The #aliens in my book, the R’il’nai, are in many ways very much like us. You probably wouldn’t notice one on the street. This is not too surprising, as Homecoming makes the assumption that they, as well as advanced primates, were our ancestors. They do differ from us in several important ways, and much of the background story of my novels is the interplay of these differences in a society that includes both.

The first and most obvious difference is life span. The R’il’nai are not immortal. They can be killed by injury or disease, and at the time of Homecoming, this has brought them to the edge of extinction. But they do not age. Potentially, they can live for millennia. This long life span is shared by many of their part-bred descendents, and in fact some of the R’il’noids in Homecoming could have witnessed the building of the first Sumerian cities.

There is a cost. Long life span is possible in a stable population only if the birth rate is very low. R’il’nian women ovulate only about once a century, and are fertile for only a few hours then. Since both hips broad enough for child-bearing and breasts to feed infants have costs, these are present only during the few years immediately surrounding ovulation—for most of her life, a R’il’nian woman is as straight-bodied as a boy, though sex is still important as a part of bonding with other R’il’nai.

This in turn has implications for child-rearing. While R’il’nian children are assumed to mature slightly slower than Human ones (adult status is 64 years of age) the full period of a child’s dependency on parental care is considerably less than the normal time between a woman’s fertile periods. “Marriage” among the R’il’nai was considered to be for the child’s benefit, and was normally dissolved when the child was fully mature. In fact, it was considered immoral for a R’il’nian to have more than one child with the same partner.

Another side effect is that the R’il’nai tend to be very conservative, their evolution is very slow, and creativity and innovation are rare and highly prized. This is one of the major reasons they are attracted to and value Humans.

One of the difficulties this brings to a society which includes both R’il’nai and Humans is the problem of attraction between individuals with very different life spans. The love affair between Lai and Cloudy was doomed not only because of her genetic status, but because she would grow old and die while he remained relatively youthful.

Homecoming deals with some of these problems—not in the sense of solving them, but in looking at some of the problems they produce in the Confederation and in life on Central.

Do we really want to eliminate aging?

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