Bring me my interositer, pathetic Earthlings!

Anybody remember those cheesy alien movies from the fifties? Aliens with googly eyes and big heads arrive to steal women, steal Earth’s water, or both.

Needless to say, movies such as This Island Earth, I Married a Monster from Outer SpaceIt Came From Outer Space and Brain from Planet Aurus (which was about a brain from planet Aurus) had a good deal of fiction about them. Science? Uh…no…

Yes, I know science isn’t what they were about –  they played on our social fears as a device for lifting money at the box office, and as such were bedded in the human psycho-social framework

I thought I might be fun to run through the science in them anyway. Just for fun.

Anybody see a monolith go by? A picture I made with my trusty Celestia installation - cool, free science software.
Anybody see a monolith go by? A picture I made with my trusty Celestia installation – cool, free science software.

1. Aliens that look like humans
The thing about aliens is they’re alien. All Earth animals are built around the same basic plan, the tetrapod that flourished in the Devonian period – head, body, four limbs and (usually) a tail. But go back to the pre-Cambrian era and you find total weirdos, such as Edicarians. Some were so odd that paleontologists couldn’t even work out which way up they were meant to walk. And that’s just life on this planet. Now imagine life on another. I bet it won’t look like a human with a crustacean glued to its forehead (“yIqIm dude QIp tlhIngan. DaSovrup QuchDu’ lobster?”)

2. Aliens want human women
This trope was mostly about 1950s social fears. But as for the science of it – well, see (1). The chance of an alien being attracted to a human woman is about the same as an alien being attracted to oxalis. Or anything else from Earth. They’re alien. Harry Harrison riffed on it in one of his Stainless Steel Rat novels when his hero dressed up in a suit designed to look like one of the repellently squishy invaders – discovering, the hard way, that this was the height of alien pulchritude.

3. Aliens want Earth’s water
Why? We’re at the bottom of a gravity well. Also, we bite. There’s plenty of water for the taking in the Oort cloud, Kuiper belt and elsewhere. Hey – aliens might have been siphoning it for millions of years. We wouldn’t know. Or care.

4. Aliens are here to show us a better moral path
Laudable but silly. Even animals on Earth have a different moral path than humans – few, for instance, are motivated by conscious malice the way some humans are. Extrapolate that to aliens. The chance of them having world views that correct particular human failings, especially failings culture-specific to the West, is about the same as them wanting Earth’s women. See (2).

Ultimately the key word is alien. Would life on an alien world share our animal-plant split? Would alien evolution lead to a single species becoming intelligent? Would aliens become intelligent at all? Maybe they have many intelligent species. Would we even recognise their intelligence? The answer is ‘we don’t know’. Yet.

Of course that doesn’t stop us enjoying old movies. Or wondering about answers to these questions – which I hope you will. Thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: Measuring lightspeed with custard, as soon as I get some photos. More writing tips. Watch this space. 


13 thoughts on “Bring me my interositer, pathetic Earthlings!

  1. Oh, sure, take all the fun out of those 1950s schlock masterpieces! Every point you raise has merit, but still, that’s the joy of bad science and misogynistic mid-century attitudes. The fact that we’re still being offered similar tripe – although the budgets are larger – I find somewhat alarming…nevertheless I still watch. I confess that my most recent viewings of many post-war era films was courtesy of MST3K, so I got to enjoy them a second time round via a new lens.

    The elusive interositer… everyone needs one. 😉

    1. They were incredibly mysoginistic except perhaps ‘Forbidden Planet’, which was smart on so many levels (and starred Leslie Nielsen, being serious for once).

      I’ve always wanted an interositer. If only I knew what it did I’d be in…

  2. I was going to make a serious comment about alien life and how it didn’t get much more alien than the pre-Cambrian era, at least based on the fossil record. On the other hand when I was a kid I thoroughly enjoyed all those B/Z grade SF movies. Reminds me of a reissue of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s “Lensman” series back in the ’70s, with wonderful subtitles like “Spaceships and Space Pirates!!” I like good serious SF like David Brin and Robert A. Heinlein, but sometimes there’s nothing like a rousing space opera.

    Speaking of strange aliens — Smith was fond of ’em. What about Tregonsee of Rigel and Nadreck of Palain? Or the Zabriskan fontema? 😉

    1. Smith was brilliant. He knew he was OTT and played up to it, wonderfully. Those Lensman stories defined B-grade. Somewhere or other I’ve got the ’70’s Panther reissue of ‘Spacehounds of IPC’ which was quintessential Smith, quintessential B-grade, and filled with more squelchy aliens than you can shake a stick at.

  3. Curiously, the “they’re taking our water” trope surfaces, albeit only by deduction, in the Half Life 2 game. It’s never explicitly stated, but the player will notice as they proceed through the game that the shoreline is further out than it should be, with rusted hulks of ships high and dry and other cues that the oceans have dropped by a few metres. How and why are not even hinted at; we will have to wait for HL3 – if that ever sees the light of day.

      1. Game writer Marc Laidlaw is a successful published SF author, and his handiwork shows in the Half Life aliens: the more or less vestigial third arm across a number of the species and their consistent skeletal articulation, for example. Alien, but not too alien.
        The games also did their best to show, not tell.

        1. Not so alien they couldn’t be stopped with a common or garden .44 Magnum for instance. ‘Hey Bubba. That al-yin shore is UGLY.’ ‘Hey Lennid. That al-ee-yin shore gwine tuh DIE.’ But I might be mixing my games up.

  4. What fun this post is, Matthew! I, too, want an interositer and have since the first time I saw the movie. Alas, it remains an alien object…. I loved those movies and still do. There was a time when the Turner Classic Movies channel did a bit of marathon of most of these but not sure if they do anymore as I no longer subscribe to any television. I do know that Netflix has some interesting B-grade offerings. Loved this post!

    1. Thanks. This Island Earth was definitely one of the better of the genre. We used to get them here on NZ TV. I think Mystery Science Theatre dealt to a few of them. All good stuff.

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