Friday, March 18, 2016

WE AIN'T SCARED OF NO ALIENS!

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?"

Not so long ago the fear of “alien abduction” was a real and visceral thing in human consciousness. We had eyewitness accounts of our fellow humans being “beamed aboard” alien spaceships, of “experimentation,” of repeated abductions for nefarious purposes. Even now, an estimated one-third of Americans believes UFOs are real and a much higher percentage believes intelligent life exists somewhere else in our galaxy. One of our most prominent scientists, Dr. Stephen Hawking, believes we better hope there’s no one else out there, because we’d be at their mercy.

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.

This idea of a world hidden beneath the world we’re familiar with is a core element of my Interstellar Rescue series, too. In my first book, Unchained Memory, my heroine, Asia Burdette, only learns of her abduction by aliens and internment in an alien labor camp as she is on the run from government black ops kidnappers who want access to what she knows.

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.

Cheers,
Donna

2 comments:

  1. I'm currently reading Unchained Memory and am wondering if the link between alien abduction accounts and sleep paralysis was inspirational for you. The movies may have changed, but abduction accounts continue to happen.

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Lee!
      I did a lot of research before starting UNCHAINED MEMORY and the INTERSTELLAR RESCUE series. You're right that many psychiatrists think sleep paralysis is one reason folks believe they've been abducted. It's a pretty common feeling to be semi-conscious, but not be able to move or fully wake up. Not everyone adds in the alien component, though. I remain neutral on whether the abductions are real or not.

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