REVIEW: All Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis
The aliens have landed! The aliens have landed! But instead of shooting death rays, taking over the planet and carrying off Earthwomen, they’ve just been standing there for months on end, glaring like a disapproving relative. And now it’s nearly Christmas, and the commission assigned to establish communications is at their wits’ end. They’ve resorted to taking the aliens to Broncos games, lighting displays, and shopping malls, in the hope they’ll respond to something!
And they do, but in a way nobody ever expected, and Meg, the commission, and an overworked choir director find themselves suddenly caught up in an intergalactic mess involving Christmas carols, scented candles, seventh-grade girls, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Meg’s Aunt Judith, Victoria’s Secret, and Handel’s Messiah.
Dear Ms. Willis,
I’ve heard so much about this novella but never before read it. Boy, was that a mistake. I love it. The aliens have indeed landed and no one knows how to get them to interact with us beyond standing around looking annoyed and put-out with everyone who comes to greet them.
True they haven’t pulled out any giant death-ray guns and blown away entire cities but it’s just as obvious from their non-stop frowning they’re thinking they’ve made a big mistake and should have paid more attention to the yelp reviews of this planet.
They landed their spaceship in Denver, in the middle of the DU campus, and marched—well, actually “marched” is the wrong word; the Altairi’s method of locomotion is somewhere between a glide and a waddle—straight up to the front door of University Hall in classic “Take me to your leader” fashion.
And that was it. They (there were six of them) didn’t say, “Take us to your leader!” or “One small step for aliens, one giant leap for alienkind,” or even “Earthmen, hand over your females.” Or your planet. They just stood there.
And stood there.
Meg is part of the third (I think) iteration of the commission assigned to try and get the aliens to communicate beyond frowns but even after the aliens finally do something – which is only to sit down while visiting a shopping mall – she has no idea what triggered their reaction to what they reacted to. Pulling in a local choir director to help, they frantically wrack their brains to discover a pattern and what it might mean. Time’s a-wastin’ and the space ship is firing up its engines to leave.
I’m pulling my hair out with Meg and Calvin as they desperately flail around with LPs, CDs, and music scores trying to replicate what works, figure it out why it worked and this other thing didn’t, yet avoid the grisly lyrics that abound in lots of Christmas carols. Yech, I hadn’t really paid that much attention to how the literal meanings of some could be construed. The breakthrough kept coming closer and then darting away. Easing into view and then vanishing. Yippee when the music guy figures it out.
“We acknowledge your greetings,” the Altairus in the center said, bowing to me, “and greet you in return.”
A murmur of surprise rumbled through the auditorium, and Dr. Morthman stammered, “Y-you speak English?”
“Of course,” I said, and bowed to the Altairi. “It’s nice to finally be able to communicate with you.”
“We welcome you into the company of citizens of the heavens,” the one on the end said, “and reciprocate your offers of good will, peace on earth, and chestnuts.”
Once the aliens know we’re worth their effort, their questions abound. I for one, had already figured out the answer to one of their questions. “And Mr. Ledbetter, is Ms. Yates your girlfriend?” A