Monday, October 31, 2022

Review Tuesday: Alien Baggage Allowance by James Helps – #Satire #ScienceFiction #ReviewTuesday

Alien Baggage Allowance cover

Alien Baggage Allowance: A Collection of Micro Stories from Outta Space
by James Helps

Second Edition 2022

They came from outer space...

How many science fiction books have been written about humans’ first contact with an alien species? Thousands, possibly tens of thousands, I’d guess. After all, there are so many different scenarios, so many different ways events could unfold. Imagination can scarcely encompass the huge number of possible forms the Visitors might take or what their motives might be. Perhaps even more of a question is how we, the human race, might respond.

Alien Baggage Allowance is one author’s rapid fire exploration of this huge space of possibilities. In mini-stories ranging from a few paragraphs to a few pages, James Helps presents a gallery of vignettes about what might happen “When they came”.

These bizarre tales are sometimes hilarious, sometimes satirical, often cringe-inducing. Though they’re very short, I could not read too many at one sitting, partially because some of them made me distinctly uncomfortable. This is clearly the author’s intention. As I proceeded to the end of the book, it became clear that these stories aren’t really about aliens, but rather, about us.

I’ll quote a few, to give you a taste of Mr. Helps’ off-beat humor and understated irony.

CB Radio

WHEN THEY CAME, they were so astonished with our advanced technologies — they couldn’t get enough of our hair dryers, microwaves and CD players — that it made us wonder how they had navigated across the galaxy and had located a life-sustaining planet such as our own. As they did not speak any of our languages, more of a guttural chunter, it took a while for them to comprehend our confusion. Through a series of charades and drawings they finally cottoned on. All they could do was laugh to one another, and then proceeded to answer our questions with equally crude methods.

The upshot being: a spacecraft had come from space to their planet; they thought the sun was attacking them; they killed the Visitors that emerged from the sun-god spacecraft with clubs and spears; took their clothes and in the ship there was a big button with a picture of a man on it, they pressed it, some of them hoping it would bring their Visitors back to life because they were feeling a bit guilty, yet others hoped it would reveal more of their Visitors to kill; but what it actually did was bring the ship here, to Earth.

So there was intelligent life out there but these weren’t them.


WHEN THEY CAME, we thought they were just so damned cool. What with their winning smiles, shiny space-clothes, their special anti-gravity boots, the swaggering bouncy walks, and to top it all off they give us all rides in their spacecraft. It almost made us forget they had enslaved the whole nation of Denmark.

Breaking Bread

WHEN THEY CAME, they were appalled at the way we enslave our sister and our brother species, fattened them up and then sacrificed them for our stomach’s sakes. “How barbaric,” they chastised.

See, there is intelligent life out there after all,” chorused the vegetarians.

And the servitude is even worse, keeping your fellow creatures alive just to make food stuffs for your bodies is even worse. At least your so-called meat animals are well fed and receive a swift death. Your product animals are held longer and in utter degradation.”

The smug vegans were about to pipe up, but before they had a chance the Visitors pointed their fingers once again, “and you. You,” they narrowed their eyes. “You are the most terrible of all humankind. Not letting life live naturally and freely. Creating field after field of the same uniform life for your base needs. And you should know that plants have the lowest intelligence index of all sentient things, and you pick on them. Shame on you. Shame and guilt upon the heads of your children.”

So what are we meant to do,” the vegans protested, “for our own ‘base’ needs. All living things need sustenance.”

With all your technology have you not yet invented synthetic nutrition? You know, something that you can create artificially and then inject into your system without destroying any life? That way no one and nothing dies.”

What? You don’t sit down and break bread with one another, share a meal?” we all asked together.

No,” our Visitors told us, offence quivering in their voices.

At which point humanity, as one, collectively agreed that it was they, not us, that were inhuman and if they didn’t like us mouth feeders they could bloody well bugger off back to their own up-itself, holier-than-thou, self-righteous planet.

Old Oak

WHEN THEY CAME they were made of wood. They had wooden faces, and wooden arms and legs. Wooden fingers. Wooden toes. They had arrived in three wooden spacecraft. And from what I can remember, they also had wooden clothes. Wooden computers. Ate wooden food. Moved in a wooden fashion. And talked in a wooden way.

But they wouldn’t tell us where they were from. Wouldn’t listen to us, when we politely asked them to leave. But most annoying of all, when we doused them in gasoline, they wouldn’t burn.

Actually, these stories would not be inappropriate for Halloween. Some of them inspire a sense of horror. Intentionally.

If you’re looking for laughs mixed with some intellectual and moral challenges, grab a copy of this quirky and original volume.

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