Touring with the Alien • 2016 • First contact SF novelette by Carolyn Ives Gilman

★★★

Aliens landed on Earth. In a top secret job, Avery is recruited to drive an alien, stored in a box, and Lionel, his human translator, across the United States. On this road trip, the three come to know each other and themselves. The thing is, that the aliens use humans as a kind of drug to induce consciousness in themselves because they are not self-aware.

 

The first part of this character-driven story read similar to Chiang’s Story of Your Life with those mysterious, indifferent aliens not really showing up.

It is centered around the philosophical discussion about consciousness, and it was funny to see that those aliens get high on consciousness, whereas the two humans come to see it as negative.

Another part was Lionel’s coming-of-age story, as he was abducted as child by the aliens, grew up in their environment and had to learn the way of humans – very funny, as he first ate a salty bacon which “bit me”.

This is no action story, not much of a plot, sometimes too slow and lacking tension. I found the linking with Avery’s fate and the philosophical discussions to be interesting but a bit heavy-handed. I didn’t buy into the ending, as I think that FBI would have reacted completely differently.

Meta: isfdb. Appeared in April 2016 in Clarkesworld. Read in Best SFF 11. It is available online.

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