Passing for Human
While sitting in my mother’s hospital room while she dozed and in celebration of the fact that I’d just found out that IAFA accepted my paper proposal for their conference next March, I read a paperback I’d picked up at the IAFA book sale last March, Passing for Human by Jody Scott.
It’s a slim paperback, which is how it ended up in my suitcase for the trip to Cape, and a science fiction satire. The main character, Benaroya, is an extraterrestrial anthropologist who chooses from her collection of earth-people costumes in order to study them. During the course of the book, she appears as Brenda Starr, Emma Peel, Mary Worth, and Virginia Woolfe. She chooses females because part of her study is about why “since primitive Earth exists at a level of barbarism, the male is the chosen sex….They run government, business, religion, sport and crime, which are actually all the same thing.”
Benaroya’s fellow extraterrestrials appear as Abraham Lincoln, Heidi’s grandfather, and General George S. Patton, and their servants are all made in the image of Richard Nixon. These extraterrestrials are threatening to exterminate all life on earth because humans torture and kill animals in laboratories:
“Did the morons really think they could commit murder without being haunted by their victims? Earthies were ghost-ridden by their billions of animal victims. They insisted they were committing these crimes for PEE-pull….Even Heidi’s Grandfather agreed that humans must go….However, before the human race could receive the blessing of euthanasia, it must be certified as hopelessly insane.”
Benaroya is fighting against her council chief, the Abraham Lincoln extraterrestrial, who wants to exterminate all human life on earth, saying “animals and plant life won’t be affected in any way. We’ll use the planet, minus humans and their endless problems, as a small but attractive tourist resort.” She appeals to Heidi’s Grandfather, who tells her that
“if they’d admit to being barbarians and be content to remain on their planet with their own grubby little sports and wars, that would be one thing. You can let a baby play, but you can’t let a baby kill you. The fact is, their population’s increasing at over a hundred thousand a day. Soon they’ll be hopping off the planet like fleas, and that’s all that concerns us at this time.”
Benaroya sacrifices her last Earth body, Virginia Woolfe, to capture the Prince of Darkness, a being worshipped as Satan on earth but known to the extraterrestrials as Scaulzo, and they manage to free the last human he has kept in his labs. They tell him “we’ll be back in exactly two years and if you people don’t show the first real signs of evolving, every human alive will simply disappear.” He doesn’t believe them. And then they all go home. Even Benaroya says “I love you dearly and thanks for a swell time, but I’m tickled pink to be dumping your dreary fleabag of a planet.”
The satire is consistently based on the very bleakest humor about how people behave. It seemed an appropriate book to be reading in a hospital, where ringing the call bell is sometimes a matter of life or death and other times a matter of needing a bedpan, and it’s difficult for the nurses and aides to tell the difference. They arrive about twenty minutes later, usually too soon for death but too late for a dry sheet.