ALIEN INVASION by Jeff Norton
I’ve always loved the idea of aliens. I can still remember being six years old and studying space in school when the first Columbia shuttle lifted off. What a way to capture a young boy’s imagination; all of those planets, a huge universe, the possibility of life on other worlds! Of course, I was a child of Star Wars, and later Star Trek and in between I devoured seminal movies like E.T. and Close Encounters, and influential books like Ender’s Game and Asimov, and as an adult, upon moving to my adopted home of the UK, came to fully embrace the alien hegemony of Doctor Who.
Aliens are invading our pop culture.
Looking ahead at the upcoming Hollywood summer blockbusters, I count five major films featuring aliens: John Carter, Men In Black 3, The Avengers, Prometheus, and Battleship. Cumulatively, that’s well over half a billion dollars being spent to bring us alien-themed stories this summer.
Does the existence of extra-terrestrial life make us feel less alone in a vast universe? Are aliens the modern day (post 1950’s) answer to ancient Greek mythology, a way of understanding the human condition through the non-human? Aliens seem to provide a shared language for understanding and dealing with Earthbound issues through the lens of the ultimate foreigner. Whilst Verne, Wells, and Swift certainly dealt with the otherworldly in their writings, mass science fiction truly took off in the post-war years. Perhaps each of us feels out of place, or alienated, in a big, busy, and confusing world; insert cold war, oil shocks, Reaganism/Thatcherism, or terrorism to suit your decade. Do we view aliens as metaphors for us, or as explanation of other?
Alien pop mythology can be roughly cut in half, separating benign visitors (E.T.) and deadly invaders (Independence Day), and of course, both of those vectors can be flipped around where we humans become the visitors/explorers, benign or otherwise.
If good storytelling reveals truths about the human experience, what do stories involving non-humans reveal? That we have the capacity for kindness? Or, in the case of an invasion, the capacity for ultimate heroics where, despite our differences, the human race can band together to defeat a common enemy? The book Ender’s Game (currently in production as a big budget film) teaches us vastly more about what it means to be human than what it means to be alien.
Today’s young readers were literally raised by aliens. The hugely popular Aliens Love Underpants was first published in 2007 and those picture book readers are becoming today’s middle grade readers. Clone Wars and Ben 10 dominate Cartoon Network. And CBBC is mounting a new Russell T. Davies show called Aliens vs. Wizards, which begs the question, in the post-Harry Potter age, are aliens the next wizards?
In the lead up to the Bologna Book Fair, publishers will be asking themselves what’s the next big trend. We’ve been through wizards, vampires, angels, fairies, and are currently riding the dystopian wave. What’s next?
I believe aliens are the next big trend that has never gone away. So embedded in our cultural psyche, now from picture-book age, aliens will grow into a mass mythos for a connected, but complicated, world.
I suppose it’s just lucky that I was slipped the classified but unredacted memoirs of the only human boy at the high school for aliens at Area 51. Matt Knight and myself have been busy uncovering the truth, turning Sherman’s Capote’s diary entries into a book that will reveal the exciting (and very funny) truth about the aliens at Area 51. Codenamed Alienated, I’m sure it’ll join the great canon of modern alien mythology.
Jeff Norton is the author of MetaWars and founder of Awesome, a London based creative incubator.