One of the most common plot devices in the science fiction genre is that of aliens with superior technology invading the earth and attempting to either subjugate or destroy mankind. It's generally assumed that aliens who can find their way to earth from their crazy outer space domain will possess ships and weaponry vastly better than our own. The aliens then turn these weapons on an unsuspecting humanity and quickly overwhelm mankind's militaries and governments, leaving our nations in ruins and leaving us at the mercy of the aliens. Then, improbably, the humans (or in rare cases some other force) turn the tide against the aliens and ultimately defeat the threat from outer space.
Not all of these alien invasions are created equal and like Congress determining the worth of a free negro's vote I would like to rate these assaults on mankind. I have decided to draw from movies, television, and books to create this article. I realize that I cannot possibly be all-inclusive, so don't email me telling me that I forgot "Plan 9 From Outer Space" or something along those lines.
The War of the Worlds (Book)The chances of anything coming from Mars, are a million to one he said aaaaaaaaaaaaah, aaaaaaaaah!The classic H.G. Wells book "War of the Worlds" was probably not the first book written about alien invasions of earth, but it is regarded as first in the genre and the source from which most recent invasion tales spring. Set at the end of the 19th century and focusing on England amid a broader global invasion, the aliens hail from Mars and come to colonize the earth with their huge metal walking machines and use the humans as food.
The Invaders: Green glowing eyes, wet leathery skin, bear-like bodies, and tentacles.
Their Strategy: Launch ships from Mars in an all-out assault. Interestingly, the aliens don't actually bring their war machines with them, but rather build or at least assemble them once they have landed. While Martian technology is greatly superior to our own they apparently have not invested much in packing material. The Martians are aware of mankind's presence and incorporate humanity into their strategy by capturing people and drinking their blood.
Their Armaments: Metallic tripod walkers with devastating heat rays are the mainstay of the Martian force. These walkers can also discharge a black poison smoke and the Martians have brought with them a very fast growing red plant that blankets the earth wherever they rule. I believe this red weed is intended as a means of transforming earth into a planet suitable for their habitation.The birds win!Mankind's Reaction: When the cylinders initially land the humans react with cautious curiosity. Soldiers and civilians alike gather around the Martian ships, only to be incinerated once the tripods emerge. The military fights back with 19th century technology like cannons and warships but suffer devastating losses any time they actually manage to blow up a tripod. By the end human civilization is in ruin. The Martians control the cities and towns, the military is destroyed, and civilians are nothing more than running snacks for the Martians to chase down.
The Invader's Downfall: The Martians are pretty idiotic in War of the Worlds. They plot a strategy that successfully overwhelms mankind and are then killed off by germs. There are two possible vectors for the germs. The Martians spend a good deal of the book exposed to the open air, which means airborne germs could infect them. They also drink living human blood, which means any diseases that we carry and are immune to would almost certainly infect the Martians. In the real world when humans send astronauts out to collect space crap they go through elaborate decontamination procedures. The Martians in War of the Worlds have technology significantly greater than we do to this day, yet had never stopped to consider that maybe throwing on a plastic suit or not drinking blood was a good idea. It's also a serious Deus Ex Machina ending, but at the same time it's great because every single book, movie, and TV show after it has mankind itself beating the aliens. Only Wells had the enormous sack to say that we're primitive idiots and it takes some fucking germs to kick red ass.
Invasion Rating: 4/5 Everything went off without a hitch except for the Martian immune system. A little quarantine goes a long way.
Independence Day (Movie)Awwww hell naw!Independence Day, or "ID4" if you like repeating marketing, is a retelling of "The War of the Worlds" in the modern day. Instead of a terrified journalist staggering through the ruins of 19th century England we've got Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum flying around in a captured alien ship. Will Smith's wisecracking and Bill Pullman's groan-inducing speechifying replace thoughtful reflections on the horror of mankind's demise. The aliens also seem much less interested in capturing the earth for any real purpose and more intent on just blowing up human buildings and jet planes.
The Invaders: Tall bipeds with black eyes, brownish skin, and lots of tentacles.
Their Strategy: Send enormous saucer ships to earth and then dramatically blow-up any building they think looks important. When the inevitable human counter attack comes the aliens send a bunch of jet fighters to fight mankind's jet fighters.
Their Armaments: Enormous saucer ships and alien jet fighters.
