Colonisation of other planets might well be best effected through simulating the life that already lives there. In the latest edition of Odyssey, we look at this approach to enabling the human race to occupy distant worlds, not just by duplicating indigenous life-forms, but even by the more insidious method of actually becoming them.
Which raises the disturbing question of whether prospective colonists of our own Earth might do precisely the same to us – a favourite subject of science fiction writers.
The late 1960s television series The Invaders expressed the difficulties of persuading an understandably sceptical public of the existence of aliens among us. As we were reminded at the start of each episode, David Vincent (played excellently, in suitably grim form, by Roy Thinnes) became aware that an alien invasion of Earth was under way, but the aliens had taken human form and looked exactly (or almost exactly) like anyone else. Thus “…the nightmare has already begun.”
And some years later Roy Thinnes made a guest appearance in that series which expressed so well the paranoia that could develop from knowing of the existence of a covert alien invasion, but being very limited in what one could do about it – The X-Files.
However, as we explore in Odyssey, it would be so much more efficient not to go to the trouble of replicating or adapting the local inhabitants of a target planet, but to just occupy the life-forms that already exist there. Which is precisely what extraterrestrial colonisers might try to achieve here.
John Christopher’s 1965 science fiction novel The Possessors depicts a situation where a party of guests in a Swiss skiing chalet are cut off by an avalanche. They then become prey to the last survivor of an alien race which had evolved into a form of symbiotic relationship with its enslaved, brutish hosts on its home planet. And now that alien being needs to survive and continue its race’s existence by finding new hosts, on a new world.
People continue to appear much the same as before, but not quite. A body would seem “tenant-less, but was not. It had two tenants, master and slave…Survival meant propagation, assimilation…” The potential victims are gripped by the fear of what could await them – effectively a form of parasitic intelligence. As the doctor amongst them explains: “It hasn’t happened here, but it might have done elsewhere. A spore of intelligence. Waiting to be absorbed, and then homing in on the brain like the liver fluke homes on the sheep’s liver.”
The gradual development of tension and foreboding in Christopher’s story expresses well the paranoia which would arise when no-one knows who else is human, and who isn’t. And never forget that you’re not paranoid if they really are out to get you.
The most effective such colonisation of another world would, needless to say, be where the local inhabitants don’t even know it has happened. And no-one is saying that it has to comprise the complete take-over of every member of the indigenous civilization – just enough to enable the colonists to live comfortably in their new environment, and take advantage of all it has to offer.
Which might make one look at one’s fellow men, women and children in quite a different light.
Richard Hayes, Assistant Editor (Odyssey)