The Aliens Among Us

{4.5/5} “Stephens had an idea fixed in his mind that the Earth was about to be invaded, and it was the kind of exciting idea that a young man of Stephens’ temperament would not give up easily.”

The Aliens Among Us by James White, published in 1969

Robert J. Sawyer mentioned in his blog that “Tableau” by James White was his favourite story. Since Sawyer is one of my favourite authors, I decided to check it out — I hadn’t read any James White before. I picked up the collection The Aliens Among Us, which has “Tableau” in it. It’s a great collection — I would rate a couple of the stories 5/5.

“Countercharm” — Dr. Conway had been promoted to Senior Physician but that meant he had to take an Educator tape. He was given an ELNT tape, which meant he was sharing his mind with the ELNT doctor who had recorded it. The tape gave him all the medical knowledge he needed to treat ELNT patients but he also had all of the doctor’s other memories. When Conway was given the task of instructing some ELNTs on a new operating technique, he found himself attracted to one of them — even though she was six-legged, exo-skeletal, and crab-like.

The solution to the problem was clever, and the details in the story made me believe I was on Sector Twelve General Hospital.

“Tableau” — MacEwan had been fighting in the war for some time. He was a successful ship captain, but the enemy had been learning things about Earth armament and tactics. Each engagement was a huge risk — the Orligs’ primary weapon could easily destroy their ship if they weren’t careful. Of course, no Human knew exactly how the war had started — the team that had made first contact with the Orligs had all been killed.

One thing that’s great about this (and other stories) is the surprise — things are not always as they seem. White draws you into a certain point of view, only to astonish with you a totally different one.

These and the rest of the stories in this collection were written in the 1950s and 60s. Most of the stories don’t seem old fashioned at all, except a word here and there. One story is more implausible than the others, in which animals from Earth gain telepathy in space — but if you accept the premise it’s still a good story.

All the stories describe various encounters between humans and aliens, in which anything can happen. Each alien race is distinct, and different from humans in interesting ways. Our assumptions about what aliens will do in a given situation will come from our experiences with humans. We should let go of those assumptions in order to have any hope of understanding aliens who will be very different from us.

One of these days I will read one of White’s novels.

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 24th, 2012 at 2:24 pm and is filed under Reviews of books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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