Illustration for article titled The loneliness of the long-distance exoplanetary anthropologist

There are two kinds of offworld anthropology: Near Distance and Long Distance. With typical Earth-centrism, the "distance" is measured in light years from the Blue Marble. Try explaining to a Gorgolian that he's "Long Distance" when you're on his doorstep.

Advertisement

At least Gorgolians won't spit in your face when you try to interview them about the meaning of bio-zeppelin design in their culture.

Illustration for article titled The loneliness of the long-distance exoplanetary anthropologist
Advertisement

I think the worst gig I ever had was a contract deal I did for Cadbury Corp. They wanted me to research the youth culture that flourished under freeways in Neo Lagos, so we could sell shoes. Not to the kids under the freeways, who were too poor to afford Cadbury shoes - but to college students back on Earth, where Neo Lagos "freeway life" was all the rage. When I finally strolled into the camps under the freeways and poked my head into one of the crumbling foam shacks there, I just turned around and went back to my hotel. There was no way I was going to ask the tired old woman making tea what she thought the perfect sneaker for freeway life might be.

Illustration for article titled The loneliness of the long-distance exoplanetary anthropologist

Other assignments are more open-ended. I had a year to write an assessment of cephalopod worship in Long Distance terraforming colonies. For some reason, societies devoted to ocean engineering had spontaneously developed rituals (some humorous, some seemingly earnest) devoted to exalting cuttlefish and squid. Basically I got paid to interview informants during the annual Tentacle Festivals. Not bad.

Illustration for article titled The loneliness of the long-distance exoplanetary anthropologist
Advertisement

I've done participant observation for some of the best universities. Back on Earth, the Long Distance Exoplanet researchers outsource their fieldwork to me because it's easier than going on the one-way hypersleep express. They always get grant monies allocated for "culturally sensitive tissue engineering," which means growing extra legs for science. I'm pretty sure informants don't trust me any more when I attach tentacles to my body, or grow a thorax. The fact is, there are some worlds where nobody likes a tourist - especially one who got paid to go native by a Long Distance Studies department.

These breathtaking worlds, all of which I'd like to study further, are the creations of concept artist Li Jia Tan. You can see more like this on Li Jia Tan's blog.

Advertisement

Spotted on Concept Ships!

Share This Story

Get our newsletter