Technological Gap: Alien Invasion

Sci-Fi Friday: Speculative SF musings…

This subject dovetails off from last week’s flash fiction post (if you haven’t seen, there’s new art added by Benjamin Specklin). The mysterious antagonists I had in mind for this story were aliens who decided they wanted our planet but without waiting a few millennia for the dust to settle from an asteroid impact.

The effectiveness of this plan in my story is pure overly exaggerated hyperbole, but it doesn’t stray from my belief that if a splinter group of interstellar-capable beings—not even a civilization—wanted to eradicate humanity, we’d be done for.

First, I think wrapping one’s head around the enormity of the technological achievements necessary for beings to create interstellar vessels and survive is not an easy task. In fact, these bits are often glossed over.

Today’s astronauts already contend with an excruciating array of dangers in our primitive-by-contrast space travels. And these dangers that exist within the heliosphere—a bubble of solar wind that protects our solar system from the worst of cosmic radiation—cosmic radiation in the interstellar medium is much worse. While experimental materials have been proposed, even this step is likely a century from applicable possibility.

Set aside the dangers of interstellar travel, and you have the vessel itself. To build one, you’d to build an engine. To accelerate a mere 1,000 kg to 1/10th of c, this single vessel’s engine would have to produce—with flawless efficiency—125 terawatt hours. The total global energy supply in 2018 was 166 TWh.

So, imagine a civilization with the ability create such a single engine. I don’t think their first instinct would be to slap this on a pressurized can of animals and their life support (and the engine itself and fuel and shielding and loads of other equipment) to propel to another star. They would use it at home first. Speculating on the potential of a power generator like this could be its own post, but the paradigm shift and its consequential technological advancements should not be understated.

I’m asking the impossible (as reading Tom Moylan taught me). I’m asking your to consider the accumulation of scientific and technical knowledge between now, through our solar system expansion, to the moment before we push to the stars. I’m asking you, how could Alexander the Great, with all his military foresight, compel his forces to defeat any country’s contemporary military who has the advantage of surprise and intel?

Now, that doesn’t mean I think all alien invasion stories where humans have a chance to survive are “wrong” or any such nonsense. I love alien SF, and letting my own speculative musings stop me from reading good SF would be idiotic. In fact, I love being proven wrong. Being shown the error of your ways gives you a great chance to grow as a writer (and a person, really).

Tade Thompson’s Wormwood trilogy, starting with Rosewater, is a fantastic example of how my assertion could be wrong. Thompson weaves a complex intersection of humanity and alienness that leaps beyond dull “Us vs. Them” alien invasion narratives. These books are so weird and human. If you love alien SF, they’re must-reads.


In any case, I don’t think an alien invasion is a likely scenario, but it sure is fun to think about. If you want to bring up something I’ve overlooked (and believe me, I know there’s plently of holes in this post), leave a comment!

-Chris Airiau

Published by ChrisAiriau

I'm a science and SF content creator, specializing in writing technical scientific concepts in clear and engaging language. Alongside many writing and editing side-projects, I taught English in French universities for eight years. At university, I worked mainly for engineering Master’s programs and science undergraduates – from economics to physics, biology to psychology. My goal is to tailor SF and science content to a diverse range of audiences, and my background provides all the necessary tools to succeed.

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