Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stephen Hawking, Evil Space Aliens, and Science Fiction

The article: Don’t talk to aliens, warns Stephen Hawking

According to the world's most famous astrophysicist, it may be a big mistake to actually try to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligences. Entire societies may be all but indistinguishable from our resource-extraction corporations, living in interstellar pirate ships and raiding every planet they can until they extract everything they can out of it and either leave it a hollowed-out shell or destroy it altogether.

Here's what how he himself describes it:
We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.
You know science fiction authors are going to latch onto this scenario. In fact, it's been a staple of space opera for almost a century already.

Putting on my science-fiction author cap, here's some scenarios I could spin out o this:
  • It could be used as an allegory to warn against those similar societies right here on Earth, the resource extraction corporations.
  • The alien pirates could be Borg-like collectivist entities (in fact, the Borg itself is precisely such a scenario). Or the interstellar pirate ships themselves could be the hostile alien lifeforms.
  • Expanding a classic space opera scenario to epic scale, how about what a Hollywood producer would call "the Spanish Armada in space"? The largest navy in the world at that time, Spanish King Philip II's massive Spanish Armada, tried to conquer England and was defeated by the English flotilla of smuggling ships, or "privateers."
The list could go on. But Professor Hawking's point is cautionary, and applies equally well to societies here on earth, including of course the corporations and the governments they've owned for the past century or so. And my own upcoming novel Bad Company: A Corporate Terror Story is in part a Hawking scenario about one particular corporation (combining a Blackwater, a Halliburton, and a Corrections Corporation of America) which, outraged by the American people's "treason" in electing "some black guy" with vaguely reformist rhetoric as their "Great White Father," decides to overthrow the US government and replace it with itself. The scenario works as well for political thrillers (corporations) as it does for space epics (extraterrestrial pirates).

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