More Human than Human?

I found one of the most alien aspects of Lilith’s Brood to be how “un-alien” the aliens are. The Oankali are portrayed as exceedingly intelligent, sympathetic, and kind (for the most part) towards all human-kind. Now, they certainly have their own agenda (i.e. evolving, preserving their species, colonizing earth), however, the amount of work they put into rescuing, healing, comforting, and learning to relate respectfully to the humans is radically different from other portrayals of extra-terrestrial/human contact narratives. The Oankali are not violent aliens who colonize the earth through invasion and violence; rather, they use diplomacy and relational tactics to work with the humans for the preservation of both their races.

Throughout the first bit of the novel, the Oankali are revealed, bit by bit, to be more relatable (and almost “human”) than aliens are usually portrayed in science fiction novels and films (think Ridley Scott’s Alien and H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds). “‘It’s wrong to assume that I must be a sex you’re familiar with,’ it said, ‘but as it hapens, I’m male'” (Pg. 13). The aliens have a familiar, relatable sex. They also exhibit an expectation of conversational etiquette very common in human relationships: “‘No!’ he said sharply. ‘I’ll only talk to you, Lilith, if you look at me.'” (Pg. 15).

The Oankali are highly-intelligent and very competent healers and saviors of the remaining humans. They literally save the remainder of human life and nurse them back to health. “‘You had a growth,’ he said. “A cancer. We got rid of it. Otherwise, it would have killed you.'” (Pg. 21). “‘No, Lilith. I’m not interested in killing your people. I’ve been trained all my life to keep them alive.'” (Pg. 28) “You’ve been given health. The ooloi have seen to it that you’ll have a chance to live on your Earth – not just to die on it.'” (Pg. 33).

Lilith begins to see the Oankali as quite human. “The fingers had bones in them, at least; they weren’t tentacles. And there were only two hands, two feet. He could have been so much uglier than he was, so much less…human.” (Pg. 23). “She sighed. ‘You seem too human sometimes. If I weren’t looking at you, I’d assume you were a man.'” (Pg. 24). The Oankali are revealed to be ultra-intelligent, and their ability to observe, learn, and incorporate cross-special cultures and customs into their own make them seem almost more human than human. “‘How can you teach us to survive on our own world? How can you know enough about it or about us?’ ‘How can we not? We’ve helped your world restore itself. We’ve studied your bodies, your thinking, your literature, your historical records, your many cultures…We know more of what you’re capable of than you do.'” (Pg. 32). The Oankali cross-breeding plan will also help them evolve over time to be, literally and physically, more human than they currently are; and subsequent generations of human-kind will gradually become less human. “‘Your people will change. Your young will be more like us and ours more like you. Your hierarchical tendencies will be modified and if we learn to regenerate limbs and reshape our bodies, we’ll share those abilities with you.'” (Pg. 42).

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