A Plea For More SF From A Non-Human Perspective

Illustration for article titled A Plea For More SF From A Non-Human Perspective

Just because most science fiction and fantasy is read by humans (well, probably almost all of it) doesn't mean our stories must have human protagonists, pleads Monster author A. Lee Martinez. Where are the robot and monster narrators?

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Writes Martinez, who also wrote The Automatic Detective, over at Orbit Books:

A big reason I don't read much fantasy / sci fi is because I want the weirdness, the monsters, the inhuman, and for the most part, that stuff is shuffled to the side. Almost all fantasy / sci fi is from the human perspective because almost all of it is aimed at a human audience. (Very few dinosaurs buy books these days.) But I don't want to read about people. I know people. People are everywhere, and while they're generally pleasant and I have nothing against them (for the most part), I'd much rather read about the ogre than the knight, the robot than the astronaut. That probably goes a long way toward explaining why I write what I write.

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It's really true. People are ass. (Or at least, a significant proportion of people is made out of ass. If you follow the rule of nines, we're about 18 percent buttocks and lower back.) We can't get away from them in reality, so all the more reason to banish them from the central place in fiction. There should be a literary movement, with a fancy name. Any ideas? [Orbit Books]

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DISCUSSION

"Writing in the alien" (or robot, as you prefer) is made additionally complex because not only do you have to develop a very thorough and deep understanding of your non-human protagonist, you must then translate this into a point of view that a human reader can understand. There's all kinds of things, both large and small, that you have to take into account and "translate". If you're alien or robot protagonist doesn't have a heart, then you can't have it race or thunder in their chest or skip a beat. Instead of getting that instant understanding with your audience, you have to get across that when your alien protagonist's heat-sensing secondary eyes grey out, it's part of their fight-or-flight reaction. A good author can do it, but it's a lot of extra burden.

On top of that, you also better have your world-building and alien-crafting skills in good form, because when you decide to feature an alien protagonist, those creatures and their world are going to be in your reader's direct line of sight for a lot longer. All the seams on those rubber suits, be they from poor design, misunderstood biology, or even design choices that arose from the author's personal preconceptions, will be much more visible. Few reads are as painful as reading aliens designed to espouse the author's political principles.

AI/Robotic protagonists have an additional layer of difficulty, because we kind of have things which are like that now. That familiarity may cause some of the more highly technical readers to pick apart your machine protagonists based on what we know now. #books