When I was a boy back on Earth, I was absorbed in science fiction. It began when I was in elementary school: we had just moved to a new town, I was home sick from school, and it was very rainy. There was nothing to do! So my father went rummaging through some old boxes in the store room and came up with some old science fiction paperbacks. Since that time, I have been hooked on it! But not just any kind. My favorite is so-called hard science fiction about the sciences of physics, astronomy, chemistry; traveling to alien planets and meeting alien races. The second runner-up is soft science fiction; in which the sociology or psychology of alien races is the subject of speculation. I always like to think of myself as a level-headed, scientific-minded rational person who likes to speculate, but who prefers to keep the speculations within spitting distance of what is known to be possible.
So you can see why I joined the UFO society, and if you have read my letters, you know why I left it. I enjoyed the fun of looking for flying saucers and aliens, even if my good sense kept reminding me that such pursuits were at best doomed to failure, and at worst, foolish.
Meeting Bobo was the biggest surprise of my life!
Here was a modest, self-effacing and very optimistically confident little man from Nigeria who swept the floor in a pet shop. A delightful, if somewhat demented fellow, and a surprisingly well-informed conversationalist. Or so I thought! Then it turned out he was an alien anthropologist from the planet Homeland! That’s where I live now.
Oh, sweet irony of life! I always wanted to meet an alien from outer space, and now I am one!
I’m sure you’re waiting for me to tell you how wonderful Homeland is. I really don’t know that much, since I’ve only been here for a couple years. I’ve never even been outside our beloved Duchy, except to land at the spaceport in the United Republic of Halakan and board a jetliner for the Imperial Duchy of Thorgelfayne, and I don’t think that really counts. From what I have read, Homeland has an incredible amount of variety, more than Earth, even though the population is less. It is a very complex place, with good and bad points. I don’t think it’s for everyone; but I do know it is for me.
In many ways, Homeland is very similar to Earth. It has three smaller moons instead of just one big one, and most of the land is in the southern hemisphere, not in the north. The day is about three Earth-hours longer, but we divide it into thirty-two hours instead of twenty-four. The year has fewer days in it. The seasons are about the same, but not as pronounced as on Earth because the axial tilt of Homeland is slightly less. These differences are noticeable, but not disconcerting.
The largest continent is shaped roughly like a doughnut, with the south polar ice cap in the middle. The glacier melt feeds a freshwater lake the size of Earth’s Arctic Ocean, and a complex network of rivers drain the Lake to the ocean. I’ve become a naturalized citizen (I have sworn to share the Covenant, as we say) of the Imperial Duchy of Thorgelfayne, Bobo’s native land. Our little country is about the size of Germany and lies on the western side of the great Lake.
Technologically, Homelanders are further advanced than Humans, but that’s only because they are older. The year here is 45A7, and if you convert that to decimal, you will see that the present era began seventeen thousand, eight hundred and sixteen years ago, if I did it right. The Homelanders adjusted their year-numbering system to avoid negative dates; if Humans did the same, they would call the current year 10994 instead of instead of what they call it now. (I forget what year it is back there, so I’m guessing.) Technology is not as advanced as you would expect. Things seem better, but not terribly astonishing. It’s like moving to a country with a higher standard of living, but there’s no great future shock.
What really is shocking is the fact that we use a hexadecimal numbering system here by international convention. This has nothing to do with computers; the present system was devised by the priestly mathematicians of some empire which is the ancestor of the Halakanians. I had to relearn all the rules of arithmetic and the multiplication tables so I wouldn’t have to convert to decimal and back. Simple multiplication still makes my brain hurt, but I’m getting used to it. (Quick: what’s F% of 1A2? Give up? I still carry a pocket calculator, but I can do it in my head now.)
Most countries on Earth drive on the right side, and some drive on the left. In my home state of Pennsylvania in the old country, we drove mainly round the potholes. But most countries here drive on the left side of the road. After the number system, this was the second hardest thing to get used to.
Because Thorgelfayne emerged thousands of years ago as a covenant among warring tribes, wise and learned experts were chosen to settle disputes. As a result, Thorgelfayne has the most highly developed university system in the world, and also has the highest education and literacy rates. The government is not a democracy. We have a technocracy—sort of a government by professional associations. This means, for example, that the economy is planned by economists, not politicians, which I find very reassuring.
Homelanders look just like people on Earth. If you should be lucky enough and get a grant to visit, you will be very disappointed if you expect aliens to look like they do on television and in the movies. Bobo once explained to me why this is, but I have forgotten, and frankly don’t care. People are people everywhere, and that is all that really matters. There are races of Homelanders, just as there are races of Humans. Most Homelanders look like Caucasians, whereas most Humans are oriental. Thorgelfaynese are black, except for me and one other immigrant from Earth.
Emigration is difficult, especially when you emigrate to a country on another planet; but I persisted, and I got here. I had second thoughts while I was pressuring Bobo and the bureaucracies of the WCCIJ and Thorgelfayne, and the trip here was especially tense. What if I traveled all those light years only to find I was stranded unimaginably far from home! But, fortunately for me, I took to my new home like a Hugmup to bath water. I have never regretted my decision to come here, even while I was going through the torture of readjustment.
Do you remember when you were a teenager, but you thought you were an adult? Then one day your parents dragged you to the opera or to visit a childless aunt and your immaturity became painfully obvious. There you sat, bored to tears by tea cakes and uncomfortable chairs, when you would really rather start a food fight in the Student Union! Suddenly you realized that you were not quite an adult yet, and you loathed yourself for it. Like the time you bought a comic book for yourself, and explained to the cashier who didn’t care that it was really for your little brother.
Well, that is about what Homeland is like. This is an adult world, and I often feel like a kid who likes to work on cars attending the formal opening of a Porsche dealership: tuxedos and caviar when you’re expecting grubby clothes and obscene jokes. These people have class! Homeland has no military, no wars, no soccer riots, no famine, no poverty—in short, none of the toys of childhood. Instead, our problems here are more adult. Disputes are polite, politics is dignified, people really think before they act. The problems of the day concern the formula for equitable taxation; the budget of the WCCIJ, the relative allocation for research at the university, arbitration between interests with conflicting goals—the news is just as depressing here as on Earth, but on a higher caliber. Because I was not educated in Thorgelfayne, half the news on television simply goes over my head.
I am gainfully employed by the University of Hapdorn as a technical adviser to the Department of Earth Studies at Snodgrass University. I assist in the interpretation of data gathered from English-speaking cultures on Earth, I facilitate an English-language discussion group for students who are studying to become field workers like Bobo, and now that my Thorgelfaynese has improved, I do some light translation. The translation is no picnic. it’s very hard brain-work, and I don’t like sitting in a corner for hours and hours struggling for words. Thank goodness it’s only part time!
I know that Ken has to edit our stuff to make sure you all think it is fiction, but I sure hope he doesn’t screw up this very important part:
I am very proud to be a Covenanter of Thorgelfayne. I came here as a stranger, a foreigner, and an alien from another planet; but the people here have made me feel more at home than I ever felt among my own species on my ancestral planet. Sometimes I feel outclassed and inferior, and sometimes I am honestly ashamed to be Human. But I have no regrets, I do not miss Earth, and I don’t let the fact that I am Human get in the way of my daily life.
We all have handicaps we must overcome.