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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"They're Made out of Meat" by Terry Bisson

  1. Omni Apr 1991
  2. Nebula Awards 27, ed. James Morrow, Harcourt Brace 1993
  3. Bears Discover Fire, Tor 1993
  4. Virtually Now, ed. Jeanne Schinto, Persea Books 1996
  5. Online (there may be many copies online, but this is straight from the author's website)
  6. Audio
  7. Video (save the video for after to see how one's interpretation can differ from another)
  • Dialogue makes this story look easy to read, but it's trickier than it appears: 1) We don't know who is talking nor 2) what the who is talking about. This may be purposeful, even thematic: not knowing what a thing is.
  • Two aliens discuss life on planet Earth--or a planet just like Earth (so it may as well be since Earthlings are the ones reading it).
  1. Before reading, skim over the text. Who's talking? What kinds of situations might dialogue be heard but the listener doesn't know the speaker(s)? Brainstorm with a classmate. (It looks like a play, but plays generally label speakers--if for no other reason than to aid actors.)
  2. To whom is the first sentence--"They're made out of meat"--referring? Can we know immediately? What might we suspect with a pronoun like "they?" Possibly beings (considering this is SF, we cannot assume those are human). How about the word meat? What does that conjure up in your imagination?
  3. What are the characters' attitudes toward these beings when they repeat the statement?
  4. What does this dialogue suggest about the other character's attitude when it is addressed to it/him: "There's no doubt about it."? (Hint: there's a word in this sentence that suggests the other's feeling.)
  5. After this line, some students should be able to guess (and that's all it is right now) who or what the beings are talking about: " We picked up several from different parts of the planet, took them aboard our recon vessels, and probed them all the way through. They're completely meat."
  6. Students may or may not get the joke about the probe. Different generation. You may not want to go there anyway.
  7. (If no one has correctly identified the meat, do not advance to this question until they have.) Knowing to whom the beings are referring, what makes this first line--"They're made out of meat"--a science fiction sentence? If we know to whom they're referring, what do we know about the speakers?
  8. What do we know about the speakers when they say:

    "That's impossible. What about the radio signals? The messages to the stars?"

    "They use the radio waves to talk, but the signals don't come from them. The signals come from machines."

    What kinds of things radiate radio waves? Is that what immediately comes to your mind when you think of sentience or life? How does the author challenge our assumptions by having the assumptions of aliens challenged?
  9. What do we know about the being who says, "So who made the machines? That's who we want to contact."?
  10. The incredulous being mocks the reality of humans: " You're asking me to believe in sentient meat." What word makes the reality of sentient humans ridiculous? Why? Apply this to your own life: Have you heard people do this before? What was the outcome?
  11. "Maybe they're like the orfolei. You know, a carbon-based intelligence that goes through a meat stage." Name some creatures that go through different life cycles.
  12. What does this statement suggest about the aliens themselves: "We studied them for several of their life spans, which didn't take long."
  13. "They're meat all the way through." Is this statement true of how we think of meat? How do we think of meat? What must that mean about what they think of when they think of meat?
  14. What word about the aliens comes to mind when you read, "It seems harsh, but there is a limit. Do we really want to make contact with meat?" When in history have humans done this to humans?
  15. To what famous Einstein equation are they referring to? "[T]hey can only travel through C space. Which limits them to the speed of light and makes the possibility of their ever making contact pretty slim." What happens to objects as they approach the speed of light (faster than light)? What does this statement suggest that separates their knowledge from ours?
  16. Come up with a question about the aliens or their attitude not yet raised and pose it to your classmate.
  17. If you can think of other questions, please let us know.
Videos: Use the videos to ask what the actors and/or directors left out of their interpretation that you had come up with. Also, how did they interpret the story that you didn't think of? Does it keep within your understanding of the story? Was any interpretation particularly insightful or bad?
  1. Youtube videos
  1. Biology: Life: What is life? What are life stages? What species go through life stages? Do humans?
  2. Biology: Animal Behavior: What makes a species sentient?
  3. Chemistry: Chemical Behavior: What makes carbon ideal for living creatures? Knowing what you know about carbon's flexibility as an atom, explain why it is more ideal for combining with other chemicals in more ways than other atoms? Because elements in the same column have similar properties, some scientists believe that silicon-based beings is possible. Create a list of pros and cons. Replace carbon in famous chemicals with silicon. Can it work the same? What conditions might make it possible to have a silicon-based being (consult Also, use what you know about electronegativity to talk about chemical properties.
  4. Physics (some physical science): Radio waves, speed of light & ramifications
  5. Science: Assumptions: Sometimes science assumes it knows more than it does. Scientists need to be prepared for possibilities it hasn't yet imagined--or even those it quickly discards.
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