Mankind's Reaction: The first alien ships appearing above cities prompts the military to send out a helicopter to do some stupid sign language crap with the aliens. The aliens briefly play along and then decide to start blowing things up. When humanity isn't getting blown up it's scrambling jet fighters and scheming in secret alien labs in Area 51. The final human strategy is to send Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in an alien fighter into the alien mother ship to infect the alien's computer system with a computer virus from a Mac laptop.
The Invader's Downfall: The aliens in Independence Day never manage to beat the humans as soundly as the Martians in "The War of the Worlds". Even though they have ten mile wide spaceships that can blow up city blocks with blue laser beams and swarms of almost unbeatable space fighter jets they inexplicably still can't take out the world's air forces. At the end of the movie the courageous fighter pilot president of the United States waves the American flag and gets the world's militaries to help him fly fighter planes against the aliens. This is all done so that Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum can upload the computer virus from their Macintosh inside the alien mother ship. Once they do that the alien spaceships start crashing into the earth and blowing up. The message here is that humans are smarter than aliens, with a reference to the invisible germs in "The War of the Worlds" tied in that would make Wells vomit maggots out of his rotting skull.
Invasion Rating: 3/5 Not as bad as you might have thought. In the end the aliens were beaten by director Roland Emmerich's patriotic cartoon reality rather than anything that they could have anticipated.
Signs (Movie)Aaaah the water it burns! We surrender!Less science fiction and more horror, tiresome plot-twister M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs" proposes a low key and fairly slow building alien invasion of the earth. The aliens create crop circles for unknown reasons, invade the earth for unknown reasons, and execute their invasion by chasing around terrified people in corn fields and trying to get into a basement for six hours straight. It is without a doubt the single most pathetic alien invasion captured on film and likely any other medium. The aliens are seemingly less intelligent than raccoons (they can't open most doors) and their modus operandi suggests a goal of making people slightly nervous rather than subjugating or annihilating the human race.
The Invaders: Fang mouthed loping bipeds that resemble a cross between a frog and a skeleton.
Their Strategy: Make crop circles and chase people around on foot trying to bite or claw them.
Their Armaments: Space ships of some sort, you never really see them. I'm guessing they don't have any projectile weapons or anything similar since they resort to using claws in most cases. The aliens do have invisibility technology, for all the good it does them.
Mankind's Reaction: Because the aliens don't really invade so much as arrive unbeknownst most of the movie is spent just trying to figure out that the earth has been invaded. The alien invasion is viewed through television and the immediate surroundings of Mel Gibson and his preachy, precious, quasi-religious family. With aliens on the prowl Gibson spends more time thinking about his wife's fatal car accident and the secrets of stopping an alien invasion that are locked within her last words. No, I'm fucking not kidding. God this is terrible shit.
The Invader's Downfall: These aliens were born to lose. They invade the earth with stealth in mind, but once the veil of secrecy drops away they are left getting their hands chopped off with butcher knives and their faces beaten in with baseball bats. The movie would have you believe that man's faith in higher power and purpose defeats the alien invasion. In fact the retarded aliens defeat themselves, because they invaded a planet where ACID FALLS FROM THE FUCKING SKY. Water burns them like acid. High humidity day? Watch the aliens melt! Summer rain? Alien sludge clogging the fucking gutters on your house. Think about this: if the alien bites you it gets a mouth full of acid. Their only weapons require them to come in contact with acid.
Invasion Rating: 0/5 These aliens could not successfully invade a mall in Idaho, let alone the entire planet. Whatever Shyamalan's shitty point was, the real message is that aliens are absolute morons and a bunch of plucky teens with a super soaker could repel their entire fleet.
The Worldwar Series (Books)Oh, Hitler, you're such a great strategist.Alternate history writer Harry Turtledove's "Worldwar" series is probably one of the best known recent alien invasion stories. In these books a fleet of lizard men arrive in orbit around the earth to invade and subjugate the planet and prepare it for their colony fleet. Turtledove proposes aliens that are very slow to progress technologically. They scouted our planet a thousand years ago and saw us riding around on horses with swords. Assuming that we would remain that way for quite some time they didn't send a very large invasion fleet. Instead, they arrive at the height of the Second World War and find us driving around in tanks and on the cusp of discovering the atomic bomb. Their invasion does not go as planned, and by the end of it humanity has reverse-engineered much of their technology and is giving them a fair serving of what-for.
The Invaders: Short and skinny reptilian bipeds with a debilitating addiction to eating ginger.
