Communication is. . . . difficult.
I didn't date much in high school. I accepted my cluelessness about the opposite sex, but didn't realize its depth until I went to college and had roomates wise beyond their years. . . well at least wise beyond my years.
They had the songs picked out for their wedding receptions.
They wanted to go ring shopping as roomates so that we could inform possible future fiancees about their ring opinions so that the proposal moment could be a true surprise.
And not a single one of us had boyfriends.
But, still I was quite certain that when it came to boys, these ladies knew what they were talking about. So when they gave me advice on how to both read and send nonverbal cues to the fellas, I took note.
Please tell me I am not the only one in the world that once believed this:
If you are sitting next to a boy in an event, any event, and you want to make it abundantly clear that it would be absolutely fine for him to take you by the hand, this is the signal: You merely spread the fingers of the hand closest to the target, palm down (let's not make it too obvious), extending the pinky even further, making the invitation clear.
This, my roomates assured me, was the UNIVERSAL sign of "You will not be rejected. The perimeter is secure. You may now take my hand."
Fast forward five years.
I am sitting in a jazz concert with Daman Reynolds (I know the last name is a spoiler, but I don't want you to be too stressed as you read this). We had been friends for a few weeks and the mixed signals were flying. I had zilch idea what he actually thought of me. And I only had a slightly better idea of what I thought of him. But, I knew we enjoyed time together and I also knew that if he held my hand, I would not be mad.
This seemed like the perfect time to implement "the signal."
I placed my hand.
I spread my fingers.
I pointed the pinky.
And I sat like that for over an hour.
In the words of Sandra Bullock on While You Were Sleeping,
"He didn't want me."
And I've hated jazz music ever since. Okay, that's not really true. But it was a rough night. I sat there, sure I'd misread every clue, sign, signal, or intention. I thought we had something going there--but then he rejected the PINKY!!
Let's fast forward again.
Somehow, we survived the jazz concert and aligned our signals. We were married a couple of years later. It took a very long time to align our signals. Once, when we were discussing the flat out miracle it was that we actually got married, the pinky signal came up. I complained to Daman, "How was I supposed to even know you liked me? You rejected my pinky signal!!"
Daman: "What pinky signal?"
Daman:"I have no idea what you are talking about."
I demonstrated again. Cue Daman's hysterical laughing.
Daman: "I still have no idea what you are talking about. Nobody does that. Nobody. I had no idea you wanted me to hold your hand."
Turns out Daman doesn't speak pinky. So, I spent an hour agonizing over the rejection of a signal that Daman didn't even know I was sending.
It is seriously a miracle anyone gets (and stays) married.
In The Hail Mary Project, Ryland Grace wakes up from a groggy coma to discover that his two crewmates were dead and he was in a spaceship in the middle of nowhere. This would be mildly disconcerting. Slowly, he begins to realize that the fate of earth is in his hands.
No big deal.
And then, he realizes that he's not the only one with the fate of a planet in his hand. Don't be mad--I'm not saying anything that the book jacket doesn't say.
All I'm saying is this: Communicating with an alien life form is, more or less, about the same as communicating with another human: Attempted mind reading, some physical signals that may or may not be understood, and lots and lots of trial and error.
But somehow, if we keep at it, we can somehow start to speak the same language. We just have to keep at it.
Here's one signal I want heard loud and clear: Read The Hail Mary Project. It is entertaining, insightful, and the first science fiction-ey book I've ever enjoyed. I truly loved it.