Mankind comes face to face with extraterrestrial life in this short fiction reprint anthology from Clarkesworld publisher Neil Clarke.
They Are Strangers from Far Lands . . .
Science fiction writers have been using aliens as a metaphor for the other for over one hundred years. Superman has otherworldly origins, and his struggles to blend in on our planet are a clear metaphor for immigration. Earth’s adopted son is just one example of this “Alien Among Us” narrative.
There are stories of assimilation, or the failure to do so. Stories of resistance to the forces of naturalization. Stories told from the alien viewpoint. Stories that use aliens as a manifestation of the fears and worries of specific places and eras. Stories that transcend location and time, speaking to universal issues of group identity and its relationship to the Other.
Nearly thirty authors in this reprint anthology grapple both the best and worst aspects of human nature, and they do so in utterly compelling and entertaining ways. Not One of Us is a collection of stories that aren’t afraid to tackle thorny and often controversial issues of race, nationalism, religion, political ideology, and other ways in which humanity divides itself.
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.60(d)|
About the Author
Neil Clarke is the award-winning publisher and editor in chief of Clarkesworld magazine, winner of three Hugo Awards for Best Semiprozine. Night Shade Books publishes his annual The Best Science Fiction of the Year series, as well as a number of standalone themed anthologies including Galactic Empires, More Human than Human, and the Final Frontier.
Read an Excerpt
Touring with the Alien
CAROLYN IVES GILMAN
The alien spaceships were beautiful, no one could deny that: towering domes of overlapping, chitinous plates in pearly dawn colors, like reflections on a tranquil sea. They appeared overnight, a dozen incongruous soap-bubble structures scattered across the North American continent. One of them blocked a major interstate in Ohio; another monopolized a stadium parking lot in Tulsa. But most stood in cornfields and forests and deserts where they caused little inconvenience.
Everyone called them spaceships, but from the beginning the experts questioned that name. NORAD had recorded no incoming landing craft, and no mother ship orbited above. That left two main possibilities: they were visitations from an alien race that traveled by some incomprehensibly advanced method; or they were a mutant eruption of Earth's own tortured ecosystem.
The domes were impervious. Probing radiation bounced off them, as did potshots from locals in the days before the military moved in to cordon off the areas. Attempts to communicate produced no reaction. All the domes did was sit there reflecting the sky in luminous, dreaming colors.
Six months later, the panic had subsided and even CNN had grown weary of reporting breaking news that was just the same old news. Then, entry panels began to open and out walked the translators, one per dome. They were perfectly ordinary-looking human beings who said that they had been abducted as children and had now come back to interpret between their biological race and the people who had adopted them.
Humanity learned surprisingly little from the translators. The aliens had come in peace. They had no demands and no questions. They merely wanted to sit here minding their own business for a while. They wanted to be left alone.
No one believed it.
A very was visiting her brother when her boss called.
"Say, you've still got those security credentials, right?" Frank said.
"Yes ..." She had gotten the security clearance in order to haul a hush-hush load of nuclear fuel to Nevada, a feat she wasn't keen on repeating.
"And you're in D.C.?"
She was actually in northern Virginia, but close enough. "Yeah."
"I've got a job for you."
"Don't tell me it's another gig for Those We Dare Not Name."
He didn't laugh, which told her it was bad. "Uh ... no. More like those we can't name."
She didn't get it. "What?"
"Some ... neighbors. Who live in funny-shaped houses. I can't say more over the phone."
She got it then. "Frank! You took a contract from the frigging aliens?"
"Sssh," he said, as if every phone in America weren't bugged. "It's strictly confidential."
"Jesus," she breathed out. She had done some crazy things for Frank, but this was over the top. "When, where, what?"
"Leaving tonight. D.C. to St. Louis. A converted tour bus."
"Tour bus? How many of them are going?"
"Two passengers. One human, one ... whatever. Will you do it?"
She looked into the immaculate condo living room, where her brother, Blake, and his husband, Jeff, were playing a noisy, fast-paced video game, oblivious to her conversation. She had promised to be at Blake's concert tomorrow. It meant a lot to him. "Just a second," she said to Frank.
"I can't wait," he said.
"Two seconds." She muted the phone and walked into the living room. Blake saw her expression and paused the game.
She said, "Would you hate me if I couldn't be there tomorrow?"
