Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Creating Alien Aliens, Part 11: Invading Aliens (Uno)

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota.

Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction.

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado...

Invading aliens have been around for a long time, up to and including the October 2021 premier of AppleTV+’s INVASION television series.

I won’t be watching that one. The trailers didn’t tempt me enough to purchase a subscription to AppleTV+…But I doubt very much if I’ll ever give up reading and watching other movies about alien invasion!

“H. G. Wells published The War of the Worlds in 1898, depicting the invasion of Victorian England by Martians equipped with advanced weaponry. It is now seen as the seminal alien invasion story…” hardly the first of the genre, it’s the one that we most often think of when we talk about “alien invasions”.

There are plenty of novels, stories, and movies depicting aliens coming after Earthlings to do…well, any number of things. In “Independence Day”, they were after Earth’s resources, as they were in the creepy/stupid “V”, where they wanted Earth’s water (clearly, chemistry had not been invented on their reptilian world, as hydrogen is the most abundant gas in the universe. With a little hydrogen and oxygen mixing, all you need is a spark and you’ll have plenty of water…

Anyway, I’ve often wondered what could POSSIBLY tempt aliens to invade Earth. One of the most disgusting ideas is to use us for food. (I’ve actually written a SF story about that…with a twist. I’ll let you know if it gets published!) The problem with that scenario is that there’s no guarantee that Humans will “taste good”. Not only that, but there’s a good chance that we won’t even BE good for them – not like “poisonous” or anything, but more along the lines of us having the nutritional value of PopRocks®.

In HG Wells novels, Martians invade because Mars was dying and they needed more room. While the launch craft were barely more than cannon shells with walkers tucked inside, their heat rays and the tripod walker itself were advanced, even by today’s standards. Given that, they surely knew that the effects of extended high-gravity life that Earth offered would ultimately make their lives both miserable and short. They probably thought the idea of them catching a deadly Common Cold was impossible, though clearly we’re from the same star system, so interplanetary cross infection apparently is possible.

Astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell, in his article on, writes, “I suspect that if aliens did come to Earth, it would be as researchers: biologists, anthropologists, linguists, keen to understand the peculiar workings of life on Earth, to meet humanity and learn of our art, music, culture, languages, philosophies and religions.” Of course, this presupposes that an advanced alien civilization would find Humans interesting or even worth studying. Certainly beings who could cross interstellar distances could find better things to do with their time. It’s somewhat “Humanocentric” to think that we might be interesting to aliens. How interested am I to discover the wonders of the art, music, culture, etc…of termites? Not at all, thank you.

At the risk of projecting Human thought processes onto other sapients, I just want to noodle about WHY aliens might end up on Earth. What would drive them from the comforts of the world they evolved on and risk exposure to radiation, gravitational flux, and unimaginable distances? Then, with the insight I get from that, what kinds of conflict would arise that I would use to plot a story?

I suppose I could ask what drove our ancestors to get into tiny boats and sail across the oceans?

One thing that ancient Polynesian culture did well: “Polynesian navigation of the Pacific Ocean and its settlement began thousands of years ago. The inhabitants of the Pacific islands had been voyaging across vast expanses of ocean water sailing in double canoes or outriggers using [NOTE: “nothing more than” seemed patronizing to me] their knowledge of the stars and observations of sea and wind patterns to guide them…[The] islands are scattered across an ocean that covers 165 mil km2 (64 mil miles2)…The Lapita and their ancestors were skilled seafarers...”

So…property. When the Polynesians arrived at these islands, as far as historical accounts note, they were uninhabited, though for context, history is written by the victors, and 21st Century Humans believe they are more savage and uncaring than any other culture to evolve on Earth (I believe I already mentioned “Humanocentric” and patronizing? Did cultures exist on the islands the Polynesian culture overrode and subsumed?) They moved in, settled, then sent new colonists on ahead. Europeans also went to sea to find property. When they found that there were already Humans occupying the land they “discovered”, they legislated the indigenous people into animals, announced that the land was uninhabited, and any animal occupying the land could be driven away or killed.

We hope that someday we meet Polynesian-like aliens; but what if we meet European-style aliens? The late Stephen Hawking, world renowned astrophysicist said 11 years ago, “‘We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,’ when he compared meeting aliens to Christopher Columbus meeting Native Americans, he quipped, ‘That didn’t turn out so well.’” Why do we even THINK that alien life would be conquering monsters?

Science fiction writer David Brin, best known for his UPLIFT novels, and a signatory of the petition protesting the campaign for active SETI said, “…we don’t know what’s out there and shouldn’t presume that aliens are benign…there are roughly 100 scenarios to explain why we haven’t heard from the aliens so far. About a dozen of those scenarios are unpleasant.”

By some measures, WE are like this, we’re advanced (though barely interplanetary at this point), so why would we expect any better for us than what several Earth cultures dealt out to other cultures?

Part of it is hubris. We find it hard to believe that advanced alien civilizations might actually be BETTER than us. Even Gene Roddenberry’s exalted Federation, in the end, when faced by the Founders, resorted to intentional genocide. From what I hear, PICARD’s future Federation is a pretty grim place. I don’t WANT to watch the Federation fall apart. I WANT to believe that we’re better than that.

Why are there so few alien stories that deal with SUCCESSFUL exploration?

Partly, because, as Lisa Cron writes, “We're wired to turn to story to teach us the way of the world.” We are, perhaps wired for violence. We’re wired for war, so to speak.

But do we HAVE to be? Do the aliens we write HAVE TO BE WIRED FOR WAR AS WELL? Must they be born invaders, as we are?

How would you write about a benign alien invasion? What would drive such an invasion if not land, power, wealth, or any other Human drive you want to consider. But these are ALIENS and they’ll have ALIEN drives. What would those be?

From Wikipedia: “As many as 123 definitions of life have been compiled. One definition seems to be favored by NASA: ‘a self-sustaining chemical system capable of Darwinian evolution”. More simply, life is, ‘matter that can reproduce itself and evolve as survival dictates’”.

On Earth, “self-sustaining” means the system would use whatever it needed to keep living. In that case, we cannot hold COVID-19 to blame as it is using whatever it needs to, to stay alive. Evolution means changing to better use an environment – and if something gets in the way, well, let the better evolved win.

We “know” how life-as-we-know-it behaves. Sort of. How can we possibly “know” how life-as-we-DON’T-know-it will behave?

All we have to figure it out is our imagination…

I want to explore this in future Alien Aliens posts, but I’d love your input!


Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS ( where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S, where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp. He thinks out loud in print at:


~brb said...

There's a sci-fi horror scenario for you. A giant alien ship comes to Earth. Everyone sees it land smack in the middle of Washington DC. The Army rushes to throw a cordon around it, fighting against time. Can they contain whatever alien menace is hiding inside that unearthly ship?! The door opens... All weapons are trained... Fingers tense-up on triggers...

And then a horde of small, gray-skinned, big-eyed and big-headed social workers file out, and one steps up to the nearest TV camera crew, takes the microphone, and says these terrifying words, "We're from the Galactic Government, and we're here to help you."

GuyStewart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GuyStewart said...

See Above...