Mac Tonnies has been thinking about aliens – the Grays. What if they represent a sort of tangible psychosomatic feedback from our own distant future?
Let’s talk about aliens. The Grays. You know the ones: black, lidless eyes, atrophied mouths, vestigial nostrils. Their bodies, if human, would be considered emaciated. Anonymous pathologists, notably sources known only to the late UFO investigator Len Stringfield, indicated disproportionately long arms with clawed fingers. By almost all accounts, the Grays are described as genderless.
I’ve never know precisely what to make of these quasi-mythical beings. They are many things: harbingers of a new mythology in keeping with the paranoid climate of the 1980s, when the word ‘Roswell’ began registering on our collective cultural radar. In 1987, Whitley Strieber’s Communion epitomized the image of a prototypical Gray on bookshelves around the world. (Some readers found the image intolerably spooky; others noted an alluring quality to the alleged portrait, a sentiment that kindled hope in the faded promises of the saucer contactees.)
The Grays are also metaphor. Their very appearance is in keeping with the visual vocabulary painfully accumulated in the decades after World War II. With their skeletal physique and bulbous heads, the Grays recall famine victims or the walking dead left in the wake of Nazi Germany. If there’s such a thing as Jung’s collective unconscious, it would appear to have a sardonic sense of humor. Their arrival is less communion than confrontation, shocking in both novelty and complexity .
The mythos offers easy, literalist answers to assuage and appall us in equal measure. We’re told they come from a dying world — perhaps circling Zeta Reticuli — in search of genetic material. They’re desperate, fallible, yet possessed of (and perhaps by) a technology that abides by Clarke’s famous maxim. And yet apparently, and seemingly against the odds, they make mistakes. 1947 wasn’t a good year, if the conventional wisdom regarding Roswell is to be implicitly trusted. Having crashed one of their reconnaissance vehicles in the American Southwest, the Grays set about revealing themselves, albeit reluctantly.
Incredibly, they requested favors and made deals with the United States government in their effort to regain autonomy. Later, having duped us with technological cast-offs, they promptly went about insinuating themselves into our bodies and homes, extracting tissue with vampirish zeal. (Like vampires, the Grays are predominantly nocturnal, and their agenda seems burdened with inordinately erotic overtones. It’s likely no accident that Strieber’s cult classic novel, The Hunger, involved the plight of blood-sucking immortals.)
Witnesses claim the Grays act like members of a hive, each unit as unhesitating and pragmatic as a wasp or ant as they busy themselves around incomprehensible devices or tend to incubators, where supposed human-alien hybrids can be seen drifting in vials of fluid. The unsolicited tours they offer abductees fascinate me, regardless of whether they actually occur as described. Whether they realize it or not, the Grays are intently showing us our worst dystopian nightmares; their future is a world of shuffling monotony and gynecological wizardry worthy of Huxley.
Whoever they once were and wherever they’re from, the Grays have suffered a cataclysmic schism between body and mind. Like the replicants of Blade Runner, they’re largely immune to empathy and look to us with a mixture of fascination and sadness. They’ve lost something pivotal and will stop at nothing to get it back — if, indeed, they remember what they’ve misplaced.
We boldly speculate about the potential of mind-uploading and the promise of designer bodies. We plunge forever deeper in to the resplendent weave of our own genome, shuffling molecules with Frankensteinian resolve. The Grays might be projections from our own future: imaginal constructs so heavily freighted with our own unresolved anxieties that they’ve become effectively palpable.
In our rush to debunk, we ignore their warning at our own peril.
Mac Tonnies is an author/essayist whose futuristic fiction and speculative essays have appeared in many print and online publications. He’s the author of Illumined Black, a collection of science fiction short-stories, and After the Martian Apocalypse (Paraview Pocket Books, 2004). Mac maintains Posthuman Blues, a widely read blog devoted to emerging technologies and paranormal phenomena, and is a member of the Society for Planetary SETI Research. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where he writes, reads and surfs the Net. He is currently at work on a new book.
[Loving the Alien column header image credited to RedMonkeyVirus]