Friday, May 15, 2009

Trope-ing the light fantastic (alien abductions)

When The X Files first aired (September 1993), I was a few months into the start-up of a major development program for NASA. (A part of the Earth Observing System, if anyone wonders. EOS was the third largest program at NASA, after the ISS and the shuttle.) The X Files, among other things, went by the wayside.

Recently, having finished my trip down Star Trek / memory lane -- Netflix being a wonderful institution -- I began watching The X Files. It can be entertaining, no doubt, but alien abduction? I just don't get it.

If aliens traveled the vast distances from ... wherever to Earth, it's conceivable they would abduct a few people to -- figuratively -- pick their brains. Having said that:

1. If ET understands humans well enough to selectively recover data from and/or edit our brains (alien abductions in fiction and tabloids tend to involve repressed memories), why can't they -- much more simply -- find out what they want to know by watching our TV, listening to our radio, and tapping our Internet? If ET abducted Nobel Prize winners and high-ranking officials, they might learn something they couldn't just pick out of the ethers. That's not who we hear is being abducted. What that's unique would ET learn kidnapping random folks on lonely country roads?

2. Suppose ET did abduct people. Why bother to suppress their memories and put them back? Not morality: ET has (in this supposition) kidnapped and altered the memories of people. That doesn't sound like ET has much respect for humans. Not to keep his presence secret: ET must by now know (in this supposition) that lots of abductees recover their memories. Whereas lots of people disappear without a trace all the time ... look at these FBI missing person statistics.

In short, I don't see the logic in ET abducting random humans. If ET did, I don't believe he'd keep putting them back where he found them despite, apparently, decades of failures in memory erasure.

So for SFnal purposes, I'll conclude alien abduction is a trope.

(As we are approaching tabloid territory, a true confession: I once tiptoed around the edges of committing the alien-abduction trope. In Moonstruck, my first-contact novel, aliens do abduct people -- but the aliens do not put anyone back. And there's a good reason why abducting regular Joe types makes sense. I won't be any more specific lest I ruin the book for anyone.)

All that said ... many people BELIEVE in alien abduction. There are plenty of books and articles that take the subject seriously -- without much in the way of evidence. Recovered memories? Not evidence, because recovery of repressed memories is a rather suspect mechanism. As the American Psychiatric Association says (here), "At this point it is impossible, without corroborative evidence, to tell a true memory from a false one."

Phew! That was a lot of words ... I think I'll go unwind in front of another episode of The X Files.


Catreona said...

Glad to see you back and in good form, Ed.

Never got into The X Files myself, despite being assured that it's a wonderful series. I donno. Telepsychic powers I can grock, and indeed use in my fiction at a rate that rather surprises myself. And aliens, well, what's an SF story without aliens? But the whole tabloid alien abtuction thing leaves me scratching my head. As you say, what's the point?

If I were ET and I abducted humans, I'd either keep them to bring home as pets or make derned sure they knew my name, rank and spaceship registration number. I mean, where's the percentage in snatching people if you're going to erase their memories of being snatched? Wouldn't it be far more effective for them to be able to give details? Espcially if they could report on the fleet amassed at L2 with all its photon cannons and MASAR assault rifles etc.

Now, there's an idea. Have ET abduct the heads of state of every country on earth. Have him show them the combined firepower of the galaxy. And, have him tell them in no uncertain terms that unless they got their act together and stopped all the genecide and environmental degradation and general bullsh!t in a reasonable time, like a decade, that the earth would go poof because the rest of the galaxy was tired of having to put up with us. It would be fun to see, even if only in fiction, how quickly they all got in line.

Edward M. Lerner said...

It must be hard to kidnap heads of state -- and surely harder to do it surreptitiously.

If I figured out how credibly to pull off that *that* caper, I'd have a bang-up story even without aliens.

AReichl said...

In the story "Protector" by Larry Niven a human "Alien" (a human Belter transformed into a Protector) kidnapped other humans to have some company. Later he returned them without memory of what happened.

Edward M. Lerner said...

IIRC, the protector kidnapped humans to gauge civilization's progress. The abductions drove the plot by leading one abductee to search for his abductor. Published in 1973, well before the emergence of the Internet, the protector's reason for abductions was more credible than it is today.

But speaking of the book Protector ... Larry's and my next collaboration, scheduled for November release, is (in part) a sequel to Protector. The new book is called Destroyer of Worlds.

AReichl said...

have preordered it already - was looking for it on amazon every day.