When Aliens Attack

As I have admitted previously, I have a fondness for tv shows about UFO’s, the loonier the better. So, when I learned that there was a show called When Aliens Attack airing last night on the National Geographic channel, I was all over that. I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint– it brought the crazy, in exactly the manner I was hoping for.

The premise of the show is a look at what would happen if aliens turned up on Earth, and turned out to be hostile. It claims to be a look at military contingency plans for dealing with an alien invasion, though the “plans” in question seem to be entirely the work of one guy, Travis Taylor, who also gets most of the talking-head time. Other experts involved include actual alien hunter Seth Shostak, whose clips give the strong impression of having been judiciously selected from a lengthy interview spent patiently refuting nonsense; a guy who’s also a fixture of the “Ancient Aliens” series who used to work for the UK Defense Ministry; a biologist who studies ants; and OH JOHN RINGO NO.

The real highlight, though, is the footage “enacting” the invasion, which is cobbled together from news clips about other things (Obama talking about Iraq and Afghanistan, etc.), footage of actors who are probably related to the producers, and really cheap CGI. It’s about the level of a SyFy original movie, but possibly slightly sillier.

The whole invasion scenario follows a plot that is basically what you would expect from a Baen novel: an alien ship turns up in orbit, smaller ships take up position over major cities, all attempts at communication are ignored, and then the aliens start blowing stuff up real good. Conventional military responses are ineffective, but a plucky group of survivalist whack jobs rugged individualists survive in the wilderness, and carry on a guerilla campaign that eventually drives the aliens off.

This is loaded with all sorts of wacky goodness, like wild inconsistencies in the abilities of the aliens: at one point, they reasonably note that travel at relativistic speeds would require sufficient shielding against micrometeorites and whatnot that the alien ships would likely be impervious to nukes; an hour later, the same giant ships are brought down by small bands of commandoes with small blocks of C4 scavenged from God knows where. they also offer hilariously bizarre hypothetical motivations for the invasion: while they correctly note that aliens wouldn’t need to invade Earth to get water, which is one of the most common substances in the universe, they posit instead that they would come for “chlorophyll and protein.” Yes, that’s right, the aliens came here to eat us, with a nice salad on the side.

(Of course, later on, they note that the aliens might, in fact, be machines only, not biological organisms. The harvesting of trees and livestock is then explained as raw materials for “long-lasting biofuels,” which is right up there with the “Humans are a power source” nonsense in The Matrix.)

And the final assault on the ships, by small teams borne aloft by helium balloons, is an incredibly inspired bit of lunacy.

There are also some queasy-making segments touting the virtues of survivalist whack jobs rugged individualists touting their manly-man superiority over effete city dwellers, plus a bit about how we would need to breed large numbers of human soldiers to defeat the aliens, and thus all the women among the survivors would need to be pregnant all the time, about which I can only say OH JOHN RINGO NO! (The creepiness of this is muted to the point of becoming amusing by the fact that, from the occasional timeline cards they showed, the whole scenario appears to play out in about a year, considerably less time than it takes to raise a single generation of new warriors.)

So, really, other than the bits with Seth Shostak, who must be an incredibly good sport, and the ant biologist, it’s frothy nonsense from start to finish. It’s great fun, if you’re into this sort of thing.

In reality, of course, most of the premises are just this side of total gibberish. Any civilization that can project an invasion force across interstellar space at slower-than-light speeds isn’t going to need to harvest food from the Earth– if they’ve got the ability to maintain a secure environment and feed themselves for the decades of travel involved, they don’t particularly need anything we have to offer. And “biofuel” is even more ludicrous– if they really need to burn hydrocarbons, there’s an effectively infinite amount of methane at Jupiter, with nobody to defend it.

I suppose it’s slightly more conceivable that some faster-than-light travel technology would allow aliens to send an invasion force without needing generations to get here. But if you’re going to assume the level of woo-woo magic technology needed for FTL travel, all bets are off in terms of other resources, too– they ought to be able to use the nearly infinite energy resources needed to power that sort of thing to produce food from thin air. The idea of a biodiesel-powered FTL drive is just too silly for words.

It is, of course, impossible to speculate about the real motives of alien species, blah, blah, blah. I feel relatively confident, though, asserting that whatever aliens may be after, it won’t map this neatly onto the deranged fantasies of right-wing military-sf authors.

Anyway, as I said, if you enjoy UFO mythology shows that bring the crazy, you’ll probably like this, too. It’s not quite as demented as “Ancient Aliens” at its best, but it’s good, goofy fun all the same.

