“All Seated on the Ground” is a 2007 science fiction novella by Connie Willis. It is about a woman who is part of an investigation into the glaring aliens that have landed in Denver.
Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:
“All Seated on the Ground” follows Meg Yates, a humorous newspaper columnist, who has been asked to join the commission studying the Altairi – aliens that have recently landed on the Denver University campus. The aliens, who do nothing more than glare at everyone and allow themselves to be led to various places, are still a mystery after months of investigation. Communication efforts begin to make some headway after a visit to the local mall at Christmastime. As Meg and Calvin (a local choir director) try to understand the alien’s peculiar actions they match wits against a fiery reverend and an inattentive chairman in a race to decipher communications before they depart.
The mayor came and welcomed them to Earth and to Denver. The governor came and welcomed them to Earth and to Colorado, assured everyone it was perfectly safe to visit the state, and implied the Altairi were just the latest in a long line of tourists who had come from all over to see the magnificent Rockies, though that seemed unlikely since they were facing the other way, and they didn’t turn around, even when the governor walked past them to point at Pike’s Peak. They just stood there, facing University Hall.
They continued to stand there for the next three weeks, through an endless series of welcoming speeches by scientists, State Department officials, foreign dignitaries, and church and business leaders, and an assortment of weather, including a late April snowstorm that broke branches and power lines. If it hadn’t been for the expressions on their faces, everybody would have assumed the Altairi were plants.
But no plant ever glared like that. It was a look of utter, withering disapproval. The first time I saw it in person, I thought, oh, my God, it’s Aunt Judith.
My Two Cents:
• The good:
- An extremely readable story with loads of subtle jokes – from Christmas traditions to gossip columns.
- The narrator of “All Seated on the Ground” (Meg) is both amazing and down-to-earth as she struggles to figure out clues from the aliens… as well as from Calvin.
- While stories about trying to communicate with aliens are common, the ending of this story (when they finally learn something) is unique and pretty cool.
• The bad:
- There are many references to popular US culture – things as diverse as cult-classic sci-fi movies, current comedy shows, sports teams and Christmas shopping traditions. If you aren’t familiar with these things you may miss a lot of the humor of this story.
- It’s long – but hey, its a novella! I didn’t mind though because the story justifies the length.
• Page Count: 42
• Word Count: 22,884
• “All Seated on the Ground” garnered the following awards:
- “All Seated on the Ground” has been nominated for the 2008 Hugo Award for Best Novella. (Winner to be determined in August)
Where you can find “All Seated on the Ground”:
- This novella first appeared in the December 2007 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.
- “All Seated on the Ground” is included in its own book – also named All Seated on the Ground.
- You can read this story online for free at Asimov’s web site.
Some Interesting Links:
- You can read another review of the novella, complete with the cover illustration, at SF Gospel.
- Did you know that Connie Willis has won several Hugo and Nebula Awards? Yep. You can read more about this amazing science fiction author at Wikipedia.
Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Story of Your Life, about a linguist who learns to communicate with Heptapod aliens, by Ted Chiang.