But I ask you, what is more likely, visitors from light years away, or experimental and unfamiliar man made objects from here on Earth? The answer is pretty obvious, especially when you consider that the increased use of weather balloons and jet aircraft just so happened to coincide with the first spate of UFO sightings in the 50s, and the second round in the 90s was all about strange looking black triangles that just so happened to be a match for the F-117 and B-2 bomber. We currently live in a time of rapidly expanding drone capabilities. Just a year ago, Turkish drones supplied to the Azerbaijani army played a crucial role in Karabakh War 2.0, most likely setting off a top secret expansion of the drone arms race between all countries capable of fielding advanced flying death robots.
This is to say nothing of the fact that we have yet to prove it is even theoretically possible to move anything above the quantum level in size faster than light. The most promising path towards doing this, at least in terms of not breaking the laws of physics, is warp drive (by moving space itself rather than the ship), something so energy intensive we do not yet know its actual feasibility. For all we know whether the Milky Way is teeming with sentience or not, everyone might be confined to a fairly narrow range of expansion due to the simple speed limit of physics itself.
So once again, drones. Human piloted drones. Different powers experimenting and maybe even different branches of the same governments experimenting without each other’s knowledge. Either way, expect it to be referenced as a reason to increase the Pentagon’s budget again next fiscal year. Gee, how convenient.
But this brings me to a further criticism that goes a bit further. We often see people, even imaginative and critical thinking people, who seem to be operating under a Star Trek like delusion that its not just space that can be overcome into a waiting world of space-faring species…but time.
You see, too many people expecting to just be bombarded with alien life once we get that Cochrane Warp Drive online are ignoring the fact that the universe is already at least 13 billion years old. Heavy elements formed in the hearts of supergiant stars had already seeded space a long time ago. In the immenseness of the cosmos, almost certainly some worlds have proven amenable to the evolution of sentient intelligence. And some, maybe most of those, are already extinct or have yet to become space fairing.
The specific epoch which we find ourselves is on Earth-time. And even Earth time is already so ancient some can legitimately ask, what if we weren’t the first ones here? What if the first signs of alien life we find off of Earth is itself from Earth originally? And whether its origin be Earth or Tau Ceti, what if we need an archeologist before we need a diplomat? Or, conversely, any future sentient life bearing world we find just isn’t developed or even industrial yet? Since we have no idea how life evolves outside of Earth its quite possible we couldn’t recognize any of these categories even if they exist.
Just going into space isn’t going to be a shield from extinction. A species is still first and foremost primed to survive on the homeworld for gravity, pressure, atmospheric composition, etc. This is not the same as Polynesian emigration through the Pacific. And if something happens to the homeworld the colonies might die. Or if something happens to the sector like a nearby supernova, whole solar systems’ livability might degrade. So too might nanotechnology or some other artificial force go out of control. In older galaxies like ours, there just is no common time scale between systems.
The assumption that this is not a major factor in decreasing the likelihood of any contact is something I want to call ‘The Master of Orion factor’. In space-set 4X games (usually turn based computer games based around eXpansion, eXtermination, eXploration, and eXploitation) all of the space fairing nations start out at the same time and with roughly comparable technology. This is done for obvious game balance reasons, of course. But I can’t help but think this mode of fictional thinking has infiltrated popular consciousness along with the idea that we can take it for granted that greater technology will make breaking the light barrier inevitable.
Master of Orion II, as the best of the series (and the series in turn the best of the space based 4X-though not the best overall 4X, more on what game I think that is in a later post all to itself) has these conceits of course. Yet it still managed to work in an utterly alien non-player race everyone fights with *and* a playable silicate-mineral race whose playstyle is totally different from the rest and cannot engage in meaningful diplomacy. For 1996, this is pretty good. But we need to realize that in the real world, even if we do meet another species before we ourselves leave only ruins to be inherited by the sentient dolphins who came to replace us, probably will not be conducting too much discourse with equals but rather unequals in either direction.
Of course, there was another game that came out in 1996 that I happen to be replaying this month for the first time in decades that shows us who we can call if we do meet aliens and we don’t like them:
And that concludes what has to be the most 90s post I have ever made. That part was unintentional, but it kind of works as that was the last time people were really into aliens and UFOs. And I still regard The X Files as one of the greatest TV shows of all time (though it is telling that the more earthy monster episodes tend to be better than the alien ones).