But it’s not remotely good science.

Comments

  1. #1 dean
    May 23, 2011

    (Of course, later on, they note that the aliens might, in fact, be machines only, not biological organisms.

    Berserkers? (the Saberhagen type, not the Norse type).

  2. #2 blf
    May 23, 2011

    Daleks.

  3. #3 Eric Lund
    May 23, 2011

    As Heinlein pointed out in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, any extraterrestrial civilization capable of mounting a military campaign would likely find the easiest way to wreak havoc is by throwing rocks at Earth. Unless for some obscure reason they actually want to capture the planet with its infrastructure largely intact, there is no other reason for them to adopt any other strategy (well, they could nuke us from orbit if they’re in a hurry), and they can do this from the safety of, say, the Moon, which is a completely undefended pile of rock, and where there is no chance for us to retaliate (if they see that we are trying to build a spaceport from which to launch an attack, they just throw some rocks at the spaceport before it’s completed).

  4. #4 Eric
    May 23, 2011

    Other experts involved include actual alien hunter Seth Shostak, whose clips give the strong impression of having been judiciously selected from a lengthy interview spent patiently refuting nonsense; a guy who’s also a fixture of the “Ancient Aliens” series who used to work for the UK Defense Ministry; a biologist who studies ants; and OH JOHN RINGO NO.

    When I read this, I thought you meant that they had actually interviewed John Ringo, for some unfathomable reason. That made me more excited than it probably ought to have.

  5. #5 Orac
    May 23, 2011

    if they really need to burn hydrocarbons, there’s an effectively infinite amount of methane at Jupiter, with nobody to defend it.

    Do we really know that there’s no one there to defend it? :-)

  6. #6 JohnV
    May 23, 2011

    Orac is clearly a shill for Big Monolith.

  7. #7 Chad Orzel
    May 23, 2011

    When I read this, I thought you meant that they had actually interviewed John Ringo, for some unfathomable reason. That made me more excited than it probably ought to have.

    They did, in fact, include Ringo among their on-camera experts. I think he was part of the barefoot and pregnant bit, as well as asserting at one point that life after the fall of civilization would be “literally incomprehnsible” due to the difficulty of finding food and clean water and so on. Because, of course, nobody on Earth has trouble with those things now…

  8. #8 JB
    May 23, 2011

    Biodiesel FTL? They could just give us a few trinkets and take on coal and water and steam off into space…

  9. #9 Karl
    May 23, 2011

    @3

    I suspect that a space-faring species, with the
    the biota of a few worlds to choose from…. or even a few decades head start on us in biotech…would just seed our atmosphere with the right “bugs” and sit back.
    A week or two and we are all gone…cities intact.
    And a nice chlorine atmosphere ready for them.
    Pleasant dreams.

    KL

  10. #10 Clay B
    May 23, 2011

    If you want an alien story that’s farfetched but kinda sorta plausible try this:

    http://www.boingboing.net/2011/05/18/an-explanation-for-r.html

  11. #11 JB
    May 23, 2011

    Biodiesel FTL? They could just give us a few trinkets and take on coal and water and steam off into space…

  12. #12 rob
    May 23, 2011

    those aliens can have jupiter when they pry it from my cold dead hands!

  13. #13 Omega Centauri
    May 23, 2011

    As one of who watched it, I kept wondering who the joke was on. After all it was largely written by a guy whose name can be shortened to “Travis-T”. But at least it was an amusing travesty…

  14. #14 MikeB
    May 23, 2011

    Perhaps they could just follow the line of that old Twilight ZOne episode ‘Aliens are Due on Maple Street’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Monsters_Are_Due_on_Maple_Street and let us wipe out ourselves. And make a profit on the per per view rights…

  15. #15 Johan Larson
    May 23, 2011

    This is where the old sci-fi flick “Predator” actually does rather well. Presumably aliens who can travel across interstellar distances have little need of anything we can provide. But it does make a certain sense that they might like hunting us for sport, under carefully limited rules, rather like modern human bow-hunters. By the standards of the universe, we really are a species that is both aggressive and very geographically limited species, after all.

  16. #16 Neil B
    May 23, 2011

    Well, it’s subject to various interpretations but readers should at least look at the actual FBI documents Guy Hottel FBI report discussing reports of a crashed disk with three short crew members recovered.

