Saturday, August 19, 2017

Explaining the Bay of Naples to aliens

[This was originally posted on Facebook and was inspired by these musings from the internet about what aliens might find strange about humans, if we drop the assumption that all other life must be like us.  While the musings are good in general, the two that most inspired this were the actual mention of Pompeii at the very end and an alien freaking out in response to the fact that we explored the poles with humans instead of specially built drones:]
Alien: . . . and they didn't die?
Human: Well, the first few did.
[Anyway, Bay of Naples]

Alien: So it took out multiple cites --not villages, cities-- from the most advanced human civilization in existence at the time, in a way so violently legendary that you named Super Death Eruptions after it, and then you went and set up bigger more populated cities there just because?

Human: Well, no. First the people who survived by virtue of running like Hell in the lead up went back, dug down through the ash layer--

Alien: The literal tons of Death Ash that had the cities covered deeper than a height of three humans.

Human: Well, just on the good side, the other side wasn't buried in ash so much as smashed by a fast moving mountain.

Alien: Right, the Super-Heated Death River composed of rock and --

Human: We call it a--

Alien: It's more than a flow, it's more than fire, and it does more than simply break things!

Human: Whatever, first people went back to the city destroyed on the side that didn't get smashed, and dug in the ground to get their valuables.

Alien: Everyone in the entire area was eradicated by a force so beyond your comprehension you wouldn't even begin to try to understand it for nearly two thousand years --see, I can do human terms-- and they just strolled back over so they could dig in the Death Ash that had killed off almost everyone they'd ever known in hopes of finding their old shiny things?

Human: And after that we realized that the ground--

Alien: The Death Ash that left your expired species-mates without proper funerary rituals between three and four human heights beneath your feet.

Human: --was really good for agriculture, so we figured why not?

Alien: Because it would kill you.

Human: Well since then it's only had, like, little eruptions that were only mildly deadly and merely burned and melted through the towns and cities.

Alien: And you didn't, maybe, take this as a sign that the area wasn't safe?

Human: Well it's a really nice place, and people go their for fun--

Alien: To a massive Death Mountain!?

Human: Well there was a societal collapse, unrelated of course--

Alien: I refuse to believe that that could in any way be obvious.

Human: So after a while we sort of forgot about the ruined cities.

Alien: At this point they were massive unmarked graves.

Human: But when we rediscovered them we sent people there to dig th--

Alien: You rediscovered that this place was Death Incarnate and your response was to send people into the kill zone?

Human: Well how else would we dig up the buried cities to get good looks at them?

Alien: But they were deadly!

Human: Yeah, while digging we found these cavities in the ash and weren't sure what they were, so finally someone decided to just pour in some plaster to get a better feel for their shape, it was a very low tech time, and we found out that that they were the impressions of the dead people.

Alien: They were what?

Human: Well by the time the bodies had decayed the ash was packed pretty solid, so it kept their shapes preserved, now you can see the faces of the dead people, preserved more or less in the state they died.

Alien: And you still didn't evacuate?

Human: Hell no! It's a major tourist attraction.

Alien: It's-- a-- why? Who would-- WHAT!?

Human: Walk the streets of the fallen city, look at the people who fell with it. Reconnect with history. You know, the whole--

Alien: I most certainly do not know. Why do you people always run toward death and destruction?

Human: Well it's pretty, and it gives us a sense of connection with the past, and--

Alien: Past failure; the place is the worst kind of doom.

Human: Even if we didn't have parts of the city excavated to look at, nothing gives you hot springs like an active volcano. That was why Pompeii was a city instead of a nothing settlement in the first place. People came to go in the springs.

Alien: The spawn of the Death Mountain Volcano?

Human: Yeah, you should try it some time.

Alien: I'm not even going near your planet!

Human: It's a really nice place.

Alien: That planet--

Human: I meant around the volcano. It's a great spot to go for a nice relaxing vacation.


Human: It's renowned for how laid back and relaxed the population around there is, and it's got--

Alien: Please tell me you at least have an evacuation plan.

Human: Well that depends on whether there's a lead up or not. If its a quiet that build takes us off guard, well the biggest city around is only three minutes out as the pyroclastic mass flows so--

Alien: You can't evacuate a city in three minutes with your technology.

Human: True. So evacuation plans only work if the mountain gives us some decent warnings. And some people won't evacuate anyway, they'd rather bet on the chance that it's a false alarm than leave--

Alien: The Horrible Death Zone!

Human: Exactly. I think you finally get it.

*Alien too shocked to say anything*

*Human walks off*

Alien (to self): I "get" none of this.


  1. Alien: Where are you going? I was just about to ask you about Fugu, Greenland Shark, and Cashews.

    1. My dad (a chef) believes that every time there's something that is known to be absolutely lethal normally but perfectly safe and tasty when boiled it is the result of a failed murder attempt.

      "This is really good! Thanks."

      "Wait, you're not . . . I mean, yeah, of course it's good. It's not like I was trying to poison you but didn't count on the toxins not standing up to high temperatures or anything."

      "We should start a business where we sell this stuff."

      "Yeah, sure, whatever."

    2. And kidney beans.

      And elderberries.
      I have recently learned about elderberries the wrong, backwards way where you go, "Wait, this tastes like cyanide...Now that I think about it, maybe you are supposed to cook them first."
      And really, why wouldn't something sacred to Frau Holle be like that?
      But v. good in popsicles, jam, etc. when safely cooked.

      Cashews also totally worth it.

    3. @Chris: That explanation might work for stuff like cashews and kidney beans, but it doesn't explain fugu, where you have figure out some bits aren't lethally toxic and then how to serve it without contamination from the lethal bits, and trained professionals still screw up on occasion or Greenland shark where you have to figure out that letting it rot for a certain amount of time detoxifies it.

      Now the shark can at least be explained as desperation food, as in the alternative to figuring out how to make this thing edible is starvation. How the hell do you explain fugu?

    4. It seems like way too much luck would be involved, but Fugu being the result of a botched assassination attempt (a la "Wait, why isn't Certain Death Fish working?") certainly sounds more plausible than someone actually setting out deliberately to find a way to get away with eating the murderfish.