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Entry updated 10 November 2023. Tagged: Theme.


Futuristic fiction in the UK was given a tremendous boost by the success of George T Chesney's clever piece of propaganda, The Battle of Dorking (May 1871 Blackwood's Magazine; 1871 chap), which put the case for army reform and rearmament by offering a dramatic illustration of the ease with which the UK might fall to an invading German army (see Battle of Dorking). This became the foundation-stone of a subgenre of Future-War stories whose history is described in I F Clarke's excellent Voices Prophesying War 1763-1984 (1966; rev 1992). Significant exercises in similar alarmism published in the run-up to World War One included The Great War in England in 1897 (1894) by William Le Queux, The Riddle of the Sands (1903) by Erskine Childers, The Invasion of 1910 (1906) by Le Queux and When William Came (1913) by Saki. P G Wodehouse's early novel, The Swoop! (1909), was a Parody of the subgenre. The invaders were usually German, but stories of French invasion were frequently used as cautionary tales against the folly of building a Channel Tunnel, such as Max Pemberton's Pro Patria (1901). UK Scientific Romance was to a large extent an outgrowth and elaboration of this kind of fiction; and a crucial Conceptual Breakthrough was made by H G Wells in The War of the Worlds (April-December 1897 Pearson's; 1898), which imagined that an invasion of the Earth by technologically superior Aliens might appear to Britons in much the same light as the eventually genocidal invasion of Tasmania by Europeans had appeared to the luckless Tasmanians (see also The War of the Worlds). Although it was (very narrowly) anticipated in some respects by Kurd Laßwitz's Auf zwei Planeten (1897; cut trans as Two Planets 1971), Wells's novel was far more influential in making the role of invader central to the fictional image of the alien for the next half-century.

Mundane invasions remained fairly commonplace in UK fiction between the wars, although the fear of occupation per se was outweighed and largely superseded by the fear of the aerial bombardment which might be its prelude; in the UK such stories far outnumbered stories of alien invasion, although there were some notable examples of the latter: G McLeod Winsor's Station X (1919) and Bohun Lynch's Menace from the Moon (1925), as well as the Martian invasion included in Olaf Stapledon's future history Last and First Men (1930). This general dearth of alien-invasion stories is understandable. Separated from continental Europe by a mere 22 miles, the UK was especially vulnerable to the threat of invasion – and Britons understood how narrowly such a fate had been averted in 1588 and again in Napoleonic times.

The USA was far less vulnerable to such anxieties – although they found expression in such novels as Thomas Dixon's The Fall of a Nation (1916) and Floyd Gibbons's The Red Napoleon (1929), as well as in various lurid accounts of the Yellow Peril, including Parabellum's (Ferdinand Grautoff's) Bansai! (1909), Philip Francis Nowlan's Buck Rogers stories (1928-1929) and the series begun by Arthur Leo Zagat with "Tomorrow" (27 May 1939 Argosy Weekly) – but in general the possibility of alien invasion probably seemed to US citizens not too much more remote than the probability of invasion by another nation.

Early pulp melodramas of alien invasion include J Schlossel's "Invaders from Outside" (January 1925 Weird Tales), Nictzin Dyalhis's "When the Green Star Waned" (April 1925 Weird Tales), Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Moon Maid (stories May 1923-September 1925 Argosy All-Story Weekly; cut fixup 1926), Edmond Hamilton's "The Other Side of the Moon" (Fall 1929 Amazing Stories Quarterly) and John W Campbell Jr's Invaders from the Infinite (Spring 1932 Amazing Stories Quarterly; 1961). An interesting story by P Schuyler Miller in which the "invasion" is by spores (see Panspermia) rather than sentient beings is "The Arrhenius Horror" (September 1931 Amazing), a theme which he recapitulated in "Spawn" (August 1939 Weird Tales); a later development of it was Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers (10-24 December 1954 Collier's Weekly; 1955; vt Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1973; rev 1978), filmed twice as Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Alien-invasion stories quickly became a staple of the specialist sf pulps, and Campbell went on to conduct a sober and rather peculiar analysis of the idea of alien conquest and the subjugation of humankind in four of his "Don A Stuart" stories: "The Invaders" (June 1935 Astounding), "Rebellion" (August 1935 Astounding), "Out of Night" (October 1937 Astounding) and "Cloak of Aesir" (March 1939 Astounding) – stories somewhat at odds with his later conviction that humanity was destined to get the better of any and all alien species. One of the side-effects of this later human chauvinism was Campbell's de-emphasizing of alien-invasion stories in Astounding Science-Fiction – it is surprising how few such stories appeared in Astounding in the decade separating The Dark Destroyers (December 1938-January 1939 Astounding as "Nuisance Value"; 1959) by Manly Wade Wellman from "Late Night Final" (December 1948 Astounding) by Eric Frank Russell, even though such stories could certainly (as did both the examples cited) champion the human against the nonhuman. Joseph J Millard's The Gods Hate Kansas (November 1941 Startling; rev 1964) is a notable example from elsewhere.

A sparse but interesting line of stories featuring invasions launched from Under the Sea runs from Owen Oliver's antique "Out of the Deep" (July 1904 The London Magazine) and Eden Phillpotts's The Owl of Athene (1936) to John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes (1953; cut vt Out of the Deeps 1953) and Murray Leinster's Creatures of the Abyss (1961). These often bring the typical features of mundane and alien invasion stories into uneasy combination.

Hypothetical Asian invasion continued to crop up occasionally in Genre SF – as in Robert A Heinlein's Sixth Column (January-March 1941 Astounding as by Anson MacDonald; 1949 as Heinlein; vt The Day After Tomorrow 1951) and C M Kornbluth's Not This August (14 May-1 June 1955 Maclean's Magazine; 1955; vt Christmas Eve) – although they were easily outnumbered by attempted and successful conquests of a more exotic kind, even if most of these were featured in the less prestigious magazines. Invasions came not only from outer space but from other Dimensions, as in Murray Leinster's "The Incredible Invasion" (August-December 1936 Astounding; 1955 dos as The Other Side of Here), from the microcosm, as in "Invaders from the Atom" (1937 Tales of Wonder #1) by Maurice G Hugi, and eventually from the future, as in Invasion from 2500 (1964) by Norman Edwards (Terry Carr and Ted White). Among the more bizarre alien invasions is Fredric Brown's "The Waveries" (January 1945 Astounding), in which electrical energy-beings hijack our airwaves and put an end to electrical Technology. Despite the sobering conclusion of The War of the Worlds, in which lowly bacteria must compensate for human impotence, confidence in human ability to repel alien invaders sooner or later always ran high in pulp sf, one lone man occasionally being adequate to the task, as in A E van Vogt's "The Monster" (August 1948 Astounding; vt "Resurrection" in The Other Side of the Moon, anth 1949, ed August Derleth). In some stