What Do Alien Invasion Novels Even Mean?

By on 5:28 AM

They mean it’s time to step onto your soapbox, because something’s wrong with humanity.

In all the subsets of the sci-fi genre, alien invasion seems to be the most weaponized. In most any book about an alien invasion, whether or not the human race dies out, becomes enslaved, goes to war against the aliens, or is cultivated as a food supply, alien invasion novels protest a number of things, usually military hegemony or some other violent societal flaw.

What specific societal evils can be transformed into the unforgivable acts of an evil, apocalypse-causing extraterrestrial race? Overt military power for one, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia. The War of the Worlds (the novel, not the 2005 monstrosity that made nearly everyone hope the director would break with the source material and have Tom Cruise die) set the standard in demonstrating why hostile military takeovers and imperialism really, really suck for at least one side of the equation.

While an overly enthusiastic military presence is an immortal theme, ready and waiting for our constant critique, specific world events are also mirrored in sci-fi, too. Foreign occupation and Cold War paranoia?  Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood Ends, in which the human race has screwed itself so thoroughly we need some Overlords to push us into being civilized. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Jack Finney) induces some McCarthian paranoia where the characters can’t trust anyone because it’s impossible to know who’s still human and who’s an alien disguised as your former best friend – after all, you never know when Donald Sutherland will point his finger at you and rat you out to an aggressive species of extraterrestrial leech-plant seed pods. And then there’s the entertainingly mediocre They Live movie, where capitalists take one for the team and are the bad guys instead of evil, communist aliens. It doesn’t get points for subtlety (how can it when the leading ass-kicker justifies his rampage through lack of bubble-gum instead of some degree of indignation and human camaraderie?), but it’s nice that someone tried to round out the Cold War critiques.

There’s also the catch-all category of aliens telling humans to shape up or die a fiery death. Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar series (which features Nazi Germany as so screwed up aliens can’t figure it out), the 1951 film The Day the Earth Stood Still (again, not the modern remake which makes that aforementioned fiery doom pretty eye-catching), and even Bruce Coville’s My Teacher is an Alien series all feature aliens that are pretty disgusted with our genocidal, polluting, and all-around evil selves.

Voltaire also gets a few points for pre-empting the whole alien invasion genre back in 1752 with Micromégas. There’s nothing like a story that condemns human arrogance by having two giant alien friends visit Earth and think that the planet is uninhabited because humans are so tiny and insignificant. While you can’t call the majority of alien invasion literature subtly refined, this denunciation is a bit blunt. But then, Voltaire lived in exile for a reason.

Social commentary can be a touchy thing – after all, too much protest about the United States’ actions during the Cold War would have swept you up in the Red Scare, blacklisting you from Hollywood’s top slots at best. So, all in all, it used to be safer (and probably still is, once you add the Patriot Act and accidental Guantanamo Bay guests to the mix) to make aliens the bad guys.

Even if they’re really not.

Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.

About Syed Faizan Ali

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