Forty years ago, hearts surging with hope, the Americans sent a probe into space, containing a compilation of sounds representing the best of human civilisation. Two days ago, a small white envelope appeared upon the doorstep of NASA. It was addressed, in slender calligraphy, to Jimmy Carter, who was President when the probe ventured out into the cosmos. President Carter, now venturing into his mid-nineties, was asleep on his porch when a member of the US Secret Service walked up his lawn and whispered that he should probably wake up. Startled, yet intrigued, the President listened as the soldier read out the letter.

“Dear President,

“I am writing on behalf of Oritara, a small but extremely distinguished world around ninety-four million light years from yours. Your probe reached us through a wormhole, which on Earth I believe you refer to as a mailbox.

“I hope you will excuse this somewhat primitive form of communication, and that you instead find it pleasingly traditional. We had considered sending an electronic message, but Admiral Larugera thought this would be a significantly classier touch.

“I must thank you for your submission of the Voyager Golden Record, which I presume your planet wishes us to release on our label. Following a great many listens, we must sadly decline your work. We consider that this effort, whilst it displays great promise, is incomplete.

“We were very moved by the inclusion of certain sounds, particularly the birdsong and the Stravinsky, and very amused by others – our dogs, as it turns out, sound very similar to yours. Unfortunately, however, there were aspects of your submission that we found less impressive.

“Given the turbulent history of your civilisation, we expected a far darker record. Where, for example, were the screams as those two male bombs descended over Japan in 1945? Where were the sounds of splashing as thousands of sick slaves were thrown into the Atlantic? Where was the laughter of the missionaries as they burned the last of the Mayans’ literature?

“At Oritara Records, we pride ourselves not only on the creativity of the artists we sign to our label, but on their authenticity. We encourage civilisations who send us their sounds to be truthful about themselves – not just to show us the beauty of all that they are, but their brutality too. It is only through this honesty that we can advance as an intergalactic community.

“It is our belief, at present, that the Voyager Golden Record is merely a demo. Perhaps that is fitting, as your species has some way to go; at present, given its severe ethnic divisions, we consider it to be neither mixed nor mastered. Please feel free to submit further sounds as your storytelling matures – and please take this criticism in the constructive manner in which it was intended.

“With warmest wishes,

Ordan the Temperate

“P.S. You have seen the return address on the reverse of the envelope. In the interests of goodwill, we include a fee for postage.”

Text: Musa Okwonga

The author is currently working on a novel in which a young Black woman is the protagonist. In this enthralling Sci-Fi story, he tackles important global topics, such as racism, climate change and social injustices. Find out more about “The Trauma Thief”

Some Constructive Criticism was first published via WeTransfer / A Message from Earth: An Online Exhibition with Newly-Commissioned Work, Inspired by The Voyager Golden Record


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