2.28.2012

After Aliens Invade: Why Post-Apocalyptic Civilizations Might Be Okay



Civilization – human civilization – has only been around for about 5,000 to 10,000 years. Well, I guess it depends on what you consider to be ‘civilization,’ because the Agricultural Revolution (our big ‘ah ha!’ moment about domestication) took place anywhere from 7,000 to 10,000 years ago, and I’m rather partial to this settling down as a key hallmark of civilization. It's rather important, and one of the reasons why -- emotional trauma and potential environmental poison aside -- I'd rather live in a post-apocalyptic civilization than an ancient one.



Much like the evolution of cells into multi-cellular organisms millions of years ago, human civilization had more than one key starting point: Mesopotamia, India, China, and South America are buzzwords for our societal starting points. And though there’s death, hatred, war, genocide, and prejudice, we as humans have not done too badly for ourselves. By the Kardaschev scale, we’re nearly a global society; in terms of technology and industry, we’ve surpassed almost all imaginable measures of efficiency and growth; in terms of morality… we keep working on that, and the theories the collective human race have created show great promise (we just need to work on the practical aspect to keep up).

What does this have to do with surviving an alien invasion? Well, aliens might not agree with a positive outlook on humanity, for one thing. And that’s a pretty big thing to keep in mind.

With all anthropocentrisms, behavioral and economic arguments, and potential bloodthirstiness of invading aliens in mind, we face roughly three situations, though they all have different degrees and spectrums: one, they kill everyone; two, the aliens take over the planet and reconstruct the world as we know it, but our species is maintained; and three, they leave us alone.

When I briefly imagine an alien invasion that doesn’t immediately end in death or enslavement, I picture a mix of the first and third situations: large portions of the human race are extinguished, and the aliens leave a few survivors behind.

This situation would suck. Society has been destroyed, almost every population and every culture devastated to a large degree, and whatever mechanical workings of industry and development are practically useless with no workforce to produce with them and no large consumer force to demand their products. But there is one bright point that our ancestors from several millennia didn’t have.  

And it is: we know. 

We know what language is, how to build it and how to maintain and use it; even with the thousands of languages in the world, we don’t have to struggle with conceptualizing the idea of concepts – the format just needs a little work. We know that animals can be domesticated, and in fact have been crafted for thousands of years for that purpose. Plants, too. We know what electricity is (even if the average person doesn’t know what it really is and how it is), what physics is, and what technology is. There might be slavery (unlikely, with under-population, but possible) and a pretty hard-ass justice system, but we'll know it's wrong or temporary and will be less willing to justify inequality than we were in the past. Hopefully. The largest benefit to rebuilding civilization on the foundation of a destroyed one is that we would know the specific elements of the destroyed society, and the actualization of known-as-possible concepts can be expedited far more easily than the imagining of them can be.

And things are looking pretty hopeful, bad but hopeful, for our few survivors of an alien invasion… Then you have to think about Planet of the Apes (yes, the original and, yes, before the prequel) and “By the Waters of Babylon” (you remember – that awful short story that’s now mainstream middle school literature) and you have to wonder: why didn’t the aliens just put us out of our misery?

Questions, comments, or disagreements? Ideas of your own? Please leave a comment below!

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.

2.14.2012

EMP Apocalypse: Why Electricity Is More Important Than You Think


The Scenario:

So let's say you wake up one morning and after pouring yourself a bowl of your favorite cereal and turn on the television for your morning news only to discover dozens of alien spacecraft are now orbiting earth. Nothing is known about what they want or where they're from and in the midst of some “expert” detailing his theory...the television goes black.

You check the lights, try the surge protector, and eventually check your fuse box, but no dice, it's a blackout. After stubbing your feet enough you decide you need some real light and dig out your old flashlight. You flip the switch and...nothing. A quick battery change and still nothing.

Undeterred you get in your car to go buy some supplies. You turn the ignition and the car doesn't start. You try again...still nothing!

Now the panic sets in. After all, it isn't like every electronic device you own could stop working. That just can't happen.

