Ever since 1938, when the Orson Welles’ produced radio drama of The War of the Worlds scared the bejeebus out of everyone, by far the most dominant narrative involving aliens from outer space has been one of violent invasion of Earth. There have been countless books, films and TV series based on the idea that when the aliens arrive, they are going to be violent, and overtly (or stealthily) interested in taking over our planet, and killing or enslaving humankind.
So why is this the dominant narrative? I’m in the middle of reading Nancy Kress’ Crossfire series, and I also just finished watching season one of Defiance, a surprisingly good science fiction TV series. Both complexify alien narratives quite a bit, as do many other films and books. I’ve steered completely clear of this dominant narrative in my own writing.
One simple theory is that it makes great bang-up action to keep readers and watchers interested. The aforementioned works, as well as the film District 9, which had a very different alien narrative, does pretty well with the action and interest, so I’m not sure that flies entirely, unless it’s just laziness on the part of storytellers.
The one theory that comes to mind is that we have unacknowledged/unconscious fear of being victims of crimes we have perpetreated (I mean “we” in the collective sense of those of us who are beneficiaries of the crimes of colonialization.) And that fear comes out in the kinds of stories we tell. Stories of stronger aliens coming to Earth seem to act a whole hell of a lot like the Conquistadors and the British did a few hundred years ago.
Interestingly enough, the relatively new effort, called METI (Messaging to Extra-terrestrial Intelligence, or Active SETI) has garnered some strong criticism, even among science fiction writers (David Brin, one of my favorite SF authors, wrote a long critique of METI.) He has some valid points about science and process, but the main thrust of his critique seems to be the danger to the planet if we become more noticable than we were before – we might pique the interest of dangerous ETs.
My personal bet? Any species as violent and exploitative as human beings can be will likely wipe themselves out before they make it to interstellar travel, as we seem to be in the process of doing. I’d rather appreciate an alien invasion, myself. Can’t hardly be worse than what we’re doing to ourselves.