This week we are joined by M.L. Clark, author of “The Pool Noodle Alien Posse” in TFF #65.
TFF: What does “The Pool Noodle Alien Posse” mean to you?
M.L. Clark: This story served me in a few ways. Much of my short fiction pushes back on overconfidence in our maturity as a species. For instance, we've learned a lot about ourselves from social media, and from how quickly sincere discourse is overrun by hot takes and self-sabotage. Far from having a united, top-down response to aliens, then, of course we'd leap to our forums and play fast and loose with the event's significance. Similarly, of course we'd be pinning all our hopes for change on grand events like fundraisers, instead of committing to the harder work of transforming the systems destroying everything. We're drawn to spectacle like moths to flame.
But that's just a summary of humanity at scale. In person, in our immediate communities, there's still room to dream differently, and to live with greater sincerity and presence. Not always (as this story notes, some people are so hooked on toxic media they'll let wild conspiracy theories and hatemongers tear them away) but often enough that there's room to imagine a better world close to home.
Which is why my story focuses on a protagonist rarely found in SF, too: an everyday parent of two, doing the best she can in a whole neighbourhood of differently struggling adults, all of whom are learning bit by bit how mutual aid societies can step in amid the collapse of broader systems. I also owe the existence of this story to Margaret Killjoy's collection We Won't Be Here Tomorrow, which does such a wonderful job normalizing the sorts of the messily striving communities we could all be leaning into more today.
TFF: How do see your story in dialogue with the poem “Interstellar Wallflower” in this issue?
MLC: Oh, what a terrific poem. I'm certainly not the first person to imagine a failed first contact, and Samuel Lowd Goldstein's piece reflects a common way of thinking about humanity "failing" an intergalactic test. Every other species is of greater interest to the aliens in that poem, and humanity is left confused, embarrassed, and somewhat lectured at along the way.
There's a danger, though, to suggesting that humanity is any more or less worthy than other species, because humans love to be exceptional in everything we do. If we're awful, well, at least we're the worst, right?
In my piece, the aliens are just going about their own journey through the cosmos. They don't have much to spare, but the crew still tries to toss a figurative "thumbs up" at humanity when they come across our world in the middle of its global benefit concert. At one point, my protagonist wonders at the crew's shock at our reaction: don't they have glib armchair commentators in their species, too?
Although it doesn't get discussed in the piece, it's quite likely these aliens also went away wondering how they might have done first contact better. So it's really a case of miscommunication on all sides —no grand cosmic verdict that humans are The Worst.
That said, stories like "The Pool Noodle Alien Posse" and poems like "Interstellar Wallflower" share an interest in reframing our centrality in cosmic narrative. What better worlds could we build by accepting a more collaborative approach to our fleeting lives?
Jonas switched off the radio to listen to the yard, his arm cutting over mine to reach the sill over the sink. Callie and Bixie were still at play, clear as day through the window to the backyard, and we both knew Bixie would’ve sounded the alarm if something didn’t feel right. But my eldest needed this sometimes. A sense of control, however spuriously manufactured, in a world grown too strange to guarantee a bit of it.
You can comment on any of the writing or art in this issue at http://press.futurefire.net/2023/04/new-issue-202365.html.