Science Fiction Writing: First Contact - Owlcation - Education
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Science Fiction Writing: First Contact

Culture Shock

I love first contact stories in Science Fiction. They help to challenge your own beliefs and world-view, which, for most of us, are traditionally western.

Think about the moment when one culture first encounters another.

For example: think about the first encounter between the Spanish Conquistadors and the Aztecs.

  • The Aztecs had prophesied the return of their white-skinned, bearded god Quetzalcoatl. They thought that Hernando Cortes was him.
  • The Aztecs had never seen horses before and thought that the men and beasts were one creature.
  • The Aztecs had never seen such huge sailing ships as the Spanish galleons. Scouts reported that they had seen moving mountains.


  • The Spanish had never seen such splendor as the mighty Aztec Empire. They believed they had entered a fairy-tale realm. Some believed they had found Atlantis.
  • They were horrified by the human sacrifices. They believed that the feathered serpent that the Aztecs worshiped was the devil.
  • The Aztec Day of the Dead, and their reverence for skulls, was seen by the Spanish as a morbid preoccupation with death.

There were many such encounters between Europeans and indigenous peoples in the times of the expansion of empires around the world. Many suffered. It was only later that we began to try to understand them.

We fear that this situation may occur if we ever encounter an alien species. Perhaps the aliens will see us as the “primitives,” and not consider us when they colonize our planet!

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Alternative History

We could write about the first encounter between two cultures. But the first historical meeting of cultures has already happened, quite disastrously, in many cases. So, it might be better to think about how we can redress some of this.

Think about an alternative history. Perhaps the Roman Empire never fell. Maybe Atlantis survived. The Aztec Empire might never have been destroyed… In what way would the world be different?

This is not to say that we can or should rewrite history. An alternative history is a “what if…” It may even be what really did happen (in another dimension), where the choices made were different.

e.g. In Aztec Century by Christopher Evans the Aztecs take over America. Therefore:

  • There is no Hollywood. There is Acapulco studios instead
  • Chewing gum is called tzictli
  • Solar power is provided by crystals
  • Aztec poets and thinkers are studied in university
  • The Pope is a Mexican

What If...

Think about an alternative present in which the western world has been superseded by an “alien” culture. (a culture with a world-view totally different from that of the west).

Japan – Japan discovered the west, not vice versa.

China – Genghis Khan conquered Europe.

Egypt – Ancient Egypt became a world power in the 21st Century and spread to Europe.

Greece – Alexander the Great conquered Asia – then discovered America!

Scandinavia – the Vikings who settled in America created a world power there.

Britain – King Arthur united the Celts who conquered Normandy in 1066.

Carthage – Hannibal destroyed the Roman Empire and Carthage became a world power.

These are just some ideas. There are lots more...

Work

Brainstorm ideas about what small changes there would be to the world we live in if one of these situations had occurred (or a different historical change occurred). Think about day-to-day things. People would still go about their daily lives but different things would take precedence perhaps. Or, the same things might but they may have different names.

Think about the level of technology a civilization would have in the circumstances. It may be more advanced, or less (because important creative geniuses in the world had not been born!)

This will create an alternative present.

Write a short paragraph about the daily life of a character in this society.

“The Aliens Have Landed!”

If you are happy with this world you have created think about what would happen if this culture encountered an alien race.

How do we meet aliens for the first time? It is most probable that they will come to us. As many people claim UFO’s have done for centuries. But think about why they would suddenly initiate contact with us.

Why would they come to Earth?

  • To visit – they are tourists
  • To conquer – they are warriors
  • To observe – they are historians and record events
  • To experiment (on us!) – they are scientists
  • To teach us spiritual lessons – they are gods!
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Write About First Contact With An Alien Race

Think about what attributes an alien race might have which make it totally different from our own. E.g. the type of planet it comes from.

  • A creature from a gas giant planet may be able to float or fly. On Earth they would be adversely affected by gravity and would also have to wear a breathing mask.
  • A creature from a smaller world than Earth would weigh less and might be able to fly under Earth conditions (like Superman).
  • A creature from a water world would have gills and swim. They might conquer our oceans first.
  • An alien might be a swarm creature or have a hive mind. We would find if very hard to relate to such a being(s).

But the aliens might not come from another planet but another dimension.

  • They might inhabit a mirror world where all things are reversed.
  • They might inhabit a different time-stream and move super-fast or super-slow in relation to us.
  • They might inhabit an atom. They may live on atomic radiation
  • They may be little people or giants in comparison with us.
  • They may be invisible to us, except out of the corners of our eyes…
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Alien World View

Think about how the physical attributes of a species would affect its world-view.

  • A flying creature may despise earth-bound species.
  • A floating creature may be innately lazy.
  • Think of how a species may produce and raise its young. They may lay eggs and raise them as a community rather than as individual families.
  • The aliens may be polygamous or multi-sexed!

Think of the alien’s society.

  • Is there a hierarchy? Is there a king? A queen? A parliament or council of elders?
  • Is the leader a political leader? A spiritual leader? Or both?
  • Or do they exist in anarchy? Or in communal harmony?
  • What do they think of death? What are their spiritual beliefs?
  • How do they relate to time? What do they think of space? (e.g. personal space)
  • What gods do they worship? What values do they hold sacred?
  • Which subjects are taboo to speak of?

Human Aliens

Finally think about how we would react?

  • Open hostility – there is war!
  • Curiosity – we exchange ideas tentatively
  • Panic! – there is fear and chaos everywhere
  • Skepticism – we bury our heads in the sand and don’t believe they are there at all!
  • Racism – we lock them up in ghettos to study
  • Cautiously – we are distrustful
  • Welcoming – we are trustful and open minded (Hardly likely!)

Conclusion

Write, and you will find that the exchange of ideas, between the two cultures you have created, will expand your own awareness and challenge your own perception of the world.

This will lead to a better understanding of differing cultural perspectives. Which we all need, and which will (maybe) lead to a better world.

After all, that is what Science Fiction Writing is for...