Funny Science Fiction

John stood with the alien in front of his bookshelf. A chance encounter with the third kind. It had ended up in his back garden some days ago and he was helping it repair its method of transportation ; it just needed a working toaster apparently. While already fixed, it needed about a day to ... well ... John didn't quite understand why it needed a day but the Alien was adamant that it did. While very eager to get home, it took a novel interest in the customs of the strange peoples it found itself amongst.

“What are all these?” the alien said, gesturing vaguely towards his bookshelf

“Books, DVDs, couple CDs from my dad. You know, art.” 

“You have you have art. You must be an intelligent species.” 

“I would say we don’t like to flatter ourselves but we most certainly do. Yeah we have art, you do where you’re from?

“We do but I assume they’re quite different. We’re one of the most advanced civilisations in the galaxy.” The alien reached out and plucked a random book off the shelf. ”What’s this one tell you?”

“Tell you? That’s ‘Waiting for Godot’, I haven’t read it in a while. It’s about the meaning of life or something.” At hearing this, the Aliens’ eyes widened, John assumed that meant that conveyed the same emotion as it did with humans

“You must be a very rich man.” The alien said with an air of awe in its voice, taking care to touch as little of the book as possible.

“Not really. Got it from Oxfam, only fifty pence or so. I probably haven’t even taken the little sticker of the front with the price on.”

“Given your attitude, you’re either extraordinarily rich or that’s an extraordinary little amount of money.”

“I wish it was the first one mate.” John chuckled “Fifty pence ain’t much. Loaf of bread is about twice that.” 

“The meaning of life costs you half of a loaf of bread.” a slow contemplation was audible in its voice. “I wonder how many half loaves of bread it’s worth in our money.” The Alien fell silent, attributing the effort of speaking into its thoughts.

“You have bread where you come from?” John said, breaking the momentary silence

“Of course we have bread, what else do you make with wheat?”

John shrugged “Beer?”

“You’ll have to show me what that is later but we have more pressing matters at hand. That book would cost us about some …two hundred billion loafs of bread.”  

“All that for one piece of art? Also you have years where you come from?”

“I’m using a translator, it’s going to use words and phrases that you’d use in your society instead. Don’t get hung up on semantics” The alien paused before suddenly remembering the rather more important topic at hand. “ And of course it’d cost that much, it’s the meaning of life! You humans must have a terrible sense of worth.” The Aliens face bore a wide grin, supporting John’s idea that it emoted similar to a human. That or he was severely misreading the situation.

“Far from it mate. The book isn’t the meaning of life. It’s about the meaning of life.” 

“Are those not the same?”

John shrugged “Read it, find out for yourself”

“You can just do that here?” disbelief present in it's voice

“I mean sure, why not. Don’t rip and I won’t mind.”

With shaky fingers, the Alien pulled the book out from the self. It steadied itself, taking a few deep breaths before lifting the first page and reading in silence for only a few moments.

“Who’s Estragon, should I know him? Is he the meaning of life? Or is it him not being able to take off his boot?”

“Estragon is just some fella. I can’t remember much about the book to be honest. Although I can tell you he isn’t the meaning of life and neither is his boot.”

The Alien began flicking through the pages, scanning for any words that may signify something important. “So when does it start with the important stuff?”

“Well … it doesn't really. That's kinda the point of it. Nothing happens. They just talk about stuff that doesn't matter” 

“And that’s the meaning of life?”

“I guess you could say that, that’s what Samuel Becket thinks life is at least.” 

“So there isn’t a meaning to life?”

“No, this one book isn’t the be all end all of meanings to lives.”

“Seems you are about as primitive as we had assumed.”

“You don’t seem to understand how our art works, what’s it like where you’re from?”

“I’m glad you asked! We’ve actually perfected the technique. You pay money, you get to know information.” 

“So what, it’s just a word written across a canvas?”

“Why in the world would we use one of them? No, it's just books.”

“Don’t have any stories in your books either?”

“Why would you have stories? I doubt school children will want to read about men not being able to take off boots while studying for an exam.” 

“No one reads for, you know, fun?”

“Mostly just the rich with their more complicated concepts.”

“So what, art is expensive?”

“Our art is priced accordingly. If it’s about important information like how the world works, that’s free. How to tie your shoelaces for example, a tenth of a loaf of bread. It’s not a lot of information and it’s fundamental so it’s cheap. Philosophy and such, that’s for the rich. The meaning of life, I don’t know if anyone’s been able to buy that one yet.”

“So what, no one talks about the content of art?”