The Terror

It can. And it's probably worse than you think.

Quick, make a mental list of everything that requires electricity. You probably remembered your computer and your television but did you remember your stove? What about your car? What about your water pump?

And that's just you. Imagine what society uses electricity to do. Water filtration plants, gas station pumps, weather tracking systems, The Internet, all of them gone.

And it's not just temporary either. It turns out EMPs don't work like in the movies and in fact can permanently disable critical electronics parts. Furthermore, while members of the sci-fi community tends to be very good at overstating problems, this is one situation where we tend to underestimate the effects. In fact, I've probably made that mistake myself, so if you think of any other problems that arise from an EMP be sure to let us know in the comments.

Who dies first?
  1. The people on airplanes.
    While smaller, older airplanes might survive(there are theories that vacuum tubes are EMP resistant), larger, more advanced commercial airliners will probably fall from the sky, killing everybody on-board and anybody they land on.

  2. People on life support in hospitals.
    While hospitals generally have a backup energy supply to protect against blackouts this does them little good against an EMP attack unless they're specifically protected.

  3. People on pacemakers.
    There are 3 million people in the world who use pacemakers and while not every pacemaker is constantly in use, it still means many people will die.
  4. Disabled people living in their homes.
    Many people who lives alone yet need some sort of assisted care probably won't last long without the ability to contact anybody.
  5. Many Children.
    Depending on what part of the day electricity fails many children might die. It's not uncommon for a child to take the bus home and arrive an hour or two before their parents. If an EMP attack occurred between the child getting home and the parent getting off work the child might be on their own for days before the parent is able to get home.

It Gets Worse

Do you live in an area protected by levies? Normally the fact that levies leak isn't a big issue. However, in a world where pumps can't keep water from flooding a city things get pretty serious pretty quickly.

Speaking of water, anybody familiar with the American Northeast Blackout of 2003 will tell you that when electricity goes down, water becomes much more scarce. This causes massive problems since water can no longer be pumped into cities, nor can it be purified. Oh, and your toilet stops working so sanitation becomes a serious issue.

How much cash is in your house? Congratulations, that's all the money you get if the computer systems go down. Banks need electricity to access their records, meaning even if the bank is open they probably won't give you any money (willingly at least). That's okay though cause money probably won't mean much after society collapses.

Survival

But let's say you're smart, healthy, don't live near any airports, own a clean source of freshwater, and have a general distrust for banks. You're set, right?

Wrong.

Food, shelter, transportation, everything gets much harder without electricity. Do you even know how to start a fire? I don't mean with matches or a lighter, I mean with flint, or by rubbing sticks together, or even with a magnifying glass. You probably think you do but it's a lot more difficult than it looks. Go ahead, go outside and start one. We'll wait.

Did you try? Did it work? Probably not.

Even if it did you still have to consider what's gonna fuel your fire. If you live in a big city or suburb then your only source of wood is probably your local park.

And how are you gonna stay warm? No electricity mean no central heat which means hypothermia if you live up north. Are you gonna bring that fire you just built inside the house? Fireplaces are becoming less common is households around the country so indoor smoke will be a serious issue. Even assuming you're smart and remember to keep the room ventilated well enough to prevent suffocation you'll have to be careful not to burn your house down.

How many rooms are there in your house? Are you gonna keep all your rooms warm? If so, that means more fires that you have to constantly watch to make sure nothing bad happens. It also means more fuel consumption.

Hope...Kinda

Now, I'm not saying we can't live without electricity, we've done it for millions of years and many people still do today. If all an alien attack consisted of were a couple massive EMPs millions of people would probably die, but humanity as a whole would probably survive. However, the concentration of power around the world would be significantly altered. In fact, its highly unlikely that the western world would still be composed of the powerhouses like today. After all there are two key differences between the present day developed nations and many other cultures:

  1. We as a society generally don't know how to survive without electricity.This is partially because of its presence in our lives. Even flipping your circuit breaker for the day and avoiding the obvious sources doesn't remove electricity from our lives. Everything from our cars and fridges to our toilets and faucets stop working without the modern miracle of electricity.
  2. Most people live in big cities and suburbia.The problem with living in big cities is the fact that basic goods are often produced somewhere else then transported to the area of consumption. Thus, without electricity most of the goods needed to sustain life – primarily food and water – won't be accessible within the city.

