Have you ever played the card game, CHAOS?
According to the advertising it is: “…the Ruthless Card Game of Ever Changing Rules…To win the game all you have to do is get rid of your cards, but right when you think you've figured out the rules, the rules change...again and again…56 game cards, 56 rule cards..”
Each player gets five number and game change cards in black, yellow, red or blue. The numbers range from 1-9, the game change cards include: next player loses a turn, reverse direction and such.
In addition to the five cards, each player has one Rule Card. On it will be something like, “Player must say ‘Hello, it’s yellow’ before playing a yellow card.” There is a penalty associated with every rule. Some of the rules are obvious, like “Player must speak in the third person” – and if I’m holding the card, I enforces the penalty, saying, “Guy gives you a card from Guy’s deck.”
While chaotic, it DOES allow other players to figure out the rule and play by it.
Other rules are hidden, like “Player must say ‘Two Turtle Dove’ when laying down a 2 card.” While this is just as silly as the other rule, the enforcer only says, “Lack of expression!” The rule breaker knows they broke a rule – but not what the rule was and there was no hint .
To tell you the truth, I dislike this game a great deal. As a former but recent science teacher, my world revolved around rules for the past 30 years – Newton’s Laws, The Periodic Law, Laws of Gravity, Entropy, Heat and others kept me busy explaining how the universe works. But in CHAOS, you barely have time to play your cards when the rules change willy-nilly – AND YOU DON’T HAVE ANY WAY OF FIGURING OUT WHAT THE NEW ONES ARE!
That being said, I am about half way through my newest SF novel, OMNIVORE’S DEBT. It involves aliens and Humans trying to get along together in a universe where debt is incurred when a sentient people receive the keys to a major scientific breakthrough. Humans are busy paying back the equations given to them by the Shabe that led to micro-fusion power plants.
The biggest challenge in writing SF with aliens is to avoid making them “humans in funny suits” like most of the ones in STAR TREK and STAR WARS. DR. WHO makes a good stab at creating believable aliens and there are a few STAR TREK intelligences that have left a strong mark on me for their strangeness – the Horta and the alien from “Vox Sola” spring to mind.
The upshot is that when Humans eventually meet real aliens, they are likely to have cultures that make as much sense to us as the game CHAOS makes to me. It’s unlikely that an alien civilization will come with a code book by which we might decipher their behavior – at least Humans don’t appear to have made up any such document. If we didn’t, why would we expect an alien civilization to do it?
Some would argue that such a document would be impossible to make because of the “diversity” of Human life and culture. I would argue that there are essential behaviors, sounds and tools Humans have that if we codified them and created some sort of document, we could beam to any incoming alien starship.
At least we might avoid the WAR OF THE WORLDS or INDEPENDENCE DAY or even the DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL kinds of situations.
Especially if our alien visitors send us an equivalent document.
References: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Devil_in_the_Dark, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vox_Sola