  17. #17 Neil
    May 23, 2011

    Sorry, the URL:
    http://vault.fbi.gov/hottel_guy/Guy%20Hottel%20Part%201%20of%201/viewttp://vault.fbi.gov/hottel_guy/Guy%20Hottel%20Part%201%20of%201/view

  18. #19 scidog
    May 24, 2011

    of course it would all be over in a matter of minutes when the aliens in an attempt to land their army have their ships ripped to bits by the cloud of space junk in orbit around the Earth…looking thru the view port the last thing the alien leader sees is a old Nikon F coming at him.

  19. #20 Rick Pikul
    May 24, 2011

    Well, there is one realistic thing in the description of the show given here:

    One of the most likely effective ways to defeat an interstellar invasion by a technologically superior force would be a guerrilla campaign. One of the problems with interstellar war is that you are working at the end of a _very_ long supply line, if you think it was hard for the British to maintain a force in Afghanistan….

    I’ve seen three general scenarios where interstellar war works:

    1) The invasion of planets is done under some set of rules, formal or not, that keep the bulk of the population from contesting the results. That might be ‘only the regular forces fight’, ‘when the planetary leadership surrenders, that’s it’, or even ‘he who controls orbit and the spaceports rules’.

    2) The fighting is over planets with very small populations. When you can kill 90% of the population with two tacnukes, it’s actually possible to invade and pacify with an interstellar force.

    3) No one actually attacks planets. Fighting is purely space based and the closest thing to a planetary invasion is a blockade. (This doesn’t meant that planets never change hands, just that it happens at the peace talks rather than on the battlefield).

  20. #21 neil b
    May 24, 2011

    Well first, sorry about all those revisions – it’s good to have that blogger option of deleting one’s own comments, I wonder why scienceblogs did not. In any case, here’s my flippant observation about why aliens reportedly (literally, from reports!) act so weird and don’t just “land on the White House lawn”: they are brain damaged from years of cosmic rays getting through the shielding of their starships. Well, if they don’t have warp drive etc. then they slog along with some nuclear drive etc. around 0.1c maybe at best, and it takes a long time to get around.

    Whatever. If you want to see a brain-damaged alien – that sings – see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsPwtJCuC-U.

  21. #22 Jesse
    May 24, 2011

    Well, one could always think of Stephen Baxter. He had some really interesting reasons aliens might invade in Space and proposes a kind-of-possible Alcubierre drive in Ark. But the upshot is that aliens who came to get resources would either ignore Earth entirely (asteroids are easier) or not even notice us when they turned it into a wasteland.

  22. #23 Eric Lund
    May 25, 2011

    One of the most likely effective ways to defeat an interstellar invasion by a technologically superior force would be a guerrilla campaign. One of the problems with interstellar war is that you are working at the end of a _very_ long supply line, if you think it was hard for the British to maintain a force in Afghanistan….

    And how, exactly, do you block this supply line in a three-dimensional space? The title character of Ender’s Game considered this problem and concluded, correctly, that it can’t be done. The reason it works on a 2-D map is that there are obstacles that the invading force must go through rather than around, and therefore there are choke points that a guerilla force (or regular defense force) can attack. On a 3-D map the invaders can always go around any obstacle, so there are no choke points.

    The other difference is that in earthbound combat, the guerillas are working on their home turf to disrupt the invaders’ supply lines. In the alien invasion scenario, the guerillas are stuck on the ground (see my earlier remark about throwing rocks at any spaceport the defenders build or capture), while the invaders are effectively on their home turf as long as they remain some not-very-large distance above the surface.

  23. #24 Kaleberg
    May 25, 2011

    Of course, the aliens could just be stopping for a roadside picnic as in the book by that name. This doesn’t mean it would be fun for us, but they might just want a place to unwind and stretch their legs for a bit.

  24. #25 partsproduction
    October 6, 2011

    In the show there was a message from the president of the united states, sounded like obama, but I’m absolutely sure he would be on the side of the aliens, as it appears sure that he hates civilization, he certainly hates the USA.

  25. #26 kevin
    November 14, 2011

    I’m sorry but im pretty sure if we tossed every disease plague and virus we have stored in the few facilities around the world any biological entity would b toasted. As they said on the show the spanish almost wiped out the natives in south america, if they have no imunity to these even the common cold could kill them off so something as deadly as one of the plagues alone could wipe them out. If they are non biological if u set off huge EMP’s it would fry everything electical within a certain distance depending on the size of the pulse. Truthfully the chance of an alien comming here for resources is slim to none, if they made it this far they are self sustained for food and such, as for other resources such as water and minerals there are other planets and moons in our solar system with dramatically more. Chances are if aliens ever came here it would not be to fight with us.