Robots, aliens, talking (or at least sapient) animals, AIs, demons, gods, vampires, entities, orcs, goblins, trolls, elves, dwarfs, giant spiders and guests, welcome! Please take your seats, there is plenty of room in this elegant if ageing theatre that we call Camestros Felapton’s Experience of The Science Fiction and Fantasy Genre. Get comfortable, introduce yourself to your neighbour and sit back.
I’d like to discuss with you all what it is to be you. Now I must apologise in advance. There are many you in the audience, people I love dearly, who may take offence at what I am going to say next. Yes, yes, I am looking at you Mr Spock and yes, you C3PO and there’s no point waving that screwdriver at me Doctor, nor hiding behind Gimli’s axe Legolas. I love you all but I’m sorry, this really is not about you. Yes each of you is distinctly not human in deep and notable ways as explained in great detail in the backstory section of your Wikipedia pages. However, for our purposes tonight while you may be the big stars, this is not your turn in the spotlight. We love you but we love you because you have to admit that your are not exactly not-human.
Yes, Mr Spock (and yes you too Data, no need to add a third voice C3PO) that was a double negative. Each of you are positioned as aliens as a way for people to understand the variation in human experience. On the whole that has been a positive I think. Each of you have been embraced by humans who can see aspects of themselves and their own sense of difference from other humans. I do not begrudge your roles to that end even if the idea of taking the actual variation in human experience and calling some of it alien, as if being stoical or logic or struggling with your own understanding of emotion or just being quirky and eccentric (yes, your fez is nice Doctor) makes you equivalent to being a different species. It’s a bit off when you think about it like that even if the repeated moral of your story is that being a person isn’t about what species (or machine) you are.
In short, dear favourites, none of you sitting in those front seats are ABOUT being not-human. Quite the opposite. Your alienness is simply a metaphor for our own prejudices and social norms excluding variety. And for that you get the love, the accolades and the fans. However, I must put you aside for today’s ceremonies.
Sorry, [shield’s eyes and looks up to the lighting desk] can we raise the house lights please? Particularly that very shadowy section over there? Yes, the section that appears to be generating its own anti-light and which is emitting eldritch noises? Thanks! Oh! Not to bright! Some of our guest are a little…sensitive…to photons.
Secondly I must offer my apologies to another section of the theatre. Actually could we all give a big round of applause to a guy who has been doing absolutely solid work in this industry for literally decades. You know who you are. I’m pointing right at you. Stand up and take a bow big guy. He’s my good friend and golf buddy, he’s the monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind, the one, the only (I hope) dread Cthulhu! [applause]
Cthulhu is here tonight to represent a major part of our big SF & F non-human family. We couldn’t do it without you guys. You are the monsters, the dread hordes, the onrushing threat that seeks to overwhelm the kingdom, the dark secret trapped in the unholy tomb. You guys just don’t get the credit you deserve, particularly with the conditions you have to work under. The damp, the dark, the often unquenchable fires of damnation, often without hazard pay. Bravo, bravo.
But I said you were owed an apology and you are. So often you are the fears and prejudices of your authors. Often you are the product of the internal or overt racism of your makers. Sometimes your creators (no, no Supreme Dalek, I don’t mean Davros, I mean Terry Nation, please stop screeching “Davros”) so often intend for you not to be explorations of what it might mean to be something other than human but rather to cast humanity’s own evil in an external form.
Hands (or whatever) up everybody in that section that was intended to be a metaphor for fascism? OK, OK. Lots of hands and plungers up in the air I see. Now hands up everybody who was intended to be a metaphor for communism? Yup, lots of appendages going up. Now hands up those of you who were a metaphor for both and sometimes a metaphor for uncontrolled capitalism! Ha, yes, yes Cybermen it really is amazing how many things you can be a metaphor for!
And zombies. I’m so sorry. I get that you can’t really parse what I’m saying and I know there were some pedants (yes, I do mean you Mr Spock) who said that you are by definition human and hence shouldn’t have been invited at all. However, you above all represent the urge for creators to invent beings who can be slaughtered without remorse. [weird rattling sound] Yes, excellent point Triffids, your narratives often shift to other humans being the REAL threat.
That was a timely comment as I’d like to direct everybody’s attention to the sentient plant creature section of the audience. A big hand for them all please! Yes, yes, YOU ARE GROOT! Ha, I think the Ents are just discussing something witty to say in response…they’ll have a quip to say in a couple of hours. Ha, sorry Audrey no time for a musical number tonight! You are all wonderful but please don’t let those sun lamps get on the vampires in the next row.
