Destroy All Humans!

Reader Warning: this blog entry may offend those of little imagination or humour

Exploring the cosmic side of the curriculum often brings welcome surprises.  I was approached recently by those lovely people in London looking for a quirky academic angle around which to promote the new console game, Destroy All Humans 2!

Give us the facts, they said.  The facts about aliens.  Now as readers may know, facts about aliens are contentious at best, or just downright non-existent at worst.  So, with an eye to scientific credibility, I compiled the following top 20 facts on the science and culture of aliens:

1. Alien Origins

The Western belief in the existence of life off-Earth goes way back to the Greeks. The Greek satirist Lucian wrote a space voyage called A True Story, in around 150AD.  In the book he anticipated "modern" fictional themes like voyages to the Moon and Venus, alien life, and wars between planets, centuries before Jules Verne and HG Wells. He could actually be called the father of science fiction.

2. Alien Invasion

The modern cultural phenomenon of alien invasion probably owes its origin to HG Wells’ War of the Worlds, written in 1898 and still in a cinema near you! WOTW was the first ‘alien menace’ from space, and has had a tremendously powerful influence on one of the most pervasive alien cultural myths of the C20th.

3. Alien Abduction in Fiction

The idea that not only do aliens exist, but they are actively visiting, abducting (and probably probing) people on a day-to-day basis (mainly Americans, it seems; maybe they enjoy the probing). There is good evidence that this extremely culturally pervasive ‘fact’, was deliberately mythologised by the likes of British science fiction authors in the tradition of HG Wells, such as Olaf Stapledon (First and Last Men; StarMaker) and Arthur C Clarke (A_Space_Odyssey28film%29”>2001; Barney and Betty Hill, a New Hampshire couple who in 1961 experienced strange events and a time ‘anomaly’ while travelling home on a lonely rural road.  At first, the Hills were only aware of losing two hours on the journey home.  Later, under hypnosis, they recalled seeing a hovering UFO and being taken aboard a spaceship.

5. Abduction Epidemic

A recent survey suggests that in some countries (e.g. the US) as many as 2 of the population claim to be abduction victims. Extrapolated globally this would mean that over 10 million people had at some time been whisked off.  This means that since Barney and Betty Hill, someone has been abducted every few seconds.  By now, one might have thought the neighbours would have noticed.

6. Origin of Flying Saucers

The term ‘flying saucer’ was born in 1947 when the US businessman Kenneth Arnold saw what he perceived as 9 disc-like objects flying in formation. Saucer Craze sightings continued through the late 1940s and 1950s, throughout the period of McCarthyism and a slew of ‘sci-fi’ B-movies.

7. UFOs and Aliens

Eventually, one sightee, George Adamski in 1953, claimed not only to have seen flying saucers, but to have interacted with their alien occupants. Subsequently, UFOs and aliens have been synonymous, which still continues, though today most science fiction writers are hostile to the UFO notion, infuriated by the public assumption that they are deeply interested in UFOs!

8. Alien Morphology

The familiar obsession of the modern alien with a distinct psychology and physiology goes back to Darwin.  Ever since that time, science fiction has repeatedly portrayed the alien as humanoid.  You know the kind of thing, any being whose body structure resembles that of a human.  Evolutionary biologists suggest, in fact, that if there is life out there in deep space, its extremely unlikely to look like us.  Aliens are far more likely to look like bug-eyed monsters, green ooze or orange gas.  Science fiction writer Stanislav Lem had the right kind of idea.  In his famous story, Solaris, the alien is an entire ocean planet that scientists discover.

9. Alien Time Travel

Time could be described as a linear process by which we experience a chain of events. The idea of time travel is usually one in which time’s arrow is resolved into (a) a confusion of time-hopping and associated causal relationships (e.g. Groundhog Day), or (b) a number of possible timelines (e.g. Back to the Future). Science fiction invented time travel with HG Wells’ The Time Machine way back in 1895, and Doctor Who is founded on the idea that spacetime is a negotiable dimension that can be traversed at one’s leisure!  Space is big, very big.  Maybe time travel is the way aliens allegedly manage to hop through space so quickly?

10. Alien Space Travel

The navigation of space is portrayed so effortlessly and commonly in science fiction that our real life Apollo journeys to the Moon seem rather pathetic by comparison. From the impressively gargantuan galactic alien empires of Star Wars to the vast interstellar generation starships of space opera, space travel in science fiction almost seems like a given in an ordinary Lunn Poly travel brochure. Hardly surprising, then, that many believe aliens may just ‘pop round’ to Earth to borrow a cup of sugar?  If time travel isn’t possible (see no 9 above) then perhaps aliens have dizzying technologies, and fleet and nimble faster-than-light vessels worming smoothly through space?

