The talk of Alien and the Mulhall reading reminded me of several observations I’ve made over my several years of reading, watching, and living science fiction. Issues of sexuality, feminism, and gender roles are no stranger to the genre, and neither is the specific notion of “sexuality as monstrous”. In Alien, it’s clear, almost abrasively so, that the alien form is similar to that of female and male reproductive organs, and their method of reproduction is a violent, monstrous foil to that of our own. However, in the realm of Science Fiction, this isn’t merely limited to the Alien universe. In fact, this idea is spread across several mediums, authors, and stories, and I wanted to share a few of them with you today. If this incites a debate as to how sexuality is portrayed in science fiction, or how particular authors play with such particulars, I would be all to happy to engage in such a conversation. This won’t be in any particular order, except the surfacing in my memory of the following examples:

Starship Troopers – The “Brain Bug”

Starship Troopers, released in 1997 is a cinematic version of Heinlein’s novel. In short, it details the war of earth against “the bugs”, an alien species bent on world domination. The “brain bug”,  a general in the bug army, possesses the ability of sucking the knowledge out of any human being. The above clip details the art that went into the creation of the “brain bug” for the film, and it’s interesting that it was modeled after human anatomy to appear “grotesque”. Much in the same way the art in Alien obviously draws parallels to sexual organs, it’s almost impossible not to see a similar reference made in the design of the Brain Bug. This doesn’t go unnoticed by network television, as the orifice is usually edited out on cable TV for “content”. Again, we see parallels to a violent parody of sexual reproduction, but in this case it’s the dissemination (or should I say violent acquisition) of knowledge from a human being’s brain, rather than reproduction. Although I can’t find reference to such a characterization in the novel, Heinlein could himself be a study in sexuality and science fiction. His earlier works such as “Have Space Suit, Will Travel” (which is the first novel I can ever remember my father reading to me) were the quintessential 1950s sci-fi stories, meant for young children and more or less devoid of sex. Relationships stay almost strictly platonic (a main character is even called “The Mother Thing”). However, fast forward to the ’60s and ’70s, and Heinlein starts incorporating much more sexualized (and politicized) references into his work, arguably starting with Stranger in a Strange Land and continuing on through Starship Troopers. This is a slight aside from my main point, but I do believe there is larger conversation here which could be interesting to unravel in time.

Prey – 2011 video game (Warning – the content on the sidebar in YouTube when I viewed this clip was fairly sexually explicit, so if any of you are uncomfortable with that, I wanted to give you a heads-up. As long as this embeds it shouldn’t be a problem, but going to the site itself could bring up some thumbnails that you might find disagreeable or awkward in a public setting. Just a friendly NSFW warning)

I haven’t played the game myself, but I do recall a 2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer review of it. The reviewer was examining the “M” rating of the game, and explained that a part of the ESRB’s decision could have been due to the sexualized “Egg Spawner” seen throughout the game – walls that indeed seem to reference female sexual organs. This is something that didn’t go unnoticed by the players or critics of the game, but I’m unfortunately having trouble pulling up the original article that triggered my memory. I read it in print (while the PI was still being printed) and it’s possible that it didn’t make it into the internet archives when the paper folded. It’s also entirely possible that it exists somewhere on the miserable excuse the PI calls a website, which is all that remains of a once-proud newspaper giant (apologies for the soliloquy – I’m still bitter. And don’t even get me started on the Seattle SuperSonics) The art for the game- as mentioned in the video above – was also influenced by H.R. Geiger, the same artist who influenced the artwork for Alien, so it comes as no surprise that a parallel can be drawn between the two, although I’m not familiar with the game’s narrative to dig deeper than that.

At the moment, these are the only two “sexual monstrosity” references that I can call to mind, although I’ll be exploring some of my sci-fi literature over the next few days to try and find others. If anyone has something to add, I’d be very interested to see what other parallels can be drawn, or even if this could be construed as a theme not just in Alien, but across a genre as well, and what that has to say for science fiction, sexuality, and gender studies.

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