Disappointment, resignation, and wry acceptance crossed his face, as if he hadn't ever really expected her to keep her promise. "What is it?" he asked.
"A job," she said. "A really important job. Never mind, I'll turn it down."
"No, Ave, don't worry. There will be other concerts."
Still, she hesitated. "You sure?" she said. She and Blake had always hung together, like castaways on a hostile sea. They had given each other courage to sail into the wind. To disappoint him felt disloyal.
"Go ahead," he said. "Now I'll be sorry if you stay."
She thumbed the phone on. "Okay, Frank, I'll do it. This better not get me in trouble."
"Cross my heart and hope to die," he said. "I'll email you instructions. Bye."
From the couch, Jeff said, "Now I know why you want to do it. Because it's likely to get you in trouble."
"No, he gave me his word," Avery said.
"Cowboy Frank? The one who had you drive guns to Nicaragua?"
"That was perfectly legal," Avery said.
Jeff had a point, as usual. Specialty Shipping did the jobs no reputable company would handle. Ergo, so did Avery.
"What is it this time?" Blake asked.
"I can't say." The email had come through; Frank had attached the instructions as if a PDF were more secure than email. She opened and scanned them.
The job had been cleared by the government, but the client was the alien passenger, and she was to take orders only from him, within the law. She scanned the rest of the instructions till she saw the pickup time. "Damn, I've got to get going," she said.
Her brother followed her into the guest room to watch her pack up. He had never understood her nomadic lifestyle, which made his silent support for it all the more generous. She was compelled to wander; he was rooted in this home, this relationship, this warm, supportive community. She was a discarder, using things up and throwing them away; he had created a home that was a visual expression of himself — from the spare, Japanese-style furniture to the Zen colors on the walls. Visiting him was like living inside a beautiful soul. She had no idea how they could have grown up so different. It was as if they were foundlings.
She pulled on her boots and shouldered her backpack. Blake hugged her. "Have a good trip," he said. "Call me."
"Will do," she said, and hit the road again.
The media had called the dome in Rock Creek Park the Mother Ship — but only because of its proximity to the White House, not because it was in any way distinctive. Like the others, it had appeared overnight, sited on a broad, grassy clearing that had been a secluded picnic ground in the urban park. It filled the entire creek valley, cutting off the trails and greatly inconveniencing the joggers and bikers.
Avery was unprepared for its scale. Like most people, she had seen the domes only on TV, and the small screen did not do justice to the neck-craning reality. She leaned forward over the wheel and peered out the windshield as she brought the bus to a halt at the last checkpoint. The National Park Police pickup that had escorted her through all the other checkpoints pulled aside.
The appearance of an alien habitat had set off a battle of jurisdictions in Washington. The dome stood on U.S. Park Service property, but D.C. Police controlled all the access streets, and the U.S. Army was tasked with maintaining a perimeter around it. No agency wanted to surrender a particle of authority to the others. And then there was the polite, well-groomed young man who had introduced himself as "Henry," now sitting in the passenger seat next to her. His neatly pressed suit sported no bulges of weaponry, but she assumed he was CIA.
She now saw method in Frank's madness at calling her so spur-of-the-moment. Her last-minute arrival had prevented anyone from pulling her aside into a cinderblock room for a "briefing." Instead, Henry had accompanied her in the bus, chatting informally.
"Say, while you're on the road ..."
"No," she said.
"The alien's my client. I don't spy on clients."
He paused a moment, but seemed unruffled. "Not even for your country?"
"If I think my country's in danger, I'll get in touch."
"Fair enough," he said pleasantly. She hadn't expected him to give up so easily.
He handed her a business card. "So you can get in touch," he said.
She glanced at it. It said "Henry," with a phone number. No logo, no agency, no last name. She put it in a pocket.
"I have to get out here," he said when the bus rolled to a halt a hundred yards from the dome. "It's been nice meeting you, Avery."
"Take your bug with you," she said.
"I beg your pardon?"
"The bug you left somewhere in this cab."
"There's no bug," he said seriously.
Since the bus was probably wired like a studio, she shrugged and resolved not to scratch anywhere embarrassing till she had a chance to search. As she closed the door behind Henry, the soldiers removed the roadblock and she eased the bus forward.
