EARTH: ITS PEOPLE
The other day, I was making dinner for a neighbor — nothing serious, a light noodle dish, some parsley, a bit of ginger — and I mentioned that I had just gotten back from Earth and was thinking about typing up my experiences. He looked at me askance and said, “Earth? What, funeral pyres and all that?”
Such an attitude is typical, even among my fellow explorers. Although we’ve learned little about this frontier world since T-Hooft went to Greece and wrote his opus, Earth: Planet, everyone seems to think we know enough. You might suppose that if you went to Earth, fitting in with the natives would be a breeze. That’s one of the pleasures of going abroad, they say: you can whistle off-key and wear strange clothes and no one cares.
However, recall the explorer Tønstil, who landed 900 years ago on a remote Earth isle and was taken by the spear -wielding natives as some sort of demon. They threw him right on the funeral pyre. If Tønstil had studied up a bit, he might have known that ten feet is not a typical height on Earth.
As the farthest known habitable planet, Earth has received but limited scrutiny from us Raribaldans. The planet’s dominant terrestrial life form, the human, has received even less. Few of our explorers have ventured into the urban thickets where humans like to congregate. Whether from caution, disinterest, or mere oversight on the part of their authors, most accounts come to us instead from the havens of tropical islands and ski chalets.
All told, just two books — Brqin’s Earth: Prospects for Brotherhood, set in Växjö, Sweden, and De-L’s Earth: Its Poetic Soul, set in Medicine Hat, Canada — give us any sense of human behavior in cities. Yet the quality of these works leaves much to be desired. For one thing, Brqin’s tale is told almost entirely from inside the walls of an asylum, affording the reader little perspective on human society. For another, Brqin’s sentimental style can get distracting. “Come to me, my fellow creature!” he gushes. “Join me under the stars, for they are not your stars, nor mine, but ours!” As for the poet-linguist De-L, he was in Medicine Hat for all of two weeks, and his descriptions of Summer nights on the prairie, specifically his 70-page “A Woman in Heat Reads Me Robert Service” chapter, have been so thoroughly ridiculed that I doubt anybody takes the book seriously anymore.
I have no desire to rail against sentimentality. I am a regular sentimentalist myself, as I think all explorers have to be. Nor do I wish to impugn the learnedness of these books. This book, while it may add a few bricks to the scholarly edifice, is first and foremost a memoir. To be sure, I didn’t go to Earth with the intention of studying funeral rites, solar eclipses, and Vernal Equinoxes. I went in pursuit of a rather peevish neighbor of mine.
All this in due time. My point is only that another work on the human should not be considered unwelcome. The vast majority of firsthand accounts, T-Hooft’s included, date from the time of first contact — over 2,000 years ago, when humans had yet to vanquish tooth decay. We have come a long way since then, and so, to some extent, have they.
Even those who have not read a word about the planet may not be surprised to learn that Earth, as a candidate for colonization, has a character similar to our own. With its rolling green meadows and sparkling blue Oceans, Earth is, to the amateur observer, scarcely distinguishable from Raribald.
Yet there are some significant differences. In the first place, Earth revolves around one star, not two; as a result, nights are often longer than the days. In addition, the planet endures a set of four distinct seasons, ranging from blisteringly hot to blisteringly cold. T-Hooft tells us that the coldest season is the work of a vengeful Corn Mother, whose daughter gets spirited away by the god of the Underworld on an annual basis.
Life is widespread, teeming. Whereas Raribald’s population is so low that our scenery is just that — scenery — the entirety of Earth is claimed. There is not one niche that some species, however small, however enamored of its own excrement, has not converted into a habitat. At the depths of the Oceans, on the faces of rocks, in the sweltering Desert, life will be found making do.
And the variety of species is to be marveled at. There are creatures with two eyes, six eyes, two hundred eyes, creatures with spikes, creatures with horns, creatures who cannot hear, creatures who do not speak, creatures who refuse to reproduce, red creatures, green creatures, yellow creatures, transparent creatures, translucent creatures — in short, a species for every combination of adjectives, and within each species, more divisions still.
Nature has even gone so far as to segregate the sexual organs on Earth, creating two distinct genders: male (denoted herein by the familiar he, him, and his) and female (denoted by she, her, and hers). It is the male who secretes semen and the female who provides the egg. A terrific amount of confusion results from this bizarre division.
Life on Earth is brief. Many creatures die the day they are born, and many others expire within the space of a year. Humans, who, along with whales, turtles, and sequoia trees, claim the greatest longevity, live to see a century at most. This hasty exit is a further source of confusion.
A voyage to an alien world is no minor undertaking, especially if one hopes to remain inconspicuous. With the cautionary tale of Tønstil in mind, I interred myself at the Rhoisian Institute for the better part of a month before leaving, getting comfortable with human prosthetics and brushing up on their languages. Then I set sail for New York, crown jewel of Earth’s cities.
For my successes, whatever they may be, I am indebted to the staff at the Rhoisian Institute; it is to them that I dedicate this slender volume. Grateful acknowledgment is also made to the editors of Constellation, where the “Arrival” and “Exhumation” chapters first appeared in slightly altered form.