One of my favorite David Bowie songs and music videos is “Loving the Alien” from his sixteenth studio album Tonight. The silver, almost robot-like characters in the video and haunting lyrics (“And your prayers they break the sky in two / Believing the strangest things, loving the alien”) invoke feelings of awe and discomfort about those who are different or “other” from ourselves. The Fall 2016 issue from Conjunctions literary magazine mirrors the powerful emotions of Bowie’s work in “Other Aliens.” Editors Bradford Morrow and Elizabeth Hand say:
Aliens are, by definition, Other. They are the stuff of science and speculative fiction, of Fantastika and fantasy, yes, but they are also traditional literary figures whom society, however unfairly, has labeled misfits, nonpersons, the Ishmaels of the world. When Frankenstein’s monster stalk the countryside, an ill-fated product of human genius and hubris, he is the alien, the Other. But those who misjudge him and seek his destruction are also the Others in Shelly’s story.
This wonderful collection of literary science and speculative fiction and poetry explores the mystery and “weirdness of not belonging.”
Julia Elliot’s “Clouds” transports the reader to a future where a race of human-like aliens in advanced aircraft live in our atmosphere: “On foggy summer days, when the sky seemed to descend, filling the streets with clouds, satellite people came down from their floating worlds, though they avoided those hours between late morning and early evening when sunlight suffused the haze.” The narrator of this story, a single human woman living on an organic blueberry farm, meets Xander, one of the “sky people,” at a bar and talk about life on earth over a few drinks. Casual conversation turns into intimacy between human and alien:
In the dark he almost felt like a normal man, though his body temperature was noticeably low, not cold exactly, but now warm. And his skin felt slick, as though lubricated with petroleum jelly. He gave off a sweet smell like synthetic apples, redolent of aerosol air-freshening sprays.
The result of their love is Adelaide, a child who is not entirely human and uses serrated gills inside her mouth to feed on her mother’s blood. The narrator’s world is changed forever as she copes with the pain and joy of becoming a mother. Elliot’s prose is excellent and her story stands out as one of my favorites in this collection.
Another one of my favorite stories in this issue is Matthew Baker’s “Transition.” This is another tale that involves a mother struggling with living and loving a child, but this child is an adult and planning a life-changing operation as they sit down for dinner one evening:
So, considering that he was showing signs as he sat there at the table, that his hands were trembling, that his voice was shaking, that he was so nervous that the feeling was actually affecting him physically, and that he really wasn’t in the habit of joking about this type of thing—or, quite honestly, joking about anything—there seemed to be no doubt that he was serious when he interrupted a moment of silence to announce, or rather confess, that he was planning to have his mind converted to digital data and transferred from his body to a computer server.
For the mother, her husband, her other sons, and the rest of their small Louisiana community, it is as if Mason, her youngest son who is planning to abandon his humanity, is already dead. She struggles to accept that Mason, who has always been a sickly child and always preferred the comfort of the internet over human interaction, is tired of his physical body and prefers to become one with the machine he loves. Baker pens a compelling story that examines what it means to be human in a world where the body can be discarded and the mind can be as easily uploaded to the internet as a file on a flash drive.
The pages of this issue also feature stories from acclaimed authors Peter Straub and Joyce Carol Oates. Straub’s “The Process Is a Process All Its Own” takes us into the disturbed and alien mind of a serial killer. Oates’s “Undocumented Alien” shows what happens to an undocumented immigrant when secretive government experiments distort his perception of space, time, and his identity from a Nigerian immigrant to a secret agent from one of Jupiter’s moons. If you enjoy reading speculative fiction, then I would highly recommend reading this issue from Conjunctions.