The most apparent thing at watching the TV 2015 adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Childhood’s End’ 1953 novel this past week is the cultural shock that humans will have should we meet an advanced alien species. First contact is a prevalent theme and trope in any SF, whatever the format. It hits everything from less benevolent reasons to changes in religion. Nothing is likely to be safe again.
The key area depicted here is that science enquiry has no place to go, although unlike the original ‘V’ (1984-85) TV series, scientists weren’t killed off, just made to feel worthless. I mean, this would apply to any alien species and not just the Overlords who have been there before and done it. What would have left to achieve other than the desire to walk in their footsteps?
If we are ever to be observed by responsible alien species, then this is surely the one reason they wouldn’t want to meet us. This falls under the level of cultural shock and becoming the responsibility of another species who might not want that task. After all, this wouldn’t be for a little while but a multi-generation thing. After all, if you’re given the chance to look at or even play with advanced ‘toys’, you can’t suddenly have them taken away without gaining some idea of how they function. All right, maybe they could but if the principles are understood, it wouldn’t take long to start developing something like it. That’s an accepted Science Fiction trope that you all should be familiar with and where it goes and leads back to the opening question: Will we ever be ready for such an encounter?
Even an alien race will continue to develop on all fronts, including science and technology, so the gap will either stay the same or grow and pin-pointing where the possible change could happen is tough. I mean, how would you define a species maturity? Would it be advances in medical science to prolong life? Environment? Preservation of life at all costs? Would it be moving into space or resolving how to get to distant planets that currently defies modern physics? Maybe some other level of maturity? Would the removal of the reasons for war also remove our desire to advance? Take your pick or selection a few or all, the options are quite vast and I can even provide counter-claims that some might not be beneficial. Many of the reasons are covered in our genre. At least, we aren’t seen as prey or hunting trophies this time. Equally, it could be something we haven’t discovered or thought of yet. Look at how far our computer technology has developed in the past three decades. Would an alien species wait until we left our organic bodies behind before wanting to meet us? Would they rather see where we came from rather than what we would become? That depends on how nostalgic any alien species was. It’s the equivalent of looking at an ancestor and thinking the present version will have the same traits.
The most minute thing that might be in our favour is if we would meet an alien species that wasn’t too far advanced than ourselves although similar problems would still exist. If we reached another inhabited planet with a species below even our small level of development, we would face a similar dilemma and no doubt evoke ‘Star Trek’s Prime Directive of no interference. Should we then be surprised if it’s also applied to us?
It goes back to ‘even so…’, we’re no different than we are now. A lot of potential inhabited alien microcosm worlds with peoples unlikely to meet. It doesn’t say much for the overall evolution of intelligent life in the cosmos if we are never likely to meet them. That is, unless nature itself means it has the potential to destroy us all as well. Look at our own United Nations. A somewhat contradiction in terms when it can keep the bigger nations in check but does nothing or little for the wars in the third world countries.
It does make for an interesting question mark as to would all space-faring species decide upon non-involvement with younger sentient species? More so as they aren’t likely to ever meet each other. If you were on a generation starship, then unless you were extremely long-lived, it would be centuries before you made planet-fall then surely you would be tempted to land regardless of what was down there just to survey a planet. The same might also apply if ever a species solved the problem of going faster than the speed of light. Why come all this way and not do anything…ever!?
In many respects, this also tends to give the argument why we’ve probably not had any extra-terrestrial visitors yet as well. Don’t worry, that conclusion struck me as well after typing it. At least we can be assured that we wouldn’t have disgraced ourselves by displays of wars and poor human rights in the past. Oh, we’ve done that. As a species, we’re bad enough as it is now and far too slow to change at the rate our scientific knowledge and technology is. I would give humanity a wide berth based on historical evidence alone let alone desire us to be spread across the local part of our galaxy.
The same would also apply to any violent alien species. Professor Stephen Hawking fears that an open invitation for extra-terrestrials to come after viewing our TV broadcasts would put us in a similar situation to any third world terrestrial species when they were invaded, only a thousand times worse.
Logistically, taking all of the Earth’s resources would be difficult although we could probably relinquish a small amount. I suspect if they want something like fuel, the gas giant planets would be better suited and unlikely to be emptied.
It does raise an interesting question as to whether there would be an alien invasion, oddly the ‘War Of The Worlds’ 1953 film presents the one major problem that would ensure that it would never happen. Nothing to do with us but the various microbes that also inhabit our world. Even if terrestrial DNA is only slightly close to alien, it could cause fatal problems. It would also be the same should we ever visit an alien world. Of course, they or us might be able to bio-engineer a panacea protection or even something capable of destroying or preventing it but I doubt if the latter would be an option. Something that powerful would be capable of destroying the source alien species or ourselves as well. Who wants a barren planet? Saying that, it also counts towards another reason why we might not have had any extra-terrestrial visitors as well. So maybe having a long distance between inhabitable planets isn’t such a bad idea after all. For once, the cosmos might not be caring but seems to have done us all a favour and just leave us waiting. That means we’ll never be ready.
(c) GF Willmetts 2016
As to the three part ‘Childhood’s End’ series, did I like it? I loved the Overlord make-up but the series is so ponderous and moved too far from the novel that unless you’d read the book, you wouldn’t get all the ramifications. Even with this format, it could easily have been condensed into two episodes and cut down on the angst and remove a lot of wasted characters.