Saturday, June 16, 2007

High-class Neandertals from outer space

kw: book reviews, science fiction, aliens

Carol Emshwiller, who gets my vote for creativity, has the latest take on the "aliens among us" theme. These aren't quite the harmless, helpless aliens of some stories, nor the secretive villains of others, nor even "People" type aliens with special powers. The aliens of The Secret City are, visibly and perhaps biochemically, Neandertals, with plenty of extra bodily strength, but only one "special power": a freezing look, like the look with which some snakes immobilize prey.

The handful of aliens we meet are the children of tourists, stranded here by the failure of others to return for them. Because of the xenophobia of the parents, the youngsters, now grown, have little knowledge of earthly ways, nor much in the way of acculturation to their parents' ways, who seem to have mooned about, wishing for rescue, as they died off one after another.

Some found a refuge in the mountains (the Sierras I suppose), and built there a poor simulacrum of their faraway homes. Only a few remain, and only one of the older generation. The main character Lorpas is seeking this place, and eventually finds it. But when they are found by rescuers, none is sure that returning to an unknown "home" is what they want.

This is a story of immigration and assimilation, one we see going on all around us. I know many, many immigrant families, and so I know many aging and ancient parents or grandparents who still speak nearly no English, don't care for Western food, and while away their days remembering golden times they really never lived.

I am glad I learned young the trick of uprooting and re-planting, making new friends, and shedding the past like a molted crabshell that is now too small.

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