It was almost evening, but floodlights came on as she approached the dome. She pulled the bus parallel to the wall and lowered the wheelchair lift. One of the hexagonal panels slid aside, revealing a stocky, dark-haired young man in black glasses, surrounded by packing crates of the same pearly substance as the dome. Avery started forward to help with loading, but he said tensely, "Stay where you are." She obeyed. He pushed the first crate forward and it moved as if on wheels, though Avery could see none. It was slightly too wide for the lift, so the man put his hands on either side and pushed in. The crate reconfigured itself, growing taller and narrower till it fit onto the platform. Avery activated the power lift.
He wouldn't let Avery touch any of the crates, but insisted on stowing them himself at the back of the bus, where a private bedroom suite had once accommodated a touring celebrity singer. When the last crate was on, he came forward and said, "We can go now."
"What about the other passenger?" Avery said.
She realized that the alien must have been in one of the crates — or, for all she knew, was one of the crates. "Okay," she said. "Where to?"
"Anywhere," he said, and turned to go back into the bedroom.
Since she had no instructions to the contrary, Avery decided to head south. As she pulled out of the park, there was no police escort, no helicopter overhead, no obvious trailing car. The terms of this journey had been carefully negotiated at the highest levels, she knew. Their security was to be secrecy; no one was to know where they were. Avery's instructions from Frank had stressed that, aside from getting the alien safely where he wanted to go, insuring his privacy was her top priority. She was not to pry into his business or allow anyone else to do so.
Rush hour traffic delayed them a long time. At first, Avery concentrated on putting as much distance as she could between the bus and Washington. It was past ten by the time she turned off the main roads. She activated the GPS to try and find a route, but all the screen showed was snow. She tried her phone, and the result was the same. Not even the radio worked. One of those crates must have contained a jamming device; the bus was a rolling electronic dead zone. She smiled. So much for Henry's bugs.
It was quiet and peaceful driving through the night. A nearly full moon rode in the clear autumn sky, and woods closed in around them. Once, when she had first taken up driving in order to escape her memories, she had played a game of heading randomly down roads she had never seen, getting deliberately lost. Now she played it again, not caring where she ended up. She had never been good at keeping to the main roads.
By 3:00 she was tired, and when she saw the entrance to a state park, she turned and pulled into the empty parking lot. In the quiet after the engine shut off, she walked back through the kitchen and sitting area to see if there were any objections from her passengers. She listened at the closed door, but heard nothing and concluded they were asleep. As she was turning away, the door jerked open and the translator said, "What do you want?"
He was still fully dressed, exactly as she had seen him before, except without the glasses, his eyes were a little bloodshot, as if he hadn't closed them. "I've pulled over to get some sleep," she said. "It's not safe to keep driving without rest."
"Oh. All right," he said, and closed the door.
Shrugging, she went forward. There was a fold-down bunk that had once served the previous owner's entourage, and she now prepared to use it. She brushed her teeth in the tiny bathroom, pulled a sleeping bag from her backpack, and settled in.
Morning sun woke her. When she opened her eyes, it was flooding in the windows. At the kitchen table a yard away from her, the translator was sitting, staring out the window. By daylight, she saw that he had a square face the color of teak and closely trimmed black beard. She guessed that he might be Latino, and in his twenties.
"Morning," she said. He turned to stare at her, but said nothing. Not practiced in social graces, she thought. "I'm Avery," she said.
Still he didn't reply. "It's customary to tell me your name now," she said. "Oh. Lionel," he answered.
"Pleased to meet you."
He said nothing, so she got up and went into the bathroom. When she came out, he was still staring fixedly out the window. She started making coffee. "Want some?" she asked.
"What is it?"
"I ought to try it," he said reluctantly.
"Well, don't let me force you," she said.
"Why would you do that?" He was studying her, apprehensive.
"I wouldn't. I was being sarcastic. Like a joke. Never mind."
He got up restlessly and started opening the cupboards. Frank had stocked them with all the necessities, even a few luxuries. But Lionel didn't seem to find what he was looking for.
"Are you hungry?" Avery guessed.
"What do you mean?"
Avery searched for another way to word the question. "Would you like me to fix you some breakfast?"
He looked utterly stumped.
"Never mind. Just sit down and I'll make you something."
He sat down, gripping the edge of the table tensely. "That's a tree," he said, looking out the window.
"Right. It's a whole lot of trees."
