June 21, 2007

SciFi Channel: Humans as invaders

The SciFi Channel is preparing a CGI film titled "Terra" which has as its basis a familiar theme: Planet-conquering aliens. Although, this time, the aliens are humans.

The worst comes true: The object is an alien ship, planning to launch an attack and claim the pastoral world and its abundant resources for a race of extraterrestrials who have destroyed their home world with war, greed and pollution.

It's a familiar tale, but there's a twist: The invaders are human, and the townsfolk are the salamander-like, peaceful victims who must rise up against the monsters.

The obvious point in this, most likely, is the US as "imperial aggressor." But as I've argued before (mainly in regards to "Battlestar Galactica"), it is highly unlikely that the human species, once it has attained the level of technological sophistication necessary for interstellar flight, would "revert" to a level of civilizational barbarity whereby it'd plunder planets that contain intelligent life. Think about it -- it doesn't make sense. Besides, it'd be a LOT cheaper to get necessary raw materials from space -- asteroids, comets, moons -- rather than [inhabited] planets. This reverse premise made the popular early-80s show "V" a laugher, not to mention the more recent "Independence Day."

The ONLY real way I can be led to accept a premise such as that in "Terra" is a situation where humans come across advanced technology before we're actually ready for it. For example, if there was indeed a Roswell incident in 1947 where the US captured an alien spacecraft, we could successfully reverse-engineer the ship's technology and eventually build our own interstellar craft. If this happened, say, today, the results for our immediate stellar neighbors could be devastating. Modern humans haven't even gotten over their own petty differences; how can they be expected to handle aliens?? (Carl Sagan's "Contact" had an excellent subplot on this topic.)

Monday's on the SciFi Channel feature four hours of the Star Trek franchise's "Enterprise." This past Monday presented the excellent two-parter "In a Mirror, Darkly." It shows the genesis of the "Mirror" Universe, first glimpsed in the classic original Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror": We see an actual clip from the ending of the eighth Trek movie, "First Contact," where the inventor of warp drive (Zephram Cochran) is greeting the first aliens on Earth (who happen to be Vulcans -- Mr. Spock's race for those not in the know). In the actual movie, this meeting sets the stage for Earth's ascendance into the community of planets; however, in the Mirror Universe, Cochran guns down his Vulcan counterpart, and orders those humans assembled to enter and ransack the Vulcan ship! Thus sets the stage for the origins of the Terran Empire, where Earth becomes a despotic, conquering planet, subjugating and enslaving its stellar neighbors. How did this happen? Because humans acquired high technology before they were ready for it.

As a Marvel comics fan, this concept was perhaps best elaborated upon in the Watcher's (at left) origin story. Eons ago, the Watcher's race decided to travel the universe offering gifts of high technology to lesser species -- in effect, acting as "gods." That is, until a race called the Prosilicans created nuclear weapons with the Watcher-offered gift of nuclear power and destroyed not only themselves, but their stellar neighbors as well. This resulted in the Watchers becoming just that -- Watchers, whereby any and all interference in alien races' development was prohibited. (Earth's Watcher didn't exactly adhere to this edict, especially when the planet-devouring Galactus showed up to consume our planet.)

Humans (or other races) gaining technology before "we're (they're) ready" is an old theme in scifi. Larry Niven's popular Kzin race is another example. These ferocious felinoids almost conquer Earth thanks to stolen high technology. Back to Marvel, the popular Kree race (from where Captain Marvel comes) stole their technology from the Skrulls.

What are some others?

Posted by Hube at June 21, 2007 10:45 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Within 14 years we should be more than capable of creating an artificial intelligence, capable of "Data" like abilities. It would be rather cheap to send a crew of cyber creations off in a spaceship to a neighboring star system, even without light speed propulsion.

Quite possibly our first contact may be another planet's robotic probe of our system..........

Posted by: kavips at June 21, 2007 11:16 PM

If I'd written the story, the humans would be plundering the galaxy for corn - gotta support our ethanol addiction. Jason would put big Halliburton logos on the sides of the space ships.

As for the concept of modern technology giving an advantage over a more primitive people, you don't even have to go to outer space - How about A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, by Mark Twain? And then there's Bill Campbell in Armies of Darkness: "This is my boom stick!"

Posted by: G Rex at June 22, 2007 10:54 AM

David Weber has almost specialized in these stories concerning technological transfers. Notably his Empire from the Ashes trilogy and Armageddon Reef. But also Vernor Vinge has done some great work with his Deepness in the Sky duology. Weber concentrates primarily on human development and social progress (or lack of it). Vernor hits more upon the alien contacting superior humans design, his specialty seems to be cybernetic interfacing, networking, and human psychology.

Weber's much bigger on the naval munitions technology edge of things, and he also did some forays into low tech ground only campaigns where the high tech guys were restricted in the tools they had to use, forcing them to use local forces to win local wars using only slightly advanced arms than the local politics had developed. March UpCountry is a good example of this.

Vernor vinge delves into mind control, with mind control you can actually have a functioning high tech civilization and also fuel megalomanical ambitions. For David Weber, his megalomaniacs are usually of the human variety preying upon other humans. There are aliens, but they are usually at the very top of the power and decadence ladder. There's no real point to taking the resources of a planet via invasion after all. There are plenty of other metal rich planets without a local population to strip mine. Weber even forwarded several scenarios where entire solar systems were gathered to create engineering on the cosmological scale.

Machines can do the automated work of mining just as well as humans, if not better. Dealing with the locals involves perhaps discoveries in science and tradegoods, something dictators and narcissists aren't much interested in. They would far more likely Dinosaur asteroid the planet instead of invading it.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at June 29, 2007 02:33 PM