Being an expat (as I have been for most of my adult life) is a profound and repeated experience of otherness. It’s a constant rediscovery that people can do things, and structure their societies, in entirely unexpected ways. And they make it work.
Writers and designers who set stories in alien societies are trying to give readers and viewers that expat experience. To be successful, they have to include enough details about the aliens and the way that they live that the reader/viewer gets the feeling of completeness: the sense that the society is as big and as complex as human society. It’s a difficult balance to get right, since they also have to find time to tell a story.
Not everyone succeeds. There are plenty of cardboard societies in genre fiction, as well as a fair few that are simply extant Earth ones with the serial numbers rubbed off. But although cultural C&P is a useful shortcut, it limits the stories that can be told. I much prefer societies created from scratch.
As an expat, particularly one still learning the local language, I’ve taken to noticing what makes the societies I’ve moved into feel distinct and complete. It seems like a interesting thing to blog about: the things that remind me that these new places were not set up jsut before the viewpoint character (me) made her appearance.
The title of this series of articles, Allochthonia, comes from the geological term for rocks that come to a landscape from somewhere else. And in the Netherlands, an allochtoon is also a person whose parents were born outside of the country. Informally, it’s used for people of color; I’m technically an allochtone, but no one would really use the term to me. Using it myself is a form of solidarity.