Insidious Colonisation

BIS Odyssey

A particularly intrusive method of colonization. This edition published by Penguin Books 1967. Cover illustration by Paul Hogarth.

Adapting life-forms that have already evolved on other planets to act as hosts for a colonizing species seems an efficient way of establishing colonies on such worlds. Potential hosts are present already, and well-suited to their environment. And, with careful engineering, might have a physiology that doesn’t cause too much distress to whoever is doing the colonizing. In the right circumstances, it may even be possible to place the colonizer within a life-form that is innocently wandering around its homeworld – perhaps even to the mutual benefit of both, though sadly not necessarily so.

In a previous Odyssey post – Trust No-one?  – I talked about the rather grim possibilities if such an event had already happened here on Earth, and humans have been experiencing the consequences of such colonization by alien forces, though maybe without knowing that it’s happening.  We have plenty of examples of this in science fiction.  But the sensible approach for any colonizer would be to utilize the entire life cycle of a life-form on the target planet to propagate colonists – after all, the cycle will have been proven to work satisfactorily for generations, so it’s just using what’s available.

It’s the approach adopted by what appear to be alien invaders in one of the classic works in the field – John Wyndham’s 1957 novel The Midwich Cuckoos, memorably filmed as Village of the Damned in 1960.  A peaceful English village is put to sleep for over a day – subsequently referred to by the villagers as the “Dayout” – by an unknown force, and it transpires that every woman of child-bearing age has become pregnant during that time.  The children who result from this process seem normal enough to start with but, after a while, it definitely becomes clear that they are not entirely human.

But the Dayout itself was something of a giveaway that all was not typical.  As an army officer observes immediately after the event, “Do you really think one is justified in airily assuming that such a peculiar incident can just happen and then cease to happen, and have no effect?”  Or in the words of the vicar’s wife, “a thing like this wouldn’t happen to us for no reason, would it?”  A little more subterfuge might be more appropriate to get the job done without the hosts being aware.

How exactly the pregnancies were brought into effect during the Dayout was a mystery. Artificial insemination or parthenogenesis – development of a new individual from an unfertilized gamete (such as an egg) – were ruled out.  Somehow fertilized ova were implanted without any trace of the action having been taken.  But then, a sufficiently advanced colonizer would probably be able to achieve the desired result without all the messy business that humans usually have to go through. 

Possibly a version of the teleportation procedure so favoured in Star Trek could be available.  In Visionary, a 1995 episode of Deep Space Nine, a small device is planted into a bulkhead on the station from a remote location by means of the delicate use of a low energy transporter, thereby avoiding detection by all of Constable Odo’s sophisticated surveillance mechanisms.  To colonize a new planet by teleporting the necessary material into an unguarded womb should be easy enough.

A simpler approach overall might have been to abduct a few specimens from the chosen planet and imbue them with the mental characteristics of the colonizing race – a sort of download of the psyche – and allow them to get on with propagating the species in their own way, avoiding suspicion, on the part of its inhabitants, that a planet is being colonized in the first place.  It was largely the approach adopted by the dying Martian race in the 1958 television serial Quatermass and the Pit, and the later 1967 film, which proved to be a highly effective means of colonizing the Earth by a form of proxy.

It all depends on just how ruthless any race would be in its determination to conquer the universe.


Richard Hayes, Assistant Editor (Odyssey)

With a lifetime’s interest in science, history and human behaviour, Richard Hayes focuses his writing on how the imagination has created the world in which we live, and where it may lead us in the future.  Odyssey, the e-magazine of the British Interplanetary Society, draws on the rich treasury of science fiction to explore many fields of speculation, enabling us to glimpse what might yet be, both here on Earth and out amongst the stars.

For related Odyssey posts, please click here: Our Martian Ancestry | Life in the Shadows

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