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Who or what is an alien? Someone or something whose profound otherness stirs in us terror, even dread? Or perhaps a healthy—sometimes dangerous—curiosity? In Joseba Elorza’s cover art for this issue, are the aliens those commandeering the descending saucers or are they the three conspicuously nonchalant figures in the foreground, interrupted on their way to work? On the other hand, are both UFOs and metropolitan pedestrians somehow alien?
Aliens are, by definition, Other. They are the stuff of science and speculative fiction, of Fantastika and fantasy, yes, but they are also traditional literary figures whom society, however unfairly, has labeled misfits, nonpersons, the Ishmaels of the world. When Frankenstein’s monster stalks the countryside, an ill-fated product of human genius and hubris, he is the alien, the Other. But those who misjudge him and seek his destruction are also the Others in Shelley’s story. In The New Wave Fabulists issue of Conjunctions, nominally “genre” writers tested literary boundaries in risky and exciting ways. In Betwixt the Between, “literary” authors explored the terrains of genre fiction. Having thus established a discourse between the literary and genre worlds, we felt compelled in Other Aliens to further unsettle the precincts of genre and literary writing, push for even more freedom to define what alienation and otherness is about.
Joyce Carol Oates’s chilling experiment turns the mind of an immigrant alien into that of an alien in the interplanetary sense. Matthew Baker explores a new body dysmorphia. Peter Straub’s synesthetic serial killer inhales the odors of languages. Michael Parrish Lee markets human products. Madeline Bourque Kearin’s marooned heroine sits still in the middle of time. Laura Sims writes odes of love to zombies. A host of other aliens can also be discovered here. To be able to offer interviews with Samuel R. Delany, Kelly Link, John Crowley, and John Clute, along with a generous selection of previously unpublished letters by James Tiptree, Jr., who knew better than most what it is like to feel other, is for us a distinct honor. In these glimpses into the writerly mind, as in all the imaginative worlds this issue contains, we pursue a definition of the indefinable.
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The Million Monkeys of M. Borel
The Showroom Variations
The Process is a Process All Its Own
The Unrivaled Happiness of Otters
Four Atomic Poems