“As Others See Us” Notes

ConstellationscoverContains spoilers for story

When I went back to college to study world history, I came to realize that there were a lot of simplistic assumptions underlying the Prime Directive, particularly as expressed in the later Trek shows.  It’s naive and somewhat condescending to think that any contact with a less advanced society will automatically destroy them; really that’s just a way of letting imperialist Europe and America off the hook for aggressively trying to destroy those cultures.  But Europe itself was once a primitive backwater that came into contact with the advanced technologies of the Far East — things like stirrups, lateen sails, the compass, movable type, and gunpowder — and far from being culturally devastated, Europe embraced those technologies and used them to assert its own culture globally.

It’s also anthropologically naive to think you can understand a culture by watching it in secret.  Even immersion anthropology works best when you can tell the people around you about your worldview and what you don’t understand about theirs, so that a comparison is possible.  Without that level of communication, misunderstandings are inevitable, because neither you nor they know what unspoken assumptions they’re using that you haven’t thought to ask about.

So I wanted to do a story that was a satire of the Prime Directive, specifically a role-reversal story that challenged the smug Starfleet observers’ assumption that they were qualified to judge the whole situation better than the people they were watching.  I wanted someone to be watching them.  Also I wanted to touch on various alternative approaches to clandestine observation that other species might employ.

That contributed to my idea for the structure of the story, switching between different observers’ points of view.  This format was also heavily influenced by the opening sequence of Serenity, the feature-film sequel to Joss Whedon’s prematurely cancelled series Firefly.  That sequence was constructed in a brilliant nesting-dolls fashion, moving out from one perspective to another, each time revealing that what we thought we were seeing was actually just part of another reality — an opening expository voiceover is revealed to be a lecture in a classroom, the classroom is revealed to be a dream, etc.  I tried in my hamfisted way to achieve a similar series of progressive reveals, pulling out from one viewpoint character to another who was watching the previous one unawares.  But a couple of the transitions were tricky to time right, and in retrospect I wish that the transition from Nerrieb’s POV to Damala’s had come one paragraph later.

The idea behind the Redheri’s method of infiltration is one I originally conceived for my original SF universe.  Well, actually the idea of telepresence robots came to me first, as a way my heroes could do the Trekkish trope of going undercover as aliens in a universe without humanoid aliens.  This was before I rethought my assumptions about the Prime Directive and clandestine contact.  But along the way, I had the thought that another species could use the same methods to subtly nudge a race toward readiness for contact.  If I’d ever written that story, it would’ve been along the lines of the contact that Nerrieb briefly recalls here — using science fiction to prepare their target culture for the real thing.  Unfortunately the premise of this story made it impossible for me to explore that prospect in depth.  But who knows — the Redheri are still out there.  Maybe I can revisit them in some later work.

The name “Redheri” is swiped from an old Voyager pitch, a race that would’ve been a red herring in the story.  I guess they vaguely play that role here, but mainly I just went with the name because it was available.  Their anatomy is based loosely on  the extinct Anomalocaris, which I had seen recreated in the Discovery Channel’s Before the Dinosaurs (aka the BBC’s Walking with Monsters) while writing this story.  Their names are anagrams of European explorers: Nerrieb is from Jacques Bernier, who wrote Travels in the Mogul Empire in 1663; Yanslet is from Henry Morton Stanley, famous for “Dr. Livingston, I presume” but infamous as a leading agent of King Leopold II’s brutal conquest and exploitation of the Belgian Congo; Hudalliuc is from Paul DuChaillu, the first European to encounter gorillas, who invented and popularized the myth of gorillas as vicious fanged killers in order to justify his habit of shooting them; and Glysinek is named for the redoubtable Mary Kingsley, whom I got to know rather well when I did my senior thesis on her.  Admiral Deyin’s lines on p. 169 about trade as a universal language are a paraphrase of Kingsley (the original is quoted in my thesis), though I think Mary herself would not have spun it quite so condescendingly.

Sigma Niobe would be in the same (fictional) constellation as Beta Niobe, which went supernova in “All Our Yesterdays.”  I assume that Beta and Sigma Niobe are in roughly the same region of space, so it’s possible that this story.takes place close to “All Our Yesterdays” in the timeline.  But since I was specifically asked for a standalone story with minimal continuity ties, its timeline placement is deliberately vague.

The proper names on Sigma Niobe II are taken from one of the only two ST fanfiction stories I ever wrote.  In that story, I had four alien councilmembers: Lean-Yiamed-Ba, Deyin-Kaiyel-Ned, Noan-Ayem-Sud… and Noin-Padnaifasdan-Ilaiyendamalawangliaph.  (I figured she was from a different country than the others.)  I’ve always been fond of that name and couldn’t just consign it to oblivion.  There are characters in Orion’s Hounds named Podni Fasden and Wangliaph, and here I got to use up the rest of the name with the Ilaiyen Archipelago, Damala, and Captain Nohin (spelling changed to make the pronunciation clearer).

It does seem like rather a coincidence that all these clandestine observers are watching each other at the same time, but I tried to address that in the story.  The Yemai, the Redheri and the Coalescence are all there for the same reason, namely to study and identify Ilaiyen’s healing properties.  Kirk’s party is there following the Yemai.  And Chaane is there because of the extraordinary circumstance of all these other societies converging on a single place, mutually spying on one another — a rare situation that a time-travelling historian would want to observe firsthand.  Additionally, I’d suggest that the Redheri may have learned of Ilaiyen during a preliminary survey of Yemai culture, that the Coalescence probably learned of it through infected agents in the Redheri Consortium, and that they may have used other agents in Starfleet to get the Enterprise and Errgang sent to Sigma Niobe at this time.

More specific textual annotations for “As Others See Us” and other stories in the anthology may be found at Star Trek: Constellations: The Annotations, hosted by fellow contributor Allyn Gibson.

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