The Thought War. Paul McAuley, Short Story.
This world can be ours again. It has been many years since the war, and its old beauty is returning. Now that civilization has become shattered, it has become like Eden again. Tell me: is a world as wild and clean and beautiful as this not worth saving? Was the sky never so green, or the grass never so blue?
Paul McAuley is a sci-fi author who can write about anything. Nanotechnology, alternative history, artificial intelligence, dystopian futures, and Doctor Who (seriously). McAuley has written several series of novels and many short stories covering just about every type of sci-fi idea imaginable. Furthermore, McAuley tends to be very good at giving just enough information for the reader to think they have it all figured out before a reveal that turns everything on its head and leaves the reader pondering for days.
The Thought War – not to be confused with The Quiet War from the same author – is a great example of how McAuley takes a common idea – extraterrestrials – to the next level by making the invaders dimensional travelers. The Thought War seems to draw some of its ideas from the Copenhagen Interpretation, a common quantum mechanics theory that states observing something that does not have a 100% probability of occurring instantly and automatically causes one of the probable options to occur. Thus The Thought War places a great deal of imphasis on the value of observers, something vaguely reminiscent of the famous anime Noein.
The story starts off with the reader being told to listen to the tale of an ex-science journalist as he recounts the first encounter with the extra-dimensional travelers. Later dubbed 'Zombies' because of their strange, fake-human appearance these travelers quickly begin to overtake the planet, not through any violent means but simply through sheer population growth and tenacity. As the story continues we learn that the reader is sharing the perspective of a human that has been captured by the journalist, gagged and bound and hooked up to machines for an as-of-yet unknown reason.
What makes this story truly memorable is threat that the invaders present. They don't appear to be openly hostile, nor do they seem to actively attempt to harm humans. Rather, the aliens slowly adapt to their new environment becoming more and more human-like. However, that's not to say the invaders do nothing. By acting as opposing observers to humanity, the aliens slowly but surely begin to rewrite the fundamental physical laws of the universe. In this way McAuley gives a truly terrifying enemy, one that becomes less clearly defined yet more powerful as the was wages.
Who Should Read This Story
The Thought War is worth a read if you're:
Looking for a thought provoking short story
A fan of the invasion stories
A fan of Paul McAuley
Somebody tired of the normal, “Aliens invade and we fight back” plot
Looking for a western (and darker) take on the Noein plot
Everything considered, The Thought War is a nice little story that does exactly what a short story should do, take a short time to read and a long time to think about. Its also a good way to get your feet wet if your trying to make the jump to “hard” sci-fi and a great way to introduce yourself to Paul McAuley. Definitely worth the read. To get it click here and order it from amazon as part of a collection of extraterrestrial themed short stories (including two other short stories I've reviewed, The Road Not Taken, and The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything.
Rusty is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and gets up to all kinds of shenanigans planning for any and all kinds of apocalypse when he's not busy reading, writing, or yo-yoing. Keep up with him and Rachel on Facebook and Twitter to get cool, space related news or click here to read more of his thoughts on the terror of alien invasion novels.