11. Alien Conspiracy Theories

Can be many and varied, but usually revolve around the idea that shifty (corporate) scientists are involved in a conspiratorial cover-up of a scientific discovery of classified and Earth-shattering importance and/or usefulness. Examples may include the deliberate corporate suppression of technology such as the invention flying saucers (or cars that will run on far cheaper fuel!) or the paranoia associated with the likes of ‘Area 51’ with its alleged containment of magical and mysterious alien technologies.

12. Advanced Ancient Alien Civilisations

The idea that on Earth, or other planets, ancient civilisations were either (a) advanced due to alien
intervention, or (b) exterminated by natural catastrophe. Examples would include Eric von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, and the repeated speculation of ancient alien civilisations on other planets (e.g. the face on Mars).  The universe is a very old place (13 billion years old), and it’s just as, if not more, possible that we had visitors to the Earth in the past.  After all, the Earth has been here for billions of years.

13. Alien Progeny

Claims of abduction have been made in many countries around the world.  Many of these reports include claims of gynaecological examinations of female victims, along with (sometimes) implantation of alien embryos.  Other claims suggest the removal of alien and/or human embryos, or the encouragement of the human female to hold an apparent alien-human hybrid infant

14. Alien Probing

Some claims of abduction have reported sexual examination of male victims.  These include sexual intercourse with an alien, and implantation of tiny devices in the victim’s nasal passages or elsewhere.  Many people who claim to have been abducted have scars of unknown origin, have experienced multiple abductions, or are related to those who have had similar experiences.  Almost invariably the abductions are recalled only when the victim’s memory is jogged – a televised account of abduction, for example – and the details are brought out through hypnosis.

15. Alien Abductees

Few scientists speak out in favour of the phenomenon of alien abduction.  Most popular explanations of what victims have undergone are: (a) people are being influenced by what they read and see in the media; (b) the hypnotists who work with many alleged victims are influencing them; (c) the abduction experiments are a form of hallucination or waking dream; (d) the accounts are outright hoaxes or are the product of mental illness; (e) the victims have playing Destroy All Humans 2!

16. Alien Crop Circles

Crop circles are areas of cereal or similar crops that have been systematically flattened to form various geometric patterns. The phenomenon itself only entered the public imagination in its current form after the notable appearances in England in the late 1970s, but which soon spread around the world. Various theories were put forward to explain the phenomenon, including supernatural or alien explanations, often including UFOs.  However, in 1991, two men, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, revealed that they had been making even the most sophisticated and elaborate crop circles in England since 1978 using planks, rope, hats and wire as their only tools.

17. Alien Types

An entire subculture has developed around the subject, with support groups and a detailed mythos, explaining the reasons for abductions: the various aliens (Greys, Reptilians, ‘Nordics’) are said to have specific roles, origins, and motivations. Abduction claimants often explain the lack of greater awareness of abduction as the result of either extraterrestrial or governmental interest in cover-up.  Curiously, there seems to be some correlation between the morphology of the abductor and the abductee.  For example, Scandinavian abductees tend to be whisked off by ‘Nordics’, Mexicans by short dark aliens, and so on. In the game Destroy All Humans!, the Furons have the same appearance as Greys, short, slender humanoids with hairless grey skin and large heads with enormous black almond-shaped eyes.

18. Alien Cultural Tracking

Alien Cultural Tracking is the technical name given to the rather earthly sights and sounds with which abductees are greeted when they board the mothership, as it were.  Curiously, it seems the contents of alien space-craft very much depends upon the decade in which they land.  For example, in the 1960s Barney and Betty Hill were treated to an alien presentation through the use of a pull-down chart.  1970s abductees were met with flashing lights and reel-to-reel tape recorders, 1980s abductees saw computer monitors with bright green DOS prompts, and 1990s abductees touch-screen computers.  Either the aliens are playing a very sophisticated ploy, or abductess have little or no imagination. 

19. Aliens and Nazis

The War of the Worlds, was Orson Welles’ radio adaptation based upon H G Wells’ classic novel, was performed by Mercury Theatre on the Air as a Halloween special on October 30, 1938. The live broadcast reportedly frightened many listeners into believing that an actual Martian invasion was in progress.  Welles’s adaptation is possibly the most successful radio dramatic production in history. It was one of the Radio Project’s first studies.  Of course, innovative broadcast radio was still in its infancy, but the key factor in the audience reaction was invasion paranoia.  Apparently, many American listeners were somehow duped into believing the Martians were in cahoots with Hitler’s stormtroopers.  Perhaps that’s where George Lucas got his idea?!

20. Aliens: Size Matters!

In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy two alien species join forces to attack our Galaxy. They crossed vast reaches of space in a journey lasting thousands of years before reaching their target where they attacked the first planet they encountered, Earth. Due to a terrible miscalculation of scale, the entire battle fleet was swallowed by a small dog.  It seems that, even for aliens, size matters, and that it’s important to plan alien invasion to the last detail . . . 

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