Sometimes Man is the main course. Blogger Stuart Hall considers some examples of science fiction that puts us on the menu
I admit, I have given the game away a little with a story I discuss further down the page; so, if you want to avoid spoilers, stop reading now, because I have revealed the twist to something...
Still here? Okay, one of the main themes of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, recently released as a film, is cannibalism. He describes a post-apocalyptic world where food is extremely scarce and roving bands have taken to cannibalism and some sort of neo-pagan cult. The protagonists encounter roving bands with shackled human ‘cattle’ in tow as well as a larder stocked with naked, living victims, one of whom has already lost a leg to the pot. More gruesomely, a cannibal they kill in self defence is butchered and eaten by his comrades.
In The Road this is merely background, however, not a twist or surprise ending. Indeed, cannibalism in post-apocalyptic fiction is not that uncommon; see A Boy And His Dog by Harlan Ellison or Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, for example. There are, however, some other, more interesting, examples to consider.
Unsurprisingly, H G Wells tackled the subject. The Time Machine features two races descended from present day humans, Eloi and Morlocks, the Eloi being used as a source of food by the Morlocks. Perhaps the evolutionary divergence between Eloi and Morlock make this borderline cannibalism, but it is still important.
A different aspect of cannibalism is that found in Gene Wolfe’s Book Of The New Sun. This uses the idea that consuming the brain tissue along with appropriate drugs allows the assimilation of the memories of the deceased. An interesting idea, it probably derives from traditional tribal funerary rites such as those of the Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea.
But it's not only our own kind with a taste for human flesh and blood. The most famous example of man being on the menu of aliens is undoubtedly H G Wells again. The Martian invaders in The War Of The Worlds demonstrate a taste for human blood.
Almost as famous is the short story To Serve Man by Damon Knight, later adapted as an episode of The Twilight Zone. This features aliens whose apparent beneficence towards mankind is revealed for what it really is when the narrator translates one of their books. The book, which shares its title with the story, turns out to be a recipe book.
But finally, consider this: if you eat an alien, who's really eating who? Philip K Dick’s short story Beyond Lies The Wub may hold the answer.
This is a personal article by blogger Stuart Hall, and not a serving suggestion. Read more blogs by SFX's team of reader bloggers by following this tag .