Authors: Marty Halpern
Night Shade Books
© 2011 by Marty Halpern
This edition of
© 2011 by Night Shade Books
Cover art by JF Parnell
Cover design by Rebecca Silvers
Interior layout and design by Amy Popovich
Edited by Marty Halpern
The final section represents an extension of this copyright page.
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whose unwavering patience with me
must be inspired by the gods.
cience fiction has always had a love affair with aliens, as far back as the early days of the pulps, with their BEM
covers and stories such as John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?”
(written as by Don A. Stuart in
Astounding Science Fiction,
August 1938) and Murray Leinster’s “First Contact” (in
Astounding Science Fiction,
I don’t recall my age at the time, but I had the misfortune to be home alone on a Saturday afternoon when
Invaders from Mars
was the featured matinee movie on television. And to tell you the truth, I’ve not watched the movie again since! I’m going strictly by memory here, so bear with me if all the details in this brief recap aren’t completely accurate (though I did look up the characters names on the Internet Movie Database).
As I recall, ten-year-old David MacLean wakes up one morning to a loud noise and bright lights outside. He rushes to his bedroom window in time to see a flying saucer land in the sand dunes just beyond the fence. He tells his father, who goes outside to investigate, but his father doesn’t return home until the following day—and when he does, he behaves differently: moody, sullen, quick to anger. And, David spots an unusual, albeit small, scar on the back of his father’s neck. Soon, the same personality change (and scar) affects his mother, the police chief, and other townspeople. David finally turns to, and confides in, a local doctor, Pat Blake, and she, in turn, confides in a local astronomer, Stuart Kelston. Together, they convince the Army of the danger, and the Army intercedes. The good doctor is captured by the aliens, but she is rescued just before the mind-controlling device is inserted in the back of her neck. At the climax of the film, the Army endeavors to blow up the UFO bunker, as the UFO itself attempts to lift-off. David, Doctor Pat, and others are racing down the hill, away from the UFO and the pending explosion—while the recent events pass before David’s mind’s eye—and then...
David awakes as from a dream, to a loud noise and bright lights outside. He rushes to his bedroom window in time to see a flying saucer land in the sand dunes just beyond the fence.
Whew! That was a creepy ending. Dream becomes reality?—not something I had ever seen in a movie, at least at that point in my young life. I can’t say I had actual nightmares of that movie, but certain images were burned in my mind for many years, particularly the evil-looking alien head with the wriggling tentacles, encased in a large glass bubble, carried by two Martians: green, seven-foot-tall, primitive-looking creatures with insect like eyes. As I said, I haven’t seen
Invaders from Mars
probably since I was around David’s age, but the images, and feelings, still remain. (I will also admit that I haven’t seen the movie
either, since its original theater run—and a midnight showing at that; but I’ll never shake the image of the alien bursting out of Kane’s [John Hurt] chest.)
For me personally, it’s a love/hate relationship with alien tales: they can freak the bejesus out of me—particularly movies—but I keep coming back for more. Something about the unknown, and the unknown possibilities—and the hope that, just maybe, there really is an ET out there somewhere.
This is why, in 2007, after Nick Gevers and I decided to work together on an original anthology project, I jumped at the prospect of doing Fermi Paradox-themed
Is Anybody Out There?
—even though Nick presented me with a number of excellent anthology ideas.
And this is also why, on August 27, 2008, when I visited the house of Night Shade in San Francisco, and met with Jeremy Lassen, Editor-in-Chief, to discuss ongoing and future projects, I proposed an anthology of previously published “alien contact” stories. In the course of contacting authors for
Is Anybody Out There?
a few had expressed to me the fact that they had already written their Fermi Paradox story, or their first contact story, and thus weren’t particularly interested in writing yet another such story. This got me to thinking: Classic Golden Age stories like Leinster’s “First Contact” and Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” have been collected in numerous anthologies [I strongly recommend
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame
anthology series], but not so these “contemporary classics” from, say, the past thirty years or so. Periodicals are ephemeral, and online ’zines even more so (if SCI FICTION
is any example). So, it falls on editors and anthologists to ensure these stories are collected for present as well as future readers.
Author James Gunn, professor emeritus of English, and director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction, both at the University of Kansas, postulates that “humanity/the individual and the alien” is one of the fourteen Basic SF Plot Elements. Right up there with time travel, AIs, dystopian SF, space travel, etc.—though Gunn has a far more elegant way of stating these in his list.
My goal with anthology
is to present readers not only with an outstanding selection of fiction from the past thirty-plus years, but also to showcase just a sampling of the myriad ways writers tackle this basic plot element. When I read through these stories I just shake my head in utter awe, thinking:
How did she/he do that?
When everything comes together, just so, in a story it can simply be mind-boggling.
Though I had a number of stories in mind already, I posted a request for additional story suggestions on newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written, on private e-list
and on various online SF news and information sites. I contacted about a dozen “name” authors (or their agents) to determine if each author was open to my using a particular story in a reprint anthology of this nature. Jeremy and I further discussed the project on Saturday, February 28, 2010, at Potlatch 18, held at the Domain Hotel in Sunnyvale (California). And I made another trip to the city on Thursday, June 10, 2010, to visit the new Night Shade warehouse (they had moved the previous November), at which time Jeremy and I had yet another opportunity to chat about the project. (You can’t say that I’m not persistent!)
However, due to scheduling, the down economy, and other such factors, my alien contact anthology was sort of like the ongoing SETI project: just out of range of discovery.
Finally, on October 20, 2010, I received an email from Jeremy with the subject line: “Alien Contact: Let’s Do It!”
I’ve been maintaining an online database of alien contact stories
, which currently has nearly 175 stories listed. And yet, I’m sure this list of stories barely puts a dent in the subject matter. So there is certainly no shortage of quality stories.
I’ve had an extremely difficult time deciding on the twenty-six stories that I eventually selected for
I even had some friends and contacts read a few of the stories just to garner additional opinions. At least a half-dozen of the stories I selected were from authors who each had two (or more) stories that were perfect fits for the book—some of these stories award winners—and it nearly drove me crazy having to make a decision between the two. I also did my best to avoid overlapping plots and/or content—though I found it intriguing that so many stories have aliens as bug/insectlike beings, but the similarity ends there. And, quite often, length was simply the deciding factor on whether I included a story or not.
I could discuss each of the stories here, with little tidbits like “art as an expression of the alien” or “the alien as both self and other”—isn’t that what an introduction is all about?—but to do each story justice I would need far more words than any publisher ought to allow for a book’s introduction. Besides, I would rather the stories—and their respective authors—speak for themselves.
Via email, Twitter, and posts to my Facebook page, readers had been requesting the list of stories selected for the anthology. And, as is their wont, the authors also wanted to know who their fellow contributors were. Most editors, when they’ve finalized the contents of an anthology, simply post the list of stories; but that list is neither intriguing nor exciting, it’s merely, well, a list. Sure, a reader might become interested in a book that includes fiction by, say, Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Charles Stross, but it’s still merely a list of names and story titles. So, I decided to reveal the contents of
in a rather different way: I blogged about one story each week, in their order of appearance in the book, beginning the first week of May, and on through the next twenty-five weeks. Thus by the end of October, readers—and authors—had the full contents of the anthology
just in time for the book’s publication in November. The blog posts contained comments, when available, from the author on the origin of their story, and when I felt it appropriate—and not too great a spoiler—I also included quoted text from the story. At least I knew at the end of April what I would be blogging about for the next twenty-six weeks.