“Oh god no!” The Alien’s eyes had widened, cementing John’s theory about its facial expressions. “It is strictly forbidden!” 

“How do you ‘explore the meaning’ and all that?”

“There is no meaning to explore, it’s perfected. Just simple truths.”

“And if you do it anyway?”

“I don’t know, no one’s ever done it. It’s forbidden after all.”

“And these truths, they’re always objectively right?”

“Yes. As long as you can pay you can learn almost anything.”

“What does ‘almost anything’ not include?”

“Forbidden stuff.” The alien said offhandedly as if it was something obvious yet stumbling on its words as it was so obvious he’d never expected to answer it. “Stuff that could be dangerous for the people to know. How to make bombs, how to stab someone, how to bake bread.”

“Baking bread isn’t dangerous.”

“Of course it is, it’s forbidden.”

“Why’s it forbidden then?”

“Because it’s dangerous.” 

“I don’t suppose they’ve forbidden books on logical fallacies as well.”

“Oh they have, how did you know that?”

“Call it a wild guess.” John wasn’t exactly sure how to pose his thoughts on it. It was like explaining what colours look like to a blind person, or what anything looks like to a blind person for that matter “That doesn't sound like art to me. It’s meant to make you … feel stuff.”

“Don’t act as if your way isn’t flawed. You got scammed and you haven’t even realised, that book told me nothing about the meaning of life.” 

“If you keep reading on it might.”

“I highly doubt that if I keep reading about the two men squabbling over a boot, I’ll learn the secrets of the universe.” 

“It doesn't have the definitive ‘secret of the universe’. It’s not informational, it’s fiction. The themes are meant to …” John stumbled over his words, it was something so obvious yet it was something he never expected to have to explain “sway how you think about life.”

“Yeah, that's really useful. If I’m wondering about how gravity works, I’ll read a book to change how I think about it. How do you even know if it’s right?”

“You don’t. That's up to you to decide. Don't you have opinions where you come from?”

“Not so much as thoughts of those who have and haven’t seen the art.”

“So you’ve never disagreed with art before?”

“Why would we? Everything in them is always true. Can you say that about your art?”

“How d’ya know everything in them is true?”

“The book on it says.”

“I thought so. Our books don’t need to be true, in fact the stories are usually made up.” 

“Well can you say your book’s themes are always true?”

“Themes aren’t a thing of right or wrong, it’s an idea they want you to think about.”

“Why wouldn’t they just state their idea?”

“That’s boring! Plus won’t change any of your views on it.”

The Alien returned this statement with a blank stare, with his previous information on it’s expression he took it that he should explain. “Look here.” John pulled another book off his shelf “Great expectations by Charles Dickens. Dickens thought it unfair that some people had more money despite not being as decent or hard working as others so he wrote about it. Book’s plot is interesting so people read it and agree with his idea.”

“Where I come from, art tells us that people with a lot of money have worked to deserve it.”

“This book disagrees.”

“My art’s more credible.”

“And who says that?”

“It says so in another one of my books.”

“It’s killing me that you’re not seeing the problem with that.”

“There is no problem with that. We are the most advanced species on the Earth, why can’t you accept that perhaps we are right because we know more than you.”

With each side so assured of their truth, the argument was going nowhere. “Books were probably a bad first thing to try and explain” John thought. Wordlessly, he took a CD off his shelf.

“I don’t suppose this will be any more useful than your books?” the Alien remarked as John slid the CD into the stereo 

“You have music where you come from?” The Alien shook its head “Didn’t think so. It’s like a book. There are themes and a story, a story I thought quite fitting.” John said without realising the Alien wouldn’t understand his joke. “It’s about an alien who’s sent to Earth. I think it’ll help you understand something important about how our art work” he fiddled with the interface on the device.

“And what might that be?”

“Just listen.” he clicked a button and the sound of David Bowie singing filled the room. 

“What is there to learn from it?” 

“I don’t know. Probably something.” 

“Can’t be a very good CD then.”

“It’s one of the best I’ve ever heard.”

“You humans have a very odd idea of what’s good and bad for these.” 

“Just listen to what he’s saying. It’s about an Alien learning about life on Earth. That concept sound familiar?”

“Even so, what’s the point?”

“It’s fun to listen to.” The statement wasn’t delivered with any malice or contempt. It was a simple subjective opinion. “Art should be enjoyed.” 

The Alien listened to the man over the speakers singing. The infectious piano and the guitar melody that has no rival. While he was still struggling with the idea that art could be wrong the Alien could not deny John’s point. The CD was fun. A concept it has never considered. It liked enjoying art a lot more than it being right.

August 03, 2022 21:25

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