We’ve talked about how derisive people can be when talking about genre books before. There’s a dismissive attitude when it comes to science fiction or fantasy, which has more to do with the simplicity of the critique than the simplicity of the narrative.
Sort of like what happens with comics, really.
Fantasy and science fiction drive culture forward. Fantasy attacks the rose-colored myths of nostalgia while also exploring the ethics and politics of nations and small communities. Science fiction looks at responsibility and the possibilities of technology, while also exploring the ethics and politics of self and expansive empires. Fantasy tends to look inwards, science fiction outwards. There’s a lot to be said for both.
And when one manages to combine the two, one ends up with something very much like UFOlogy.
UFOlogy is a comic book series that deals with concepts of disappointment and terror. On the surface, it’s about two children who witness an alien presence, one of whom is touched by that presence and the other of whom would like to be.
The first of our protagonists is Becky, an impossibly gifted girl who would rather live an ordinary life. She’s the old Greek ideal of a healthy mind in a healthy body, but is very aware that her talents are likely to take her away from her family and home. She’s not interested in going anywhere, so she’s been careful to stifle herself, careful to be ordinary.
She is not amused that someone would point out to anyone how gifted she actually is.
Exceptional people often suffer; there’s a crab-bucket mentality that has been fostered by a faux-capitalist paradigm, an idea based on ripping individuals apart rather than building a better life together. Scarcity economics demands that there be only a limited amount of wealth and opportunity, and Becky is wise enough to see that trap and try to avoid it.
Better an ordinary life where no one tries to destroy her, rather than an exceptional one where people line up to drive the knives in.
Proof of concept can be found in Malcolm, the other protagonist of this story. Malcolm knows that aliens exist due to experiences he’s already had, experiences the adults in his life have lied to him about and tried to downplay. He’s devoted his life to this denied truth, though, and has suffered ostracism for it in the past and derision in the present. He is tolerated, people dismissing him as a harmless eccentric, and listen to exactly nothing of what he has to say.
The two of them know one another from school, the setting of UFOlogy being the small town of Mukawgee, Wisconsin. It’s one of those off-the-main-road places where everyone knows everyone else and gossip spreads like wildfire, those places in the United States that drift after the progress of bigger cities, but still aspire to be like the best of them.
We learn about both of these characters from the people around them: Becky hasn’t done as good a job of hiding as she’d like to think, and Malcolm is a barely accepted oddity. The former is being pressured to go live up to her potential without anyone asking about the fears that cross her, while Malcolm is politely ignored.
And then: aliens.
The aliens here are presented as something strange – they clearly have goals, but have no interest in explaining what those goals are. The changes they inflict on people are sometimes by accident and sometimes by design; they’ve impacted Malcolm already, and are the reason for his strangeness. He’s dedicated himself to knowing them, communicating with them, and when he finally comes face-to-face with them they ignore him completely.
Instead, they interact with Becky.
What? You expected aliens to speak English?
The person who wants them and is prepared for them, they ignore. The one that wanted to be left alone can’t be any more, as whatever the aliens have done to her has changed her in ways that only Malcolm understands. The two of them are forced to work together, and a lesser tale would focus on that difference as a point of conflict.
UFOlogy goes in a very different direction. There is a sense of disappointment from both characters, and the both have to deal with that individually. They do, come to the realization: the things they want are best found in one another rather than themselves, but they’re also able to recognize that their ideal is hell for the other person.
They rely on one another, support one another, and get ready to go out and confront the aliens and figure out what’s going on. They’re forming a fast friendship, relying on one another and the strengths they both have to offer the other, and they’re stronger for it.
Malcolm is a rebellion against the lies of the past while seeking out the truth of it. He deals with small town politics and the ethics that adults use to justify lying to children, especially when those children have been touched by things that the adults don’t understand. Malcolm looks to his family, and when they can’t give him what he needs to builds a new one, finding a sibling in Becky.
Becky looks at the cold responsibilities that come with her gifts and what the world would expect of her and says no. She wants to control her life, not be forced to live up to the expectations of those that would just as happily rip her apart. She has to wrestle with her own ethics because of this, while also rejecting the political demands of the nation-state she lives in. She looks outwards and finds nothing she wants, and seeks to deny this latest affront to her goals through kinship with the one person able to see her for who she is: Malcolm.
Neither wants what the other craves, and so they are able to see one another and help one another.
There’s a lot to be said for both.