There are aliens in Good Omens, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. To explain why would be to risk including spoilers, but it has to do with the Apocalypse… sort of. The entire book is about the Apocalypse, since it follows an angel and a devil who decide they quite like the world and work together to stop it, but of all of the dangers the various characters encounter, the aliens don’t rank too high on the list. There’s three of them, all there to examine the state of the Earth’s environment, but there is one in particular that is shaped like a pepper pot – which, according to Merriam-Webster is just a pepper shaker. I’m a bit embarrassed that I had to look it up – and just sort of falls over.
This pepper pot alien has no lines and appears in only two paragraphs, but it stuck in my mind a long time after I had finished the book. Aliens are a fairly common occurrence in pop culture, and usually come in various forms with traits like eye stalks, green skin, and tentacles. The pepper pot alien has none of these. It’s apparently just a pepper shaker.
It’s intriguing to me because it is, like I mentioned, just a pepper shaker. I admit I am not well versed in aliens, or science fiction in general, but I read a lot of fantasy and assume that similar principles apply between alien beings and fantastical creatures. Often, we see similar sorts of creatures, like dragons, unicorns, or elves occupying fantasy worlds, but what if a knight was set out on a quest and it was to fight sentient pepper shakers? Is there something in most fantasy books that prevents the inclusion of absolutely ridiculous creatures?
I suppose it’s partially a trope thing, partially because no one would be able to take a book seriously when its main villain is a flowerpot, but perhaps there should be a subgenre: fantasy heroes battle enraged household furniture and other various beings. I would read these books quite often.
Anyway, assuming aliens work on the same principle as fantasy creatures, oftentimes they are supposed to be frightening, but why is this such a common occurrence? It seems like there’s either raging beasts or the human-alien version of the United Nations and very little in between. I suppose it’s because people try to think about space in the same way they try to think about the Earth, where space is either something to conquer, be afraid of, or attempt to organize with, and the aliens reflect this.
So, how else do we approach space so that all the pepper shakers of the universe can thrive? What would an alien society that isn’t based on traits from the Earth look like and how do we write something we cannot imagine?
There’s a lot of room in the science fiction genre – and fantasy as well – for exploration, for trying new things instead of following tropes and creating entirely new worlds. But it’s difficult: tropes can be incredibly effective and they exist for a reason, and completely original material is hard to come by. It doesn’t have to be completely original, though, just slow journeys outside what’s normal for the genre. I suppose this is what every book is, that if we keep writing and keep making progress eventually we’ll find ourselves in new territory, and my evil furniture dreams will become a reality.