And by a handy coincidence that takes me to the first award of the night. It is the award for the first non human fictional creatures that made me think about what it might be like for some being to be intelligent but not in anyway like the way it is for a human to be intelligent. And the award goes to…THE TRIFFIDS FROM DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS BY JOHN WYNDHAM! [the crowd goes wild, music from the Howard Keel movie version plays,a little group of triffids clump three-leg-stumpily up the ramp to the stage.]
These guys, wow. Such, such good work. Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction owes them so much. Just look at the cheers they are getting from the zombies! These heroes of our industry have no central nervous system. They don’t have brains, we really don’t even know what kind of sense they have except hearing. Yet they can organise and plan and turn the tables on humanity. Is it some kind of collective intelligence? An emergent property from their system of communication? Nobody knows! It is the blithe obliviousness to the idea of triffids having mental states that means the triffids aren’t just another natural hazard after humanity finds itself struck by disaster. Of all the waiting rivals to the hegemony of people, it is the triffids who seize the opportunity. From us all and on behalf of the academy, please except this trophy and this prize of a large bag of potting mix.
OK calm down everybody. We’ve still a couple more awards to go. So let’s get right into it. The second prize tonight goes to the first depiction I encountered as a child of an alien ‘monster’ that really wasn’t what it seemed and which had to try and make sense of humans very quickly to stop them murdering it, thus revealing that the humans were actually the aggressive alien species after even if they din’t realise it . I can see a lot of excited candidates shifting in their seats. It’s a big category and I’ll be frank, the Silurians were a strong contender for this but the judges (yes, you Mr Spock) disputed that sapient dinosaur count as aliens. However, in the end for shear alienness I had to give this award to everybody’s favourite classic silicon-based lifeform. She’s the lava creature from Janus VI. You know her, you love her, you may have mind-melded with her (yes, you Mr Spock) it is THE HORTA FROM STAR TREK THE ORIGINAL SERIES EPISODE DEVIL IN THE DARK! [Crowd goes wild again as a kind of blobby thing squishes up to the podium.]
Congratulations! Thank you Horta representative for taking time out of your busy 50 thousand year life-cyle to be with us tonight. Please accept this trophy and this pallet of premium quality house bricks. The Horta everybody! Ha, yes Silurians, it is always the greedy mine operators who set off incidents like this. THINK BEFORE YOU DIG, PEOPLE!
Well we are nearly at the end of the night and it is time for the big award. Laestrygones and Gegenees, our final recipient is in the category of my favourite inscrutable intelligence that is manifestly a thinking thing but which surpasses the understanding of the people who encounter it thus challenging us to reconsider what it is to think and what it might a non-human intelligence be like. A tough category and one that we struggle to define boundaries for. There was a strong argument for the whatever-the-thing-is-in-Area-X in Jeff Vandemeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. A judge’s ruling (yes, you Mr Spock) disqualified the giant wandering space computer conglomerate from Star Trek: The Movie on the grounds that it was actually just the Voyager probe. That same judge really wanted to include the big space thing from Star Trek: The Voyage Home, but honestly there’s nothing inscrutable with just really liking whales — I mean that’s a pretty simple motivation when you think about it. In the end there was only once choice I could pick.
Please give a big Being Not Human Awards round of applause for…THE PLANET SOLARIS FROM STANISLAW LEM’S SOLARIS! Due to orbital mechanics and limited space in the theatre, Solaris can’t be with us tonight but to show their appreciation they have tapped into our subconscious and used their power over neutrinos to re-create a lost loved one in a manner that will be psychological traumatic for each and every one of us but will make us reconsider the nature of not only ourselves but how we might connect with minds utterly different from our own when we so often fail to even be honest with ourselves. Solaris everybody! Not just a planet but also a really bad therapist.
And that’s it for this decade’s Being Not Human Award ceremony. Thank you all for attending. Time to go back to sleep on R’lyeh Cthulhu! Ha yes Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Camestros Bortsworth wgah’nagl fhtagn to you too! See you next Thursday at the golf club! Good night one and all! Yes, yes, you ARE Groot! Drive those Ents home Groot, they may have been drinking and we don’t want them trashing Isengard again! See you Cybermen! Be nice to your Borg cousins!
Good night everybody!