"I ought to go out."
She didn't make the mistake of joking again. It was like talking to a person raised by wolves. Or aliens.
When she set a plate of eggs and bacon down in front of him, he sniffed it suspiciously. "That's food?"
"Yes, it's good. Try it."
He watched her eat for a few moments, then gingerly tried a bite of scrambled eggs. His expression showed distaste, but he resolutely forced himself to swallow. But when he tried the bacon, he couldn't bear it. "It bit my mouth," he said.
"You're probably not used to the salt. What do you normally eat?"
He reached in a pocket and took out some brown pellets that looked like dog kibble. Avery made a face of disgust. "What is that, people chow?"
"It's perfectly adapted to our nutritional needs," Lionel said. "Try it."
She was about to say "no thanks," but he was clearly making an effort to try new things, so she took a pellet and popped it in her mouth. It wasn't terrible — chewy rather than crunchy — but tasteless.
"I think I'll stick to our food," she said.
He looked gloomy. "I need to learn to eat yours."
He nodded. "I have to find out how the feral humans live."
So, Avery reflected, she was dealing with someone raised as a pet, who was now being released into the wild. For whatever reason.
"So where do you want to go today?" Avery said, sipping coffee.
He gave an indifferent gesture.
"You're heading for St. Louis?"
"Oh, I just picked that name off a map. It seemed to be in the center."
"That it is." She had lived there once; it was so incorrigibly in the center there was no edge to it. "Do you want to go by any particular route?"
"How much time do you have?"
"As long as it takes."
"Okay. The scenic route, then."
She got up to clean the dishes, telling Lionel that this was a good time for him to go out, if he wanted to. It took him a while to summon his resolve. She watched out the kitchen window as he approached a tree as if to have a conversation with it. He felt its bark, smelled its leaves, and returned unhappy and distracted.
Avery followed the same random-choice method of navigation as the previous night, but always trending west. Soon they came to the first ridge of mountains. People from western states talked as if the Appalachians weren't real mountains, but they were — rugged and impenetrable ridges like walls erected to bar people from the land of milk and honey. In the mountains, all the roads ran northeast and southwest through the valleys between the crumpled land, with only the brave roads daring to climb up and pierce the ranges. The autumn leaves were at their height, russet and gold against the brilliant sky. All day long Lionel sat staring out the window.
That night she found a half-deserted campground outside a small town. She refilled the water tanks, hooked up the electricity, then came back in. "You're all set," she told Lionel. "If it's all right with you, I'm heading into town."
"Okay," he said.
It felt good to stretch her legs walking along the highway shoulder. The air was chill but bracing. The town was a tired, half-abandoned place, but she found a bar and settled down with a beer and a burger. She couldn't help watching the patrons around her — worn-down, elderly people just managing to hang on. What would an alien think of America if she brought him here?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Not One of Us"
Copyright © 2018 Neil Clarke.
Excerpted by permission of Start Publishing LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Touring with the Alien by Carolyn Ives Gilman,
Laws of Survival by Nancy Kress,
At Play in the Fields by Steve Rasnic Tem,
The Ants of Flanders by Robert Reed,
Taking Care of God by Cixin Liu,
Water Scorpions by Rich Larson,
The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill by Kelly Robson,
Men are Trouble by James Patrick Kelly,
They Shall Salt the Earth with Seeds of Glass by Alaya Dawn Johnson,
Bits by Naomi Kritzer,
And Never Mind the Watching Ones by Keffy R. M. Kehrli,
Dark Heaven by Gregory Benford,
Nine-Tenths of the Law by Molly Tanzer,
Five Stages of Grief After the Alien Invasion by Caroline M. Yoachim,
Time of the Snake by A.M. Dellamonica,
The Fear Gun by Judith Berman,
Tendeléo's Story by Ian McDonald,
The Choice by Paul McAuley,
Passage of Earth by Michael Swanwick,
Reborn by Ken Liu,
Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang,
About the Editor,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A solid collection of stories. As with any short story anthology, some stories will appeal to the reader more than others- this will, of course, depend on the tastes of the reader. Having said that, I didn't find a stinker in the bunch. I won't list which stories I liked best or least- I personally prefer not to be influenced ahead of time, I won't do it to others, but I found no stories lower than 3.5 stars, most were 4 or 5 stars.