What is it with the night? Fears and confusions are so amped when I wake in the darkness, usually around 3am. Having fought my way out of the interdimensional void – my version more akin to Clive Barker’s ‘In Ovo’ – the sweat from my exertions was cooling but still slick.
shouldn’t watch them. With a brain so susceptible to visual
imprinting, I should leave the horror movies to more resilient
consumers. Strange. In my waking hours, all is processed narrative;
wordling I. Asleep, however, visual phantasmagoria manifests. In the opus
born in my CSF-bathed complex of neurons, other eyes – red-rimmed
and desperate – are wide open.
book was better, certainly. But the film did capture the atonal,
visceral, nail-scraping atmosphere of Michael Faber’s Under
This adaptation (co-written and directed by Jonathan Glazer) tore
into Faber’s themes of otherness and alienation with a different –
but no less jarring – blood and gusto.
loop-play, in my nightmare, was the grisly death of the man held
captive, naked, in the alien void/storage-facility/stomach. Snap!
Ripped from his skin and digested. Ripped from his skin and digested.
His epidermal caul, loose and starkly white, drifts on the
the essential difference, I wondered, still shivering, between that
horror and this? Only duration. Time passes, our skins loosen, we are
ripped from this liminal place before we can conceive of what it is
and how we came to be in it. Consumed by the earth or the fire.
Consumed by the earth or the fire.
Heinlein pointed out, however, ‘Duration is an attribute of
consciousness and not of the plenum.’ As there is no reason to
posit some immortal external observer with a conscious overview of
our lifespans, their ‘duration’ remains merely a conditioned
attribute of human minds. Duration has no ‘thing in itself’.
is too dark. And Bradbury rescued me. He always understood the
importance of chiaroscuro
– contrast between light and dark – in an unsettling tale. His
short story ‘Skeleton’
involves a man with an aching frame and a psychological discomfiture
with his bones who happens upon a doctor happy to provide relief –
by sucking them right out of him. The ‘bone specialist’, Mr
Munigant, is actually an alien calciovore.
Barker’s character The Rake, in Weaveworld,
is another filleted man. Boned-out by ‘the Surgeons’ then
resurrected by the sorceress Immacolata, he becomes a hideous demon
assassin compelled to do her bidding.
fascinates us. It’s one of our main ways of sensing the world: the
cool breeze on our face, the touch of a lover, the pain of the thorn.
It thrills and it bleeds. It’s the face we see in the mirror,
smooth or wrinkled; the way we recognise ourselves and others. In
embryological terms, however, the nature and content of the lumps,
bumps, and pits forming underneath it – pinching it in here,
filling it out there – is more fascinating still.
her recent book The
Incredible Unlikeliness of Being,
Professor Alice Roberts discusses human embryology and the
evolutionary origins of our embryogenesis. We form from a ‘sandwich’
of germ cells: endoderm
is the ‘jam’ in the centre, which becomes our gut and internal
organs; enveloping that, mesoderm
develops into cartilage, muscle and bone; ectoderm
– the ‘bread’ of the outer layer – becomes dermis, epidermis,
teeth, nails and hair. (By the end of embryogenesis, more like a
than your standard flat sandwich, I would say.)
to that stage, we form from the outside in. Previously
undifferentiated cells from the epiblast
pile inside the germ
via a groove called the primitive
Auto-sandwich, with much jam tomorrow.
process is ‘natural’, but it can also appear unsettlingly alien,
especially when it goes wrong. Sometimes, for example, mesenchymal
from the germ disc migrate into the wrong area and form into a
– a strange cyst-like accretion of cells that may include skin,
hair, bone, teeth, or even in exceptional cases, eyes.
you sitting comfortably in your skin? It may be saggy, but at least –
unlike the skin of Faber’s alien or Munigant’s patient – it’s
fairly well bonded. No need to be flayed.
Like so much else, alienness is relative. The outlandish processes by
which we, ourselves, come to be should serve as reminder of that.
Nevertheless, the nature of ‘proper’ aliens – ones from other
star systems, parallel universes, or extra dimensions – is in many
ways beyond our grasp. We may speculate about life emerging in this
universe, with these laws of physics, from various types of
water-containing primordial slime, but alter the physical variables
even slightly and we are clueless.
if aliens did
have designs on getting under our skin or consuming us? It’s
childish to imagine that they might land here, brazen, advanced
cutting gear glinting in the cold light. More likely they would sneak
in silently, unnoticed – stepping across the void and into you the way one might step inside a chalk circle, or enfolded within
the rain of undetectable neutrinos that streams constantly through our bodies.
probe for your weaknesses, they’d wait for the perfect moment, then devour you – from the inside out, before you even knew it – in an aqueous snap!