Time--and inspiration--have been a little short this week. So I hope you don't mind that I'm repeating here in edited form a post I contributed to Heather Massey's Galaxy Express 2.O Blog back in February. Thanks to Heather for having me, and here, in case you missed it, is a shorter form of the post that appeared originally as "Who's Afraid of the Little Gray Alien?"
It’s no surprise, then, that alien abduction and its companion,
interstellar slavery, are common tropes in science fiction and SFR.
Granted, not a few of the titles which claim those tags tend to use the
abduction as prelude to a sexual encounter (or twelve). But we can put
those in a separate category for purposes of this discussion—“Sexual
Fantasy”, certainly, “The Upside of Abduction,” maybe.
I’m referring to the dark side of alien abduction for the
purposes of slave labor and the nightmarish fear we humans may have of
it. The first sign of this fear came just after the Second World War,
with the first flush of UFO sightings, the Roswell crash and its
aftermath, and the B-movie sci-fi craze of the Fifties. This coincided
with the final years of the Golden Age of science fiction (Thirties to
Fifties), which was dominated by stories of evil aliens on Earth and
spaceships to distant planets.
Our real sources of angst, of course, were not to be found in the
skies, unless you count the time we spent looking up for those missiles
from the USSR that would be carrying the A-bombs to wipe us out. Then
there were the Commies who were supposedly infiltrating everything.
Those real fears were reflected onscreen not in the cheesy MARS NEEDS WOMEN, but
in the truly scary THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951-based on a short
story by John Campbell), the creepy INVASION OF THE BODY-SNATCHERS
(1956) and the stellar THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951).
By the time the Seventies rolled around, however, no one believed in
the Commie under the bed and we’d stopped digging fallout shelters. Our
thoughts about aliens had fallen into two camps: those who believed
their coming would bring a wonderful new day to this tired old Earth,
and those who thought they knew better. Even those who supposedly had
had “interaction” with the little Gray aliens in their UFOs were split
on the matter. Some said they’d had a great time on the ships; some
relived their experiences in horror.
Stephen Spielberg captured this push-pull perfectly with CLOSE
ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). Most of the movie was enough to
give anyone nightmares: a little boy is pulled out of his screaming
mother’s arms into a blinding light, a man goes more than a little crazy
trying to re-create a compelling vision in a plate of mashed potatoes.
But in the end, the boy is returned unharmed and the man happily
volunteers to venture off into the galaxy with his new-found alien
friends. Let’s just hope there’s not a labor camp waiting for him at the
end of his journey.
Spielberg’s optimistic vision reflected a relatively optimistic
period. America had not yet seen its embassy staff taken hostage in
Iran, interest rates hit 12 percent with almost ten percent unemployment
in the early Eighties (how quickly we forget), or either Iraq war. Oh,
and the Russians were mired in Afghanistan in those days.
With the Nineties and early 2000s our fears had begun to return.
Chris Carter’s THE X-FILES was a perfect example, with FBI Special Agent
Fox Mulder trying desperately to find the truth behind the abduction of
his young sister. He wanted to believe aliens took her and sought proof. His partner, skeptic Dana Scully, wouldn’t have believed if a
little Gray alien hit her over the head.
The cynicism of its audience was well reflected in the dark
conspiracies of THE X-FILES. Mulder and Scully could trust no one but
each other as they navigated their world of skulking monsters and
government smoke and mirrors. The new X-FILES show, which debuted
January 25 on Fox Television, brought these conspiracies even more to the
fore. Even more than the aliens, our own government was behind the curtain pulling the strings.
In the second
book, Trouble in Mind, now also available from Amazon, that black ops
group succeeds in kidnapping Asia and her son Jack, who is the key to an
interstellar power play. Lana Matheson, an FBI agent every bit as
skeptical as Scully, must join forces with a half-alien tracker, Gabriel
Cruz, to find the boy and his mother.
The action in Trouble in Mind revolves around the question
of how far those in power will go to protect their secrets and/or the
foundations of their system. We know, of course, that this black ops
group will do almost anything to get at the knowledge of other worlds
that Asia has. What would they do with the psi talent that Jack has? The
alien government minister who is also searching for Jack wants to use
him in a bold move to take over the Minertsan Consortium—and ensure the
continuance of slave labor as the basis of the empire’s economy. What
will he do to get at Jack?
In this day of media manipulation, general cynicism, economic
uncertainty, partisan politics and distrust of government, our science
fiction view of aliens as threat has morphed from UFOs taking us as
individuals to aliens invading us en masse. Either those aliens
want to destroy us outright (PACIFIC RIM, the upcoming INDEPENDENCE DAY
II) or they want to colonize us, forcing us to resist or collaborate
(FALLING SKIES, COLONY). Again, it’s no surprise that our screens and SFR stories are filled with Mulder’s paranoia writ
large—post-Apocalyptic tales, dystopias, unseen aliens with human
collaborators (one of my favorite themes).
It’s becoming clear we no longer fear merely being Taken and enslaved. We fear being conquered and enslaved. And that speaks volumes about what we really fear.