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‘First Contact: How not to do it’, by the Culture


Some day we will encounter alien life. It is best to be prepared for such an eventuality. Sci-fi can offer us a guide. Star Trek is generally a good guide. The Federation’s Prime Directive governs that species should only be contacted if they have developed faster-than-light travel – warp drive in Star Trek terminology.  Otherwise, the existence of alien life could throw them into disarray. There are other less good guides out there too. So, in the universe of Iain M. Banks, one of the masters of sci-fi, there exists a civilisation called the Culture. Now the culture are way in advance of us, they have abolished all forms of inequality, have no worries about need or anything like that, live in giant space ships that are controlled by super intelligent AI, and basically live life according to the rules of hedonism. They have no societal structure, have complete individual freedom, secrete drugs through their glands at will, can change sex multiple times in a lifetime, and can live as long as they like. No worries, no stress, just enjoying life. Space socialism. Anyway, you can read more on wikipedia here if you like. In one of the books, The Player of Games, they come across another civilisation, hierarchical, imperial, primitive, etc. The protagonist, Gurgeh, is visiting the homeworld of this civilisation – the Azadians – and is required to wear a robe they supply him with to a party. He notices a space on the robe, something looks missing. And it goes like this

‘That’s where your insignia would go, if you had one.’

Gurgeh fingered the bare area on the heavily embroidered robe.

‘Couldn’t we have made one up? It looks a bit bare.’

‘I suppose we could,’ Flere-Imsaho [his drone – a robot for all non-nerds] said, tugging at the robe to adjust it. ‘You have to be careful doing that sort of thing though. Our Azadian friends are always rather nonplussed by our lack of a flag or a symbol, and the Culture rep here – you’ll meet him tonight if he remembers to turn up – thought it was a pity there was no Culture anthem for bands to play when our people come here, so he whistled them the first song that came into his head, and they’ve been playing that at receptions and ceremonies for the last eight years.’

‘I thought I recognised one of the tunes they played,’ Gurgeh admitted.

The drone pushed his arms up and made some more adjustments.

‘Yes, but the first song that came into the guy’s head was “Lick Me Out”; have you heard the lyrics?’

‘Ah.’ Gurgeh grinned. ‘That song. Yes, that could be awkward.’

‘Damn right. If they find out they’ll probably declare war.’

So there we have it folks, first contact situations can be delicate. Remember to tread carefully should you ever encounter alien life. Nuff said.

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