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An Alien World

When I try to imagine a truly alien world, I usually end up thinking of the following passage from Fiasco.

He was surrounded by bulging, squat mounds the color of ashes, with paler lines where there were runnels of rainwater. An abandoned village of a primitive African tribe, in mist. Or a cemetery with barrows. He pointed the biosensor, taken from the knapsack, at an uneven, swollen wall a foot away. The needle shook at the red maximum, like a small voltmeter applied to a mighty dynamo. Holding the heavy instrument in front of him with its muzzle extended—like a rifle ready to shoot—he ran around the gray, crusty hump that protruded from the clay. In the clay his boots, slapping, left deep prints that filled immediately with dark water. He hurried up the slope from one shapeless loaf to the next. Flattened at the top, they were half again taller than he was. Perfect for inhabitants the size of a man. But there were no entrances, openings, spy holes, embrasures. These could not be bunkers—completely closed, unformed. Nor corpses buried in crusted graves, because no matter where he turned the sensor, life throbbed. For comparison, he directed the muzzle at his own chest. The arrow at once dropped to the middle of the dial. Carefully, so as not to damage it, he lay the biosensor aside, pulled the folding shovel from his suit's thigh pocket, and on his knees dug in the pliant clay. The blade scraped against an object. He shoveled away the muck, but water rapidly filled the growing hole. He thrust in his arm to the shoulder, as deep as he could reach, and, groping, felt a horizontal branching. A root system for petrified mushrooms? No—they were thick, smooth, tubular. They were pipes, and—what struck him particularly—neither hot nor cold, but warm. Out of breath, muddied, he jumped up and punched the fibrous crust with his fist. It gave elastically, though fairly hard, and resumed its former shape. He rested his back against it. Through the rain he could see more humps, shaped in the same random way. Some, close together, made twisting alleys that led higher up the slope, where the mist engulfed them.

 

  See Also

  On Walking

@ May (2002)