Andrew Knighton’s story “Communication Breakdown” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 19 July 2019.
This story started with a character.
I created Julian Atticus years ago, for a short story called “Our Man in Herrje” that appeared in Jupiter SF. The story was about the difficulties of communicating with someone whose language and world view are completely alien to yours, specifically a species who hate lies. Working in PR, Atticus’s propensity for lying got him into deep trouble with the aliens as he tried to disentangle a potential diplomatic disaster. It’s a story I enjoyed writing, which made me fond of the character, and so I kept thinking about him.
Since then, I’ve returned to Julian Atticus several times. Bitter and jaded, he lets out a side of me that I usually conceal, and that can be incredibly cathartic. He’s become my go-to guy for exploring the difficulties of communication, not just with aliens but with other humans and even with ourselves. Communication Breakdown was an attempt to present him with a whole new challenge – a species that needed a human host to communicate at all.
This story also digs into another theme that’s close to my heart – loss of control. Working with others means letting go of control sometimes, but losing control of your own body is a terrifying thought. It’s doubly so for someone as controlling and self-contained as Atticus. It was interesting to explore how he would react when his body stopped being his own. How would he cope with that change? Could he find a way to communicate with the alien within? And what might he learn from not being himself?
Communication is difficult. Miscommunication can be a great cause of conflict. Perhaps that’s why, time after time, Julian Atticus keeps raising his voice to be heard – the other being sharing my body.
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