Cultures of the Imagination
COTI II: The Squich

From "The Evolution of COTI: A Personal Memoir"
by Jim Funaro © 1994

Artwork by Joel Hagen
CONTACT II was memorable for the number of legends created there. One example: This year's alien, the Squich (imagine a cross between a squid and an ostrich, if you can), was built by Joel Hagen and previewed by the teams the night before the conference opened. Responding to some problems experienced the previous season, we had decided to see how it would work to let the planet-builders among us work backward from the alien, the culture builders work forward from it, and the life form builders work around it. After our introductory briefing, we all retired to the hotel bar for the serious discussion.

One hot topic was the Squich's nervous system. The bipedal alien had long, triple-jointed hind legs, which, when extended, scissored out to more than twice the length of the body pod. Jerry Pournelle argued that locating the brain in the body would place it too far away to allow effectively fast nervous transmission to the hooves, which were critical not only for locomotion but also for communication (they drummed their feet and danced messages). One of [Funaro's] students, no youngster, a gentle man who had been a computer programmer since the days of Univac, disagreed. After the decibel level of the voices rose to three figures, he brought his foot down on Pournelle's instep. As Jerry leaped up, the student said reasonably, "See. It doesn't take that long." Pournelle, never at a loss, grabbed a chair, held it out in front of him like a lion trainer, turned to me and yelled, "Funaro, call off your dog!"

We also had a remarkable demonstration of the value of role playing, though in this case it was rehearsed. Like last year, our master storyteller, Ruthmarie Argüello-Sheehan, had created a myth of the contact, to follow the final session and memorialize the story. The relationship that had developed between human and alien, though asymmetrical, was close and loyal, almost symbiotic. Her tale, with dancers, was exceptionally touching, depicting the parting of the two species after many years of companionship, and we were all quite moved. As an index of how powerfully affected they had been by the three-day experience, the audience, at the end of the performance, spontaneously stamped rather than clapped their applause.

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