Alone each of these cause some fairly serious problems. Combined we get huge swaths of people dieing from everything from hunger to dysentery (just like Oregon Trail). And don't forget, this is all without the aliens actively trying to kill us.

The good news is that this is only possible from an alien invasion or some freak solar event, right?

Haha, the U.S. has been testing EMPs since 1962 and was surprised to find them more effective than theorized. They even accidentally used an EMP on Hawaii, 900 miles away! 

That's not the sun, that's the nuke they set off as seen from Honolulu, 900 miles away.
 
(Library of Congress)

Better work on those survival skills, you just might need them.

Don't forget to leave a comment with any suggestions, ideas, or objections about the value of electricity in our lives. And tell us if you liked this post so we know what kinds of updates you want.




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.

2.07.2012

Tiny Aliens Could Take the Day: 3 Plants That Are Taking Over the World



When you imagine aliens invading the world, don’t you picture vaguely humanoid, intelligent extra-terrestrials with advanced technology – or at least something with an overwhelming technological advantage?

I used to, too. Then I heard about an aquarium in the Mediterranean and realized that, while alien invasions and the accompanying enslavement, war or mass extermination might suck – and it certainly would – aliens chopping off the bottom of the food chain might just be worse.

2.04.2012

Review: The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything



The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything. George Alec Effinger. 2004. 18 pages.

I was sitting at my desk, reading a report on the brown pelican situation, when the secretary of state burst in. “Mr. President,” he said, his eyes wide, “the aliens are here!” Just like that. “The aliens are here!” As if I had any idea of what to do about them.

There are literally a too many brilliant things about this short story (not a book) for me to list them all here. The premise is brilliant, the sci-fi references abound, the humor is great, and the plot twist (if you could call it that) is absolutely amazing. It's really nice to read a sci-fi/alien invasion story that doesn't feel the need to weigh you down with all the horror and death that seems so prevalent in one of my favorite genres.

Naturally, this means not to go into this expecting an in-depth analysis of the implications of an alien invasion, complete with political intrigue and all the other furnishings. Furthermore while I love Effinger's style of story (seriously, the man is great at what he does) this particular one felt a bit simple, and while I believe the simplicity fits perfectly well with this story your mileage might very well vary.

The story (and humor) begins immediately as the secretary of state bursts into the oval office and informs the president of the titular aliens. The sarcastic, jaded, and somewhat bitter president has to find a way to deal with the inevitable problems that the Nuhp (the know-it-all aliens) cause. Luckily if he can mange to handle their condescending behavior, their inability to park (it makes more sense in context), and their strange, seemingly arbitrary method of determining superiority (they believe the score of Ben Hur to be the best human musical composition by far) then the Nuhp will assist humanity in solving some of its problems.

Eventually the hilariously difficult Nuhp (imagine a know-it-all 8 year old) and the problematic bureaucracy that surround the president cause a wide range of internal conflicts that eventually manifest themselves into a wonderfully brilliant plot-twist.

Anyway I recommend this book if you're:
  • Somebody who enjoys humor
  • A fan of George Alec Effinger (you should be)
  • Looking to get into reading George Alec Effinger's works (definitely worth doing)
  • In need of a break from heavier sci-fi works
  • A fan of amazing plot-twists
  • Looking for a great short story
  • Trying to get into the sci-fi genre


All-in-all 'The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything' is a wonderful sci-fi short story with witty humor and a great plot making it all the more sad that it's so under-appreciated. Thankfully with the magic of e-books and amazon you can get a copy right now. Seriously, it's like 99 cents and worth every penny.

And of course, if you've read this piece please tell us what you thought about it (especially if you agree with me about how amazingly awesome it is) by leaving a comment. And don't forget to subscribe and add us on Facebook and Twitter if you liked this post.


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.