Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
Alien invasion, Chtorr style
Pro-science and anti-religion blogging machine PZ Myers rounds up some scientist opinions on the possible dangers to us from hypothetical human/alien first contact. As the biologist of the bunch, he himself steps beyond the Mars Attacks!-style clashes that some envision, to offer up a whole other worry: the Blorrxaforming of Earth.
Yes, that's the conversion of our backyard into something else's idea of a better home and garden. The way for a race (including humanity) to spread throughout the galaxy, he argues, is to send "home" ahead of the travelers: launch probes loaded with bacteria and more complex organisms, to take root on alien worlds and get them ready for the later visitors. That sets up the concern:
Don't expect alien tripods with lasers, watch out for alien viruses and bacteria turning the soil and atmosphere poisonous or unsupportive.
That is, indeed, possibly the most fascinating (and terrifying?) form of alien invasion we might imagine. In fact, if you want to see the scenario play out in all its gory, apocalyptic horror, I've got one word for you:
That's the battle cry of the man-eating (and everything-eating) red worms that headline The War Against the Chtorr. It's one of my favorite sci-fi reads ever. Author David Gerrold has a clear fascination with alien forms – he's the screenplay writer of the famous Star Trek Tribbles episode – and so unleashed a whole ecology upon a stunned Earth. First come viruses that wipe out most everything and everyone, then omnivoracious worms, unstoppable kudzu-like plants, sea creatures the size of aircraft carriers, and countless other creatures with bizarre reproductive or eating habits. (There are also Tribbles with the serial numbers filed off.)
These lifeforms support each other in a complex ecological web which, as reckoned by what passes for scientists among surviving humanity, has the distinct advantage of an extra half billion years or so of evolution compared to Earth life. The Chtorrans are meaner, tougher, hungrier, and faster-breeding, and they're very quickly winning. (If you like, you can read into it an allegory for European explorers and colonies traveling around the globe and often wiping out local populations of people, other animals, and plants with their accompanying pigs, rats, goats, and germs.)
The four books published so far (from 1983 to 1993) can make for grim reading, but the imagined biology and ecology are intricately detailed and fascinating. I highly recommend the series – if you can find it. The books have traditionally been hard to dig up (I ended up nabbing a couple, autographed, from the author himself - how cool is that?). Fortunately, Amazon.com appears stocked with them at present (see link below).
Get caught up; the remaining three books will supposedly start shipping in fall 2011. Maybe then we'll finally learn who, if anyone, seeded the Earth with red-furred worms that see you as lunch.
So. Any other Chtorr fans out there? What's your favorite Chtorran critter?