There’s a scene in the classic PC adventure game The Pandora Directive (1996) where its protagonist, a Private Investigator named Tex Murphy, finds a piece of alien technology hidden away within an abandoned military base outside of Roswell, New Mexico. He picks up the tech and examines it, and he finds himself wondering what it is, who made it, and where it came from. He then wonders what would happen if an alien found a hand grenade.
For starters, what would an alien call a hand grenade? The term ‘hand’ in hand grenade seems logical enough, in that it categorizes the grenade’s method of conveyance, separating the hand grenade from other methods of grenade delivery, such as the rocket-propelled grenade, the grenade launcher, and, for the future wars in which soccer players turn militants, the foot grenade and the head grenade. This all gets muddled when you include grenades in which the function is the descriptor, such as the flash grenade, which, based on my expert knowledge garnered from watching action movies and playing video games, is also thrown by hand.
Then there’s the term ‘grenade’, which makes things trickier. According to the National World War I Museum and Memorial, the term is derived from the Latin word ‘granarus’, meaning ‘filled with grain’, or the Spanish word ‘granada’, meaning ‘pomegranate’.
So, what would it be? Explosive fruit? Hand tossed boom-boom?
It’s that concept that makes up the basic premise of Strange Planet, an animated show based off the webcomic of the same name. If you haven’t heard of Strange Planet, it is a four-panel comic created by Nathan Pyle that views ordinary life through the lens of alien beings. The aliens resemble the little gray men of old (except now they’re blue), and while they don’t always wear clothes, they do always wear socks (aka foot tubes). There are no consistent characters or storylines to the comic itself, just situations viewed from a highly formal perspective that usually points out the absurdities of life while also being relatable in the process.
The show takes that idea and adds narrative and structure, threading together character stories and loose plots over the course of the season. The characters still have no names and are often known more by their title. There’s the Manager of Careful Now, a restaurant that’s perched dangerously atop a void, and the restaurant’s boss who is both aware of and also oblivious to the danger. There’s the young being ready to go off to the Learnstitution, if only their parental being would stop hovering so much. There’s the airline comfort supervisor whose friends with their work team, when a recent promotion throws off the balance of authority.
Each episode tells its own story, sometimes with returning characters, sometimes with new characters, but always with new problems to deal with. A situation is introduced, a situation becomes complicated, a situation is solved, and by the time the episode wraps up there’s always a moral message to the story. Sometimes, especially towards the end when characters have become more familiar with each other, the lessons are front and center with messages directly delivered to the viewer. While the context of the stories change from one episode to the next, the message is often the same.
As beings, together on this tilted orb, rotating about a nearby star, we aren’t perfect. The pursuit of perfection creates anxiety. The demand for perfection out of every outcome is itself a harbinger for failure. Things aren’t always going to work out, and it’s up to us to work out those things when they go wrong. Sometimes the most a being can do is remember the beings they love, but not be bound by any expectation that stops a being from pursuing their own idea as to what life means. It was only a short while ago that we started existing, and it will only be a short while longer until we stop, and in the meantime there’s a life to be lived.