Speculative Fiction Tropes: Extraterrestrial Invasion



Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different  speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on Extraterrestrial Invasions.

The alien invasion story is one of the earliest and most well trod narratives in science fiction history. While not quite the first to explore the idea, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells is considered by many to be the seminal example of this trope, and its influence inspired a great many invasion stories that followed.

Adapted numerous times over the years into works of film, television, and (infamously) radio, the novel recounts the perilous experiences of an unnamed narrator traversing the countryside southwest of London, as Earth is invaded by an army of advanced war machines from Mars.

While considered a "scientific romance" when it was released in 1898, The War of the Worlds was also heavily associated with the invasion literature genre, at a time when the terrifying real-world possibility of occupation by a hostile military force loomed in the minds of many during the build-up to the First World War.

As the science fiction genre came into its own, this trend would continue. Some of the most well-known alien invasion stories have been released during times of great public anxiety, often as allegories bemoaning the dangers of military hegemony. The 1938 radio adaptation of the aforementioned H.G. Wells classic famously panicked listeners who mistook the faux-news bulletin style of the Orson Welles production for an actual invasion. It would later be revealed that some who'd only caught a portion of the broadcast were under the impression that Germans were invading--not Martians.

During the Cold War, alien invasion yarns would continue to play on the growing paranoia of the public, with a trend in science fiction to depict invasions of a more clandestine nature. Like the red menace prevalent in propaganda and political discourse of the times, these aliens used subterfuge and deception to infiltrate our planet.

These days you're more likely to find the trope used as an excuse for explosion porn and Will Smith one-liners than political allegory, but I do still get a kick out of it. Plagiarism allegations aside, I also enjoyed James Cameron's Avatar, which turned the alien invasion trope on it's head, casting humans as the invaders at a time when much of the public was still debating the moral quandaries of a controversial military conflict.

Aside from a cheesy story that I wrote when I was seventeen about a three-fingered alien warrior who crash lands on Earth to start his own religion, I haven't really touched on the extraterrestrial invasion trope. The sci-fi fanboy in me would really like to, but the truth is if aliens exist it's pretty unlikely that they'd bother invading us. Any resources we have here can be found elsewhere in space without having to exterminate anyone to get it. But, I think as long as we fear the unknown--and as long as the unknown might be in possession of directed particle beam accelerators and heat rays--the extraterrestrial invasion trope will continue to pop up every few years or so to play on our fears.

And I suppose that's just fine with me.

Recommended Reading:
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

Recommended Viewing:
They Live
Independence Day
Mars Attacks! 

Recommended Gaming:
Half-Life 2
Resistance 
Destroy All Humans!

Comments

  1. It will definitely be interesting to see what the next one entails. I personally liked E.T. the best. *wink* Give me the friendly alien anytime. Oouuccchhh

    Stopping in from A to Z Challenge.

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    1. The aliens can only invade so many times! Hollywood has been dropping the ball lately, unfortunately.

      Thanks for reading!

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  2. Very nice description of the alien invasion sci-fi subgenre. It's one of my favorite aspects of sci-fi, the exploration of other life forms. :)

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    1. Mine, too! The more alien the better, in my opinion.

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  3. As an alternative, there's always the humans-invade-extraterrestial invasions. Given our general pushiness as a species, I usually find that more likely than the other way around. 0.o (Curiosity and cats, anyone?) I'm with Vero in that I enjoy seeing the human-alien encounters of sci-fi. Although they're not invasion scenarios, David Brin's and Karin Lowachee's depictions of human-alien encounters are my favorites, although for different reasons (Brin's for spectrum and creativity; Lowachee's for realism in the possible social repercussions and her powerfully built characters.)

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    1. I've yet to read either of those two's work yet, though I've had some of Brin's Uplift series on my iPad forever. I'll have to get around to them!

      Thanks for dropping in, Juturna!

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  4. Half-Life 2 was an incredibly effective take on the invasion scenario! Have you watched the television series FALLEN SKIES?

    DL Hammons @ Cruising Altitude 2.0
    Co-Host of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.

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    1. Yeah, Half-Life 2 is one of the best depictions of what it might be like to live on an alien-occupied Earth! An all-time classic for sure. They ought to hurry up on HL3!

      I've never watched Fallen Skies, though I've heard good things about it. I don't watch much television these days, but that's one of the ones I'd like to get around to eventually.

      Thanks for the comment!

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  5. Mars Attacks! Not many people would list that movie, but I thought it was funny. And Half-Life was an awesome game.

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    1. I agree on both counts! Mars Attacks! is one of those movies that I'll always be able to watch when I see it playing somewhere.

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  6. I'm actually in the process of outlining one, now. This was great to read!


    My E

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    1. Thanks, Jaycee. Sounds great, good luck on that!

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Thanks for reading!