply odd. But I liked it.
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[User Picture]From: tanithk
2011-08-05 06:10 pm (UTC)
Julie Czerneda's Web Shifter books take place on a number of planets with human/alien and alien/other alien interactions. Really cool aliens. All of her books have really cool aliens.
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