Their Strategy: Land on earth with tanks and space jet planes and take over the primitive sword-wielding humans that currently rule the earth. Once the invasion starts and they're facing weapons much closer to their own than they had anticipated their strategy fragments into a stubborn "old school" and a myriad of bizarre slavery and breeding programs with humans. One of the more interesting strategies is to rely on human collaborators, which include Jews in Nazi Germany.
Their Armaments: Nuclear weapons, tanks, and future jet planes.
Mankind's Reaction: When the aliens invade mankind is fairly preoccupied with the largest war in human history. Once things get going, however, the various powers turn against the aliens with Turtledove making coy parallels to events that really happened later in the war. Man's general strategy is a mass war not unlike the one it was already fighting coupled with a vigorous reverse engineering of any technology that humans can get their hands on. Turtledove's interesting foray into this sort of speculative disruption of history is his obsession, and it is painfully obvious in the Worldwar series. Themes that could have been explored thoroughly in a single volume have bloated into four books in one series with two and counting in a second series. War of the Worlds wasn't 2800 pages long, Harry.
The Invader's Downfall: The invaders don't actually lose in the Worldwar series. They get their asses kicked, but they're still clinging tenaciously to the earth by book four. Their defeat can all be traced back to their inability to change or adapt and their incorrect assumption that humanity would progress as slowly as they had.
Invasion Rating: 3/5 The aliens had the technology and the will to beat mankind, but underestimated the size of force they would require to succeed. They made the best of what they had, but were defeated by Turtledove's bewilderingly enormous cast of generic square jaw characters and shallow caricatures of historic figures.
V (TV Mini-Series)Lita Ford: also an alien.Reptilian aliens disguised as humans, complete with giant 80s hair and huge black sunglasses, invade the earth under the guise of a peaceful visitation. By manipulating world governments and the media they subvert control of the earth and are only opposed by a ragtag band of humans who know their dark secret. Their dark secret is that they plan to eat everybody. Marc Singer, of "Beastmaster" infamy, leads the group, assisted by various others including Freddy Kreuger himself as a half-retarded good alien.
The Invaders: Classic lizard faces that have launched a thousand "reptilian agenda" websites. They wore fake skins most of the time to cut back on the horror and the special effects budget.
Their Strategy: The aliens in "V" didn't really have the overwhelming military force of most other alien empires that invade the earth. It was higher tech than mankind, but still generally limited to ground troops in red coveralls and black sunglasses with blaster pistols and rifles. These aliens relied on subterfuge to take over the earth and, other than the resistance movement, it works.
Their Armaments: Huge floating saucer cities, shuttles with combat capabilities, and legions of sunglass-wearing Naziesque storm troops.
Mankind's Reaction: Fear and apprehension give way to a friendly welcoming committee as it becomes apparent that the aliens are just nice folks with legions of laser beam wielding soldiers. While the population grovels at the feet of the aliens the Beastmaster joins up with a group that fights to oppose these secretly vicious interlopers.
The Invader's Downfall: Honestly, I last saw this when it first aired almost 20 years ago, so I don't remember. According to an episode guide the story of the alien invasion never actually ends because the TV show that continued the story of the mini-series was abruptly cancelled. Eventually the humans are made aware of how evil the aliens are and a full scale war (TV budget allowing) breaks out between the aliens and the humans. As far as I can tell the aliens in V would have had a lot more success if they had just not eaten people. Humans aren't a very good thing to eat. We're wasteful and not particularly large or meaty. Plus there's that whole "we're trying to trick them into thinking we're friendly" thing that might make you reconsider chowing down on a rack of Steve.
Invasion Rating: 4/5 Taking over the earth without actually fighting the earth is a pretty major accomplishment. Their plan was great, but failed because they just couldn't stay away from the delicious humans.
Possibly the most disturbing portrayal of an alien invasion I have ever seen comes courtesy of photographer Charlie White. In his recent book he tells the story of mankind surviving an alien invasion with movie-like photographs that are simultaneously pure Hollywood and oh so disturbingly real.
The pictorial is called "In a Matter of Days" and it's one of three in the book. Check it out if you're a fan of art or a fan of creepy alien invasion stories.
Are you concerned that you may be a character trapped in a Tom Waits song? Be smart and learn the warning signs before it's too late. Also, it's too late. It has always been too late.
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
The Something Awful front page news tackles anything both off and on the Internet. Mostly "on" though, as we're all incredible nerds.