What, exactly, is the Waters of Meribah About?

I was contacted by a college SF class, asking me about my short story The Waters of Meribah. In particular, they wanted to know, what did it mean? Here’s my reply…

My degree was in Mathematics. I’m fascinated by what can be mathematically proven and what can’t. I’m intrigued by the fact that maths reveals so much about the universe, and that leads me to wonder about the things that aren’t revealed. The things we simply can’t comprehend.

I’d been planning a story describing the gradual process of changing from human into the other when a friend of mine lent me a book. Inside it was a photocopy of the passage from The Waters of Meribah, being used as a bookmark. I don’t remember what the book was, but the bookmark captivated me. What really struck me about the passage was that Moses and Aaron’s reaction was quintessentially human: they questioned.

Now, a recurring theme in Science Fiction is our relationship with the alien. In my story I wanted to examine the totally alien, something so alien that humans couldn’t comprehend it. Something so alien that in order to understand it, we would have to stop being human.

I didn’t know the ending to the story when I began writing, but as it progressed, as Buddy Joe changed, I realized that what made something truly alien wasn’t a different body, or different emotions, it was something that struck at the heart of what it is to be human: to think, to reason, to question. If something is truly alien, it won’t think as we do. If the alien visits our world, we won’t be able to comprehend it,

If we are to understand the alien, if we are to gain a greater understanding, we have to do what Buddy Joe does at the end of the story. We have leave to our current minds behind in this world.

I’m not sure that the above answers any questions, I’m not sure it even answers mine. I suppose if the answers were clear cut, I wouldn’t have written the story, I’d have just done some maths instead…

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