Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Connie Willis' "All Seated on the Ground" (novella, humor): Convincing alien visitors that humans are worth talking to!

Quote from short story titled All Seated on the Ground by Connie WillisAmong the better stories from this year's Hugo list. Lot of occasions to make the reader smile.

While the story contains a huge laundry list of "Christmas carol" song names - none of which meant anything to me & I just kept ignoring them - that doesn't really come in the way of fun. Should be accessible to world wide audience in spite of this. Story is really about human behavior.

If you've kids at home, there is much material here to adapt for home story telling sessions. Replace aliens with talking animals; it's easy enough turn the episodes into locally familiar & many opportunities to play-act the scenes.

Full text of this story is available for download.

Story summary.

One fine day, an alien spaceship with 6 aliens ("Altairi", "because an astronomy professor at DU had announced they were from the star Altair in the constellation Aquila"; they are actually from "the star Alsafi in the constellation Draco") turned up on Denver University campus. They got out, & just stand there & glare at everyone. All attempts at welcome or communications have come to a naught.

Nine months down, it's the third commission working to crack the communications barrier. One of the members of the commission is Ms Meg Yates (the narrator). It's headed by Dr Morthman, a boor & a hopeless leader. Another interesting member is Reverend Thresher ("head of the One True Way Maxichurch") - a priest with his own agenda. Plus other less interesting members.

Only thing this commission has yet succeeded in is making the aliens follow on call. One fine day, they're taken to visit a crowded mall. Part way through the trip, aliens just sit down - something that never happened before! Obviously something in the environment has touched them.

While Dr Morthman is threatening to shut down the mall & get everyone inside detained & questioned by cops, Yates has quietly figured out the reason - with the help of Calvin Ledbetter, a choir director present there. It's apparently in response to a song "'While shepherds watched their flocks by night,' all seated on the ground", which also gives the story its title.

All her attempts to inform Dr Morthman of discovery fail - boss is just not willing to listen. Much mayhem ensues. Over the coming days, she will quietly work with Ledbetter on this track.

And eventually succeed. You see, the aliens have been dying to see any signs of cooperation among the humans & the commissions they've been interacting with have been too fractious. But a choir requires harmonious working, as does the slowly developing romance between Yates & Ledbetter.

Fact sheet.

First published: Asimov's Science Fiction, December 2007.
Rating: A
Winner of Hugo Award 2008 in novella category.
Added to my best of the year 2007 list.


Gwenny said...

Doh! I read your reviews and it makes me want to go out and buy everything. LOL Connie is totally awesome. I can't wait to read the entire story.