How would we react if we discovered our fundamental beliefs about our society and our place in the universe to be untrue? The predictability of life can be both troubling and comforting. The sun rises each morning, and we are grateful if we have a comfortable home, dependable employment and feel safe where we live. While we are thankful for security, we often wish for change: for something new, surprising and adventurous to happen that will enrich our existence.
This is the dilemma of the three female protagonists of The Visitors.
Their lives change when they receive a coded message to travel to meet the brother of one in a hidden village that does not appear on maps. Templewood is home to The Sect, a secret organization with global reach that has weaved in and out of power over the centuries. It now plans to exercise its ambitions to assert global dominance.
The women, who have not previously met, give up their jobs and are escorted to the village, where the brother of one is in a position of influence. He is seeking their assistance to subvert The Sect’s plans, which he believes could threaten world peace. The women have been brought here to use their combined skills in IT, media and education. Their role will be to establish communication with The Visitors, alien invaders who, unknown to the outside world, have landed in Templewood. The Visitors have brought gifts of advanced scientific and genetic knowledge, which the Sect intends to use to further its aims.
The subject of how humans would communicate with aliens is fascinating. Many books and films have attempted to guess how to achieve it, including ET and Arrival. This presented me with the challenge of inventing a different solution to the problem. Humans communicate using all five of their senses. Communication is not necessarily two-way; for example, we can receive messages using smell and taste. What we do not know is how aliens mightcommunicate. We cannot assume they possess our five senses. They may have more or fewer, or use telepathy or senses unknown to us. To put the scale of the challenge into context, we are not yet close to being able to communicate with dolphins, despite their
close relationship to us.
The starting point for my research was to examine how NASA and astrophysicists have addressed the issue when sending information into space in the hope that a distant civilization might find the material and use it to locate our planet and respond. The efforts of some early space missions can now be seen as risible, including sending US coins and a flag.
The first serious effort was the Voyager Golden Record, launched in the 1970s to explore the outer planets of our solar system and then to journey on into interstellar space. Mindful that other space travellers might encounter the two Voyager spacecraft, they each carried copies of the Golden Record. This was created as a time capsule designed to communicate information about our world to extraterrestrials. The data was included on a 12-inch gold-plated copper phonograph record containing sounds and images representing the diversity of life and culture on planet Earth. Produced before the digital age, this was the equivalent of a vinyl LP (there were no jpegs before the 1990s).
Our characters acknowledge that a digital message would hold far more information than a phonograph record but recognise that it may be more difficult to decode. There was a form of user manual etched into the Golden Record, explaining how to interpret the information encoded on the disk in analogue format. Sending a similar message today, a guide for deciphering a digital message could be more so. Who knows what an extraterrestrial would make of a jpeg.
The information accompanying the Golden Record showed how to construct pictures from the recorded signals with a similar method to that used to transmit the television signal standards of the day. They even had to include a picture of a circle as a reference point to allow them to verify the vertical-to-horizontal ratio. Even if it were to be intercepted by anintelligent life form, they would still have to interpret an archaic form from what would effectively be the distant past. It would be the equivalent of deciphering cuneiform writing from stone tablets but at a higher level of technological development.
The Golden Record contained around a hundred pictures of people and locations from many cultures, including biological images of people, animals, insects, and nature in general. It incorporated scientific diagrams of our solar system and greetings spoken in around fifty languages. There was music: classical, popular and ethnic. Positive messages intended to show the diversity of our planet and its inhabitants. A decision was taken not to include negative images, such as war and conflict. As one of my characters says, it would not be a good idea to expose our flaws on a first date.
And so, the women begin to work on a modern-day equivalent, including a medium for interpreting digital information to save the aliens time. The story of The Visitors is not limited to communication. It examines the use and abuse ofpower and the moral choices that individuals and governments make and questions our place and role in the universe.
As the sub-title confirms, the great reset has begun.
Owen W Knight writes contemporary and speculative fiction.
He creates worlds based on documented myths, with elements of dystopia, mystery and science fiction, highlighting the use and abuse of power and the conflicts associated with maintaining
His previous books include Another Life, subtitled 'I'ts a Wonderful Life for the 21st Century'; and
The Invisible College Trilogy, an apocalyptic, dystopian, conspiracy tale for young adults,
described as '1984 Meets the Book of Revelation'.
Owen lives in Essex, England, close to the countryside that inspires his writing.