Bewildering Stories Discusses
Humans and Aliens in The Dohani War
with Bill Bowler, Gary Inbinder and Don Webb
Gary Inbinder: As I approached the conclusion, I noticed more similarities to a familiar western-film plot in which a white man lives among the Indians, marries an Indian woman — often a chief’s daughter — and befriends the chief, becomes a blood-brother member of the tribe, and brokers a peace treaty that’s threatened by renegades on both sides. There are often variations on the theme. For example:
The Indian girl (e.g. Jane) could be the daughter of white settlers, taken captive as an infant and raised by the tribe.
The U.S. cavalry repatriates her in a raid on her village. Belligerent at first, the girl is befriended by a young lieutenant, etc.
The Indians go on the warpath because of a massacre perpetrated by a gang of “pirates” (cowboys, angry settlers, miners, railroad men, etc.).
There must be a scene between the old chief and a rising young warrior in which the younger says, “White man speak with forked tongue.” Likewise, there must be a scene between a white peacemaker and a hothead who says, “The only good Injun is a dead one.”
Anyone who grew up in the U.S. in the 1950s or earlier would be familiar with this story line. However, in these stories it’s a recognition of a common humanity, e.g. the friendship between Tom Jeffords (Jimmy Stewart) and Cochise (Jeff Chandler) in Broken Arrow, that ultimately saves the day.
Don Webb: I remember a young adult novel — from the late 1940’s, I think, but I’ve forgotten the author and title — in which an English orphan boy is raised by Lenape Indians living on the Delaware River in the early 18th century. At the end, English settlers come to reclaim him, and everybody including the reader is sad he has to leave. The story has no significant conflict; rather it’s a “novel of education,” so to speak. It’s loaded with cultural insights and the reader interest is in the boy’s adjustment to an unfamiliar way of life.
Gary I.: There can be no such “common humanity” between the earthlings and Dohani. I think it’s hard, if not impossible, to analogize human beings to aliens who are so different from us.
Can “Ralph” function as a kind of Cochise? Perhaps Jane is intended to form a bridge between the two cultures or civilizations, but that’s a much heavier lift when one side is portrayed as “super-human” in such a different way, and thus so far from human experience as to be almost unimaginable.
Bill Bowler: Gary’s comments on the novel are quite astute and most interesting. As I understand it, the question he is posing is: Given their huge disparity, can humanity and the Dohani find common ground as equals?
Gary I.: Yes, Bill, that’s right.
Bill B.: To shift the line of inquiry from the westerns to science fiction: Is common ground as equals possible between humans and Vulcans? Humans and Klaatu’s people? Humans and Predator? It is hinted at in Predators, the sequel. Human and Alien (from the Alien trilogy)? I’m not even going to mention The Thing.
Gary I.: I think the possibility for reaching common ground between human and Vulcan, or human and Klaatu’s people is more plausible than between human and “predator” or “alien.”
That’s because Spock and Klaatu are more gods than monsters, and these gods are made in our own image as our better selves. The predators and aliens are our demons.
In many — most? all? — mythologies, humans interact with gods and monsters; they mate with them, producing heroes and their evil antagonists. I can certainly imagine Superman mating with Lois Lane. Likewise, Zeus is an immortal, incredibly powerful imagined projection of a human king, who fathered heroes with mortal women.
However, I have a harder time placing the Dohani in relation to human beings, because they are far removed from our common experience. And the more attenuated “aliens” seem from our perspective, the less plausible their relationship with humans.
Don W.: We don’t have to go to outer space to make “first contact”; it’s all around us. Linguists have generally and historically maintained that animals do not have language. The assertion once seemed profound; it has since become the equivalent of the now-incomprehensible dogma that animals don’t have “souls.” In fact, the claim about animal language has been reduced to a banal truism: of course animals don’t have human language; did anyone expect they would? Even Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Doolittle knew better.
We now know that all organisms communicate in some way, be they bacteria, plants, insects, or larger animals. And we even have limited communication with domesticated animals. Once we understand what other species are telling each other — and us — right here on Earth, then perhaps we’ll be ready to make first contact with space aliens. But not till then.
Bill B.: The conundrum of The Dohani War, for me, is the idea that the Dohani, as represented, seem more advanced than the humans not only technologically but morally. I realize how ironic this is, since Gary has already, in earlier comments, associated their genetic engineering/warfare with the Nazis’.
Don W.: Of course, eugenics was a widespread fad in the early 20th century and was not limited to the country that industrialized it. I expect that Martin Kerharo was aware of the trap and tried to do all he could to avoid it. Thus, the Dohani had to choose between exterminating the Caterpillars or pacifying them by a program of biological “democratization.”
Do the ends justify the means? The question is meaningless, because means and ends are one and the same. The Dohani had to choose between life and death for both themselves and the Caterpillars. They chose life. Was the choice possible without changing the Caterpillars’ nature? Only if the Dohani changed to become like the Caterpillars. But we have to take the Dohanis’ word for it.
Would even Star Trek’s “prime directive” have applied under the circumstances? Judging by Star Trek’s usual story lines, no.
Bill B.: I guess the question is: How will the Dohani react as they get to know us humans better? Will they leave us as we are and accept us as equals? I tend to doubt it. Too much is at stake. They’re going to need to keep control. And what would humanity do if the tables were turned?
Don W.: The Dohanis’ experience with the Caterpillars, Jane, Dexter and, now, Lucy points directly to a future where humans will come equipped with “implants” of their own. Thus, they won’t have to go through the painful and laborious process of self-regulation described in chapter 19, “Revolution.”
Isaac Asimov sketched out a similar scenario long ago, in his Foundation series. The Second Foundation is a covert organization of telepaths guiding history. Thankfully, the Second Foundationers are benevolent, although a counter-example, the Mule, shows they need not have been. But the premise raises questions: Why must the Second Foundation be so special? Can’t everybody be endowed with the same abilities? Asimov left the questions unanswered.
Copyright © 2013 by Bewildering Stories