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Jul 28, 2011

Aliens and Hollywood


Even before I realized that that there were science fiction novels, I had read Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Däniken. The only thing I took away from "ancient astronaut" theory was an appreciation for the idea that if an alien visitor came to Earth, chances are good that such a visitor would have been here long ago. Much longer ago than 1873.

I've looked at some online reviews of Cowboys & Aliens (funny). Apparently Ella Swenson is a visitor to Earth who takes on human form. My favorite science fiction plot element involves visitors to Earth who walk among us and never reveal the truth about their origins. I have not seen Cowboys & Aliens so all I can do is guess: maybe Ella is on Earth trying to give humans a helping hand against the Evil Invading Aliens.


it’s like Favreau’s sitting behind the camera chewing his fingernails going “just speed everything up so no one notices nothing makes any sense.”


When I finally discovered science fiction novels I got bounced around between conventional space opera stories such as The Skylark of Space and conventional SciFi movies such as War of the Worlds. It is fun to imagine the heroic Earthling who builds a spaceship and takes off on a great adventure in space, but the other option, which seems to be more popular, is to twist the plot so that the aliens come to Earth. I think I had my fill of Evil Alien Invaders the first time I saw War of the Worlds.

the inevitable, "I need to get to the heart of the alien craft, where the inevitable weakness is, to set off the bomb!" set-up

I was thrilled to eventually discover that some science fiction authors such as Arthur C. Clarke actually wrote stories (example) about space-traveling visitors who came to Earth millions of years ago. I quickly grew tired of science fiction stories where 1) the entire universe was out there just waiting for tool-using apes from Earth or 2) aliens came from hundreds of light-years away just to participate in a World War II-type space battle with heroic Earth-men. It is much more fun to explore other kinds of interactions with aliens. As far as I can tell, C&A is built around the idea that the aliens came to Earth for gold. Is this an attempt to get us to think about idiotic human motives for violence?

“Well, that is ridiculous! What are they going to do—buy something?”

Avatar turned the Evil Invader plot around, making humans the invaders. Some SciFi films such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (I've never managed to watch it) do avoid the usual Hollywood SciFi plots of Evil Aliens and Space War. I have watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but for me it is as big a frustration as Contact, movies that end just when they should be moving on to tell us something interesting about the aliens and their advanced civilization. Sadly, I have no expectation that C&A includes interesting speculation about an alien civilization.

"If you’ve seen any alien invasion movie since Independence Day, you know these aliens."

Why is Hollywood dominated by people who think that a science fiction movie must have slime-dripping aliens and laser battles? I now have my hopes up because it sounds like there might be two types of aliens in Cowboys & Aliens, the comic book aliens from the original story and Ella Swenson who is apparently an alien of a different color. I'm tempted to write a spoof of Mars Attacks! in which aliens invade Hollywood and start making interesting science fiction movies. I wonder if Ron Howard and Olivia Wilde would be willing to deploy the Ella Swenson character as part of such a worthy effort to improve the SciFi film genre.

Stagecoach Indian Battle

When did Americans grow tired of movies in which endless streams of Native Americans were shot by "heroic" white men? When will people grow tired of endless movies where aliens are the designated target for mindless violence? Can't we have SciFi films with interesting stories about aliens who do something besides invade Earth?

Note. I'm still waiting for a movie based on Asimov's The End of Eternity. Maybe Olivia Wilde could play the role of Noÿs Lambent.

Note. This is post #100 for this blog!

Jul 24, 2011

The Janus Intervention


I previously mentioned the need to find a new title for the story that I originally called Apollo 23.

exoplanet


The two faces of Janus.
Image source: Elizabeth Thomsen on flickr.



I've been thinking about how a time traveler named Pultep could derail the developing Olmec civilization and prevent it from developing science and technology before such advances occur in the "Old World". One of the first stories that I ever wrote as part of the "Exodemic Universe" was about how Interventionists helped Greek civilization spread and develop an early type of science. An alternative title for "Apollo 23" is "The Janus Intervention", a reference to the two-faced Roman god.

Interventionists are Genesaunts who are not satisfied with the idea that all the Huaoshy do is watch Earth. The Huaoshy actually do transform life on Earth, but in a slow and subtle way that is hard for the Interventionists to notice.

One of the ways that the Huaoshy cause changes on Earth is by intentionally allowing Interventionists to visit Earth. It would be a trivial matter for the Huaoshy to completely prevent Interventionists from altering the course of events on Earth, but since Huaoshy ethics do not allow the aliens themselves to visit Earth, they make use of the Interventionists as agents of change. Most of the time the Huaoshy catch the Interventionists in the act of altering events on Earth and the aliens revert the changes. However, some times the Huaoshy allow Interventionist-induced changes to stand.

In the case of the "The Janus Intervention", the Huaoshy allow the Interventionists to alter the Olmec civilization and move it towards development of science and technology. However, the technological civilization that develops eventually suffers vast destruction when nanotechnology goes out of control. Having given the "Janus Intervention" a chance, the Huaoshy eventually decide to use their time travel technology to go back and prevent the Olmec civilization from developing science.

Jul 23, 2011

Been Here, Done That


I've previously blogged about the Fermi Paradox. My "solution" to the paradox is that we should assume a solution that allows us to create the most interesting science fiction stories.

In Hollywood, science fiction has been dominated by stories in which aliens miraculously evolve on another planet for hundreds of millions of years, develop technology and reach Earth while still at a technological level very close to our own. In the movies, it is desirable that the underdog species in a first contact battle be able to defeat the evil invader. Yawn.

However, it has been estimated that the average Earth-like planet might be a billion or more years older than Earth. Contact between Earth and another technology-using species might very well involve another species that has technology far beyond our own. Is it more likely that Earth was first visited long ago or that Earth would first be visited only now, just when our species is starting to take its first steps into space? Authors like Arthur C. Clarke have imagined human contact with aliens who long ago visited earth and influenced human evolution.

What should we expect of a hypothetical species that has been spreading between the stars for hundreds of millions of years? Would galactic explorers still be biological or some kind of artificial life? Why should their motivations be anything like our human motivations?

A form of life spreading through our galaxy would likely find Earth-like planets before those worlds had evolved technological species of their own. There would be great temptation to tinker with the life forms on Earth-like worlds, to explore the ways that such life could be pushed into more interesting forms. Does the history of life on Earth show evidence of such tinkering?

Until about 65 million years ago Earth was dominated by small-brained animals. After the extinction event of about 65 million years ago, the mammals diversified and several large-brained clades have since evolved, particularly cetaceans, elephants and humans. As primates, we are unique in becoming a tool-using species that quickly (in evolutionary terms) eliminated all of our closes relatives and competitors. Was the rise of mammals just by chance? Is the evolution of our species a chance event or the result of some sort of intelligent design? When we finally obtain evidence of aliens will we discover that they found Earth long ago?

Image source: Blackwell Publishing.

Will our experience of first contact turn out to involve aliens who yawn and say, "Been here, done that....long ago. We've been here millions of years guiding your evolutions so that you could finally recognize and welcome us."