Friday, June 3, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #5

My rather loose introduction to the forthcoming Alien Contact anthology (Night Shade Books, November) was posted on April 25 and would be a good place to start, if you are new to this blog.

"The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything"
by George Alec Effinger

This story was originally published in the October 1984 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and is approximately 6,100 words in length.

I have a bit of history with this story, and with it's author -- George Alec Effinger -- in particular. Though George and I had met, albeit briefly, at various ArmadilloCon conventions during the late '80s and early '90s, we actually began communicating via email in July 2001 with the purpose of getting his long-out-of-print stories back into print. I acquired and edited three volumes of Effinger's work for Golden Gryphon Press; the first volume, Budayeen Nights, was assembled with George's contributions and assistance, though he passed away before the collection was published in 2003. The latter two volumes were done as tributes to the author himself. I've written extensively about these three books, which included content from emails George had sent me. If you are not familiar with GAE's work, I would encourage you to read my blog posts, beginning with the first in the series.

But back to "The Aliens Who Knew...": When I was compiling the stories for the second Effinger collection, Live! from Planet Earth, I posted a letter on Locus Online, asking readers for their favorite GAE story; I also contacted many of George's friends -- authors and editors alike -- for their input as well. By far, the most requested story was "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything." Author Michael Bishop was not only one of the individuals to recommend the story to me, he also wrote the introduction to the story in the collection itself. And with Michael's kind permission1, I'd like to share with you a small bit of that introduction to "The Aliens Who Knew...":
Upon our first meeting in 1976 or '77 at a small convention in Rome, Georgia, [Effinger] gave me the impression of a visitor from a continuum aslant our own, as if he had wafted in through a magic heating duct or tiptoed through the wall via a process of somatic intermolecularization. He complained of not having slept in days....When he wrote, however, he focused all his shattered attention, depleted energy, and tireless self-effacing wit on the words at his command. And, by so doing, he produced a host of literary marvels worthy of our attention, energy, and laughter today.
     Among the downright funniest of George Alec Effinger's marvels, I reckon, is [this] short story....I could write a scholarly paper about this story, dissecting its techniques of understatement, awe-free character presentation, and science-fictional self-referentialism, throwing in allusions to low-budget alien-invasion films from the 1950s and 1960s and to the influential Cold War satires of Robert Sheckley and William Tenn, but an introduction to a funny story should no doubt refrain from that sort of analysis. For one thing, it would spoil the jokes. For another, it would strike the author as overblown, tone deaf, and beside the point, for in this story George's primary purpose was to amuse – indeed, to prompt one to Laugh Out Loud.
Indeed, when you read this story, I suspect that you will find yourself at some point doing just that: laughing out loud. "The Aliens Who Knew..." is the only traditional alien contact story in my anthology -- and I use the word "traditional" very loosely. Aliens come to Earth, meet the president, begin to live among us openly, and share their knowledge and technology with us. Unfortunately, these aliens have an opinion -- a very strong opinion -- about everything, such that the aliens treat their opinion as fact. And from there, it all goes to hell in a bucket!

So, without further delay, here are the opening paragraphs to GAE's "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything":
I was sitting at my desk, reading a report on the brown pelican situation, when the secretary of state burst in. "Mr. President," he said, his eyes wide, "the aliens are here!" Just like that. "The aliens are here!" As if I had any idea of what to do about them.
     "I see," I said. I learned early in my first term that "I see" was one of the safest and most useful comments I could possibly make in any situation. When I said, "I see," it indicated that I had digested the news and was waiting intelligently and calmly for further data. That knocked the ball back into my advisors' court. I looked at the secretary of state expectantly. I was all prepared with my next utterance, in the event that he had nothing further to add. My next utterance would be "Well?" That would indicate that I was on top of the problem, but that I couldn't be expected to make an executive decision without sufficient information, and that he should have known better than to burst into the Oval Office unless he had that information. That's why we had protocol; that's why we had proper channels; that's why I had advisors. The voters out there didn't want me to make decisions without sufficient information. If the secretary didn't have anything more to tell me, he shouldn't have burst in, in the first place. I looked at him awhile longer. "Well?" I asked at last.
Sardonic, deadpan wit -- am I right? Since George, alas, is no longer with us, I asked Barbara Hambly, executrix of the Effinger Estate, to share a few thoughts with us on the story: "We all know them. Those people who drive us screaming bonkers because they KNOW who's actually the 'best' movie-star of the Twentieth Century, or why pork-pie hats are actually more cool than berets. George had an eternal fascination with pop culture, with the unspoken minutiae of the hip and the slick. These things are dated now, but curiously, the story remains timeless... And George is one of the very few people who'd write about an alien threat to the Earth that wasn't going to devour or enslave us, but only annoy us to death."

Five paragraphs farther on in the story, the president telephones the secretary of defense to ask about contingency plans for this situation. The secretary responds: "Mr. President? I have one of the aliens here, and he suggests that we use the same plan that President Eisenhower used." The secretary goes on to explain: "They prefer not to be called 'aliens.' He tells me he's a nup. That's their word for 'man,' in the sense of a 'human being.' The plural is nuhp." And as Michael Bishop noted in his 2005 introduction to this story: [Spoiler warning!] "Anyone with a modicum of critical acuity will recognize instantly that nup spelled backward is pun and that nuhp spelled backward is phun. I don't know about you, but I think that's phunny."

I'll leave you with one more excerpt from the story, part of a discussion between Luis, the secretary of defense, and Hurv, one of the nup:
     "I don't understand," said Luis, stunned. "If your technology is so primitive, how did you come here? If we're so far ahead of you, we should have discovered your planet, not the other way around."
     Hurv gave a gentle laugh. "Don't pat yourself on the back, Luis. Just because your electronics are better than ours, you aren't necessarily superior in any way.... It's all a matter of superior intellect and the will to succeed. Your people talk a lot about going to the stars, but you just keep putting your money into other projects, like war and popular music and international athletic events and resurrecting the fashions of previous decades. If you wanted to go into space, you would have."

In 1985, "The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything" was a finalist for the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Locus Award for best short story of the year. Publisher E-Reads has recently released Live! From Planet Earth in an eBook edition and they have graciously posted roughly the first quarter of the story online. Enjoy! [Note: April 4, 2014: E-Reads has recently been sold to Open Road Media and the new owners do not have the ebook listed on their website. However, the Kindle edition is available: Live! From Planet Earth]

[Continue to Story #6]


1. "Introduction to The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything," copyright © 2005 by Michael Bishop; originally published in George Alec Effinger Live! From Planet Earth, Golden Gryphon Press, 2005.

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