Sometimes, cool stories turn up when you’re not even looking for them.
While perusing Facebook today, I happened upon a discussion about the Fermi Paradox, which notes our strange failure to encounter other intelligent life in the universe, despite the statistical improbability that we should be alone in the immeasurable vastness of space. The recent Kepler surveys indicate there are many star systems near us with planets potentially capable of supporting life, which makes the apparent silence in our galactic neighborhood even more intriguing.
In the “related links” section that Facebook helpfully inserts whenever somebody shares an article elsewhere on the web, I noticed a link to a very cool short story I read years ago that takes a clever twist on the Fermi Paradox. It’s by Hugo and Nebula award-winning author Terry Bisson. He’s known best for his short story work, though he’s written a wide variety of novels, screenplays, and comic book adaptations. He also completed Walter M. Miller Jr’s sequel to A Canticle for Leibowitz, Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.
Maybe the problem isn’t a lack of other intelligent denizens of the cosmos, or their failure to notice us—maybe they simply can’t bear to acknowledge our intelligence. Bisson’s story is titled, aptly, “They’re Made Out of Meat.”
“They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don’t come from them. The signals come from machines.”
“So who made the machines? That’s who we want to contact.”
“They made the machines. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Meat made the machines.”
“That’s ridiculous. How can meat make a machine? You’re asking me to believe in sentient meat.”
“I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. These creatures are the only sentient race in that sector and they’re made out of meat.”
You can read the whole thing here, courtesy of Mr. Bisson. It was originally published in Omni magazine in 1990.
In pondering the reaction of the story’s bigoted non-corporeal beings, I recalled that the Latin word for meat, caro, is also the root of our English word incarnation. When Christians say Jesus Christ is God “incarnate,” they’re saying the Creator of the universe took on flesh, or in other words, made Himself “into meat.” For us.
Maybe the universe isn’t such a cold and lonely place after all.