Doug Johnstone’s The Shape Between Us has an alien land in Scotland, adding to the large number of alien landings whose story is shaped by where they land, and who finds them.
ET lands in Modesto California, since it is a story about Spielberg’s childhood. Superman in Smallville, Kansas, for his Jewish creators wanted him to be an immigrant but raised by an all American family.
I have often mused on how Pilot, Cory’s mother, might have landed somewhere else, and the infinite stories that flowed from that. To write is to choose.
Contains mild spoilers for Our Child of The Stars and Our Child of Two Worlds – spelling out some things not spelled out before.
Cory’s mother, the Pilot, flies Forager Ship Four towards a lush world of green and blue and white. A world of war, a world of summer and winter. Her son Little Blue Frog is unconscious, and her best friend and her child are already dead. Her body is wracked with pain, she cannot shake off the pain from the wounds of so many deaths. She knows she is alone dying.
Behind her, the huge colony ship tries a desperate move. It launches one of its engines into the swarm of alien machines and detonates it…
A swarm of murderous alien machines heads for Earth, dragging a meteor as a shield. What havoc it could wreak… Can she, dare she, destroy them as they fall?
This is a primitive planet, gripped by the psychosis that violence is an appropriate response to feeling beings. She may need to hide. Where on that world does she land…?
In the beginning, was a small New England town. The characters were American, except for the small purple boy with a heart of gold and a dreadful secret. His adoptive mother named him Cory. The characters and the setting existed before there was thought of anything as fancy as a book or two. I had a short story that obeyed Aristotle’s unities – a few characters, and the whole action in one place and on one day.
What if Pilot, dying, bereaved, not wholly rational, had landed somewhere else?
Fellow writers challenged me why I did not move the setting – set it in the country I knew from experience, perhaps the Meteor striking somewhere in Somerset with an improbable name like Abbot’s Balcony or Fester St James, with the Ship down in the Bristol Channel. A story set in the UK in 1969, where the times were a changing too. I was a little younger than Cory is, not remembering the Moon Landings but I did remember Apollo 13.
How different the flavour of the book would have been! Maybe I should have written a book of optimism and starry-eyed hope about Britain…
In part I set it in Amber Grove, New York, because that was as exotic as I felt up to – and because the characters came as liberal North-Eastern Americans and weren’t up for changing.
Where does Cory land and who finds him first?
Infinite books spread out. In many, Pilot’s gamble fails and Cory dies. Where there is no medical attention, his death is all but certain. In many, the authorities learn of the boy, and in every one of those he becomes a plaything of the powerful. How many governments would rush to tell the world and how many to keep him a secret? How many keep him tucked away as Molly feared, like a lab rat? How many see him first as a person?
Perhaps some of these stories are not too dreadful for him. Maybe even in an unkind world and for cynical reasons, those around him are still kind. If the President’s scientific advisor Dr Pfeiffer gets hold of him… he’s an ambitious and conceited Cold-Warrior but a kind and almost indulgent father. Many options will be nightmares for Cory and for me thinking of them.
Of course, Cory is not human. He has ways to flee captivity, before his powers are known. Afterwards I see little chance.
Look at an equal area map of the world. Look how much is Russia, China and their satellites. Look how much of it is Africa. Imagine Cory on the Serengeti, laughing at elephants, or staring at the blazing stars in longing… not knowing which star is home.
Imagine Cory’s first Earth winter – sledding in Alberta with other children, or skating a frozen pond in some Communist dacha… He does not like the stern men who come, but the Grandmothers are kind.
He might have learned Danish or Igbo or Minnan or one of the countless tongues of Papua New Guinea.
He could have fallen into a hot war… into ignorant or criminal hands…
Cory is a child who has known nothing but love. He will be a challenge to all of us, our systems and our hypocrisies, wherever he lands. What would Harold Wilson have done, or Pierre Trudeau? Indira Gandhi or Seretse Khama? How quickly the great powers would move on a lesser power – with threats and bribes.
Cory in Japan, Cory among the Amish, Cory bought and sold…
Alien ships tend to deposit their precious cargo in rural places – not just because there is more rural to land in, but for plot convenience. Imagine the Ship being seen over a city. Imagine trying to hide him in a Brazilian favela, or Manhattan. But even cities have possibilities.
There are some stories it is perhaps not mine to tell. I have a secret wish, where a kind and strong-minded widow with children of her own takes him in. She has a small circle who know their place, how people like them exist under a ration of tolerance, who know how to keep their mouths shut. Her son is a hothead, a loudmouth who renounced the name she gave him for an African name, but he is smart and he knows people on both sides of the law. Her older daughter is sleeping with a white slacker, connected to the seedier bits of youth culture. She would use those connections, and her church. The youngest daughter would love Cory in this story as much as she does in mine.
Somehow the wheel turns, and Cory is taken in by Diane Alexander… a teacher, a Black woman, a widow, head of one of the few Black families in Amber Grove. Molly, her crazy friend and neighbour would soon find out, and help with this bewitching child, but Diane would be Earth Mom.
Maybe when the big money comes calling, the film will follow that story instead.