Acorna, written by Anne McCaffrey and Margaret Ball, is another older novel. It recently landed on my To Read pile because of an urban fantasy series I had in mind where the protagonist is somewhat of a unicorn (at least her grandmother claimed she is). My protagonist is an avid reader who devoured anything "unicorn" as a child, and Acorna came to mind.
I read more fantasy and horror than I do science fiction, so it took my brain a couple pages to adjust. In a good way, though. And then it made me think, as usual. This time about the introduction of an alien species.
In some instances, like in the movie Alien, the writer wants to make the new species so foreign that it's horrifying, create it into something that is completely different than anything we know. But what if we want to make an alien species likeable? Or even relatable?
We give it human characteristics, of course!
Those human characteristics, things we recognize, help us adjust to the added differences of the creature. Near the beginning of Acorna, some asteroid miners find a pod with a little girl in it. The first description we get doesn't center on her differences, but makes it sound like she could be any human child. "They all admitted to that impression of the little creature which lay on her side, one hand curled into a fist and thrust against her mouth in a fairly common gesture of solace. A fluff of silvery hair curled down her forehead and coiled down to her shoulder blades, half obscuring the pale, delicate face" (8). It isn't until after that description that they notice the bump on her forehead and how her fingers and toes are formed differently.
But physical description isn't always enough, is it? Actions and responses that seem more human also help to endear us to something "other". Clearly an alien can look sweet and humanoid, then open its eyes and devour your face. Am I right?
Little Acorna doesn't do this, though. She does something very human, and it's hard not to feel for her. "'Avvvi, avvvi!' the youngling demanded, louder. Her eyes looked strange--almost changing shape--but she didn't cry." One man questions what avvvi could mean, and another responds, "...'Whatever the language,' [Gill] said, '"avvi" has to be her word for "Mama"'" (9).
How can you not feel for a child crying for her mother? Or at least see that though alien, the child is very human-like, and easy to accept as a likeable character.
What other ways have you seen something alien come alive on the page with the intention of liking the alien species?
McCaffrey, Anne and Margaret Ball. Acorna. New York: HarperPrism, 1997.
NEXT UP: A poem