Writing under the pseudonym Supervert 32C (www.supervert.com), a shy philosopher in New York has recently self-published a cruel little volume of obscene social criticism called ExtraTerrestrial Sex Fetish -- a book that is, according to its author, ideally intended to be read after its contents have been fed into a data array and organized according to machine logic. When a copy arrived in my mailbox, I was immediately intrigued. How could I resist a book about aliens, sex, computers, murder, and Western metaphysics?
Supervert bills ETSF as material for a case study of Mercury de Sade, a computer programmer afflicted with "exophilia ... a fetishism whose object is the sexuality of extraterrestrials." The book is episodic, alternating between violent, often pedophiliac sexual fantasies about aliens, a rather conventional story about Mercury de Sade's exploits as a New York City serial killer, and Supervert's own exegesis on "the notions that embarrass philosophy," specifically the 2,500-year history of exophilosophy, which deals with extraterrestrial life. What emerges is a kind of tragic database of human failure and cosmic-scale loneliness. Humans, Supervert argues, have longed for contact with aliens because they want an outside perspective on earthly life. Perhaps superintelligent races from the stars will come to save us? Or reassure us that we are not alone?
ETSF asks these questions, but in a way you'd never expect. Mercury de Sade isn't looking for aliens so he can feel less lonely in the universe; instead, he wants to rape them. (In one of his hideously specific sex fantasies, he tortures an alien until he discovers an opening in its body. "Whatever it is, it's a genuine hole and I intend to fuck it," he comments cheerfully.) Mercury de Sade isn't hoping that enlightened beings from the Crab Nebula will teach humans to live in peace. He'd rather see outer space as a version of earth: packed with abused children, desperate prostitutes, subjugated peoples, and dupes of ill-concealed manipulation.
What intrigued me about the book was Supervert's seductively nasty way of showing the dark side of hopeful Carl Sagan-ite speculations about our celestial cohorts. Many people have criticized the search for intelligent life in the universe as airy-fairy or quasi-religious. But Supervert takes issue with the way our culture's quest of more than two millennia for extraterrestrials has incited humans to lust after the alien in one another. We fetishize one another's differences -- not because we are tolerant, but because we view alienness as a vulnerability we can exploit. In ETSF, humans treat one another the way the government treats ET in that Steven Spielberg flick.
Without any ETs to fuck, Mercury de Sade embarks on a doomed odyssey to convert teenage girls into creatures so alienated that they become the next best thing to an eight-legged virgin queen from Arachnis. He lures a young woman named Charlotte into his clutches, and after he forces her to lick the dust from his SCSI cables, among many other things, she becomes so catatonic with fear that she can only utter the word "beep." Mercury de Sade's dilemma (how to satisfy a fetish for something that doesn't exist on earth?) mirrors that of anyone whose desires, erotic or otherwise, cannot possibly be satisfied in the world as it is.
Supervert claims humans like Mercury de Sade become vicious sadists because they are frustrated by the gap between thought and its realization. The world of ETSF is filled with sadists whose crimes go unpunished. Charlotte's satellite-mogul father, on discovering she's been kidnapped by Mercury de Sade, gloats and masturbates rather than rescuing her. Mercury de Sade is never brought to justice. And Charlotte never has a chance to defend herself.
ETSF is an argument against the existence of extraterrestrial life and an argument for the idea that humankind is brutally, hopelessly stupid. "Even if [aliens] don't exist, they are still smarter than man," an exophilosopher decrees in one of Supervert's many weird parables. The overarching parable of the book has to do with one of my favorite subjects: fucking. But this isn't the happy outer space fucking of Barbarella and John Varley novels. Mercury de Sade's sexual fetish for aliens finally comes down to something far more basic than sex. What he wants to do with aliens is fuck them over, hurt them, use them. Although Mercury de Sade believes he has the most exotic fetish on the planet, in fact it is (depressingly) one of the most common. He wants to treat women like aliens and rape them.
Perhaps, as Supervert suggests, we should be suspicious of our wish to find alien life given the way we treat ourselves.
Annalee Newitz (email@example.com) is a surly media nerd whose first sexual fantasies involved aliens. Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper.