Arlington -- If science fiction writer Jeffrey Carver has his way, little green men from Mars may soon land at a school near you and say: "Take me to your reader."
Arlington novelist Carver has begun his second season as host of an educational television series on science fiction and fantasy writing, beamed--appropriately enough--via space-age satellite to junior high schools from Cambridge to California.
The series aims to hook young teenagers on literature by loosing their talent to concoct tales--in this case, the more fantastic the better.
"If you can get kids interested in writing, they're going to be interest in reading," said Carver, 46, author of 13 science fiction novels, including Neptune Crossing (1994) and Strange Attractors (1995), the first two volumes of a planned six-volume series, The Chaos Chronicles, published in paperback by Tor Books, New York.
Carver was the same age as his current middle-school viewers when he wrote his first short story as a sixth-grader in Huron, Ohio. It was there that he developed an early love for science fiction, reading Tom Swift Jr. pulp novels and watching "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" on TV.
"I write because I have stories to tell, and because I was encouraged to write as a youngster," Carver said.
The current six-episode series, produced by the state-supported Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications, runs through Dec. 14. Episodes are piped live to schools, with phone hookups allowing pupils to interact with Carver and program guests.
Classrooms in Arlington, Medford and Lowell, as as far afield as California and Florida, are among the subscribers.
A recent episode, on creating fictional aliens, offered a mix of constructive literary criticism and cornball humor as Carver bantered with his sidekick, a female-voiced magic video screen named Sal 9000, after the computer Hal in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Works submitted by students were read by Carver with generous praise, and a pair of guests -- Cambridge author Alexander Jablokov and Arlington illustrator Cortney Skinner -- were, through the wonder of video, beckoned by Star Trek-style transporter beam to cozy seats by the fireplace in the bookshelf-lined set.
Student callers from classrooms around New England phoned in descriptions of alien beings to be sketched on-air by Skinner. Per instruction, he rendered a curious helium-balloon-like creature with vulture wings and a single giant eyeball, and a sea dragon with a mosquito stinger on its nose and curled ram horns on its belly.
An end-of-show assignment offered by Carver--to write a half-page description of an alien being, then draw it--had pupils busy this past week in Doris Hancock's seventh-grade English class at the Hobbs-Brooks Magnet School in Medford.
A tall boy with a whiffle, Van Pennington, described for his classmates a ghastly creature with a claw for one hand and a chainsaw for the other, which, propelled by in-line skates, challenged intruders to mortal combat. "If they die, they lose," he explained.
Pennington's puckish study partner, Stephen Munyon, countered with a fictional being of more amiable disposition, who wore a vest and, friendly demeanor notwithstanding, carried brass knuckles. How, asked teacher Hancock, had this creature arisen in the local mythology? "He just ended up there. He was born there," said Munyon.
Fantastic creatures hatch readily in youngsters' imaginations, Carver said in a recent interview.
"It's very easy to get them to write about strange worlds and strange creatures," he said. "When I give them assignments to write human characters, they find it much harder to do."
The literary appeal of science fiction, Carver said, is that it "allows so much more freedom to explore the human condition, to explore science." Mainstream writers, he said, "are constricted by the here and now."
Fanciful creatures are no strangers to the Arlington home Carver shares with his video-producer wife, Allysen, and their two daughters, Alexandra, 6, and Julia, 3. Little plastic wind-up monsters line his shelves. On his computer terminal sit a stuffed dragon and a squishy rubber vulture; nearby, a mechanical egg, when activated, cracks open to free a baby Godzilla.
The family dog, a frenetic boxer named Mattie who appears to have some kangaroo in her blood, could certainly serve as a prototype for some future intergalactic Wookie. His editors believe Carver's late border collie did, in fact, inspire one of his aliens, the author said, adding he gets ideas for creatures "everywhere, from stuff I see, stuff I read, people I meet."
Aliens of his creation include the Talenki, in The Infinity Link (1984), a race of telepathic deer fawns who travel through space in a hollowed-out asteroid and make contact with humpback whales on earth. Carver, an avid scuba diver, has chosen an undersea setting for his current work in progress, The Infinite Sea, set among the Neri, amphibious denizens of a watery world.
I see them as people," Carver said of his aliens. "I try to get myself into their heads, see how they think differently from humans. It's sort of a funhouse mirror of humanity."
Looking at life through an alien's eyes is a creative way to reexamine your own attitudes and cultural perspectives, said Hobbs teacher Hancock. Fictional forays in alien travel, she said, may help her pupils take a new view of their history lessons on Columbus and real-life explorers.
Her pupils are currently writing stories of their own based on Norton Juster's classic children's book, The Phantom Tollbooth, in which a boy travels through a magical kiosk to another dimension.
Hancock said the Carver series "has been inspiring an interest in just about everything. Our seventh graders are beginning to see connections between science, social studies, art, and the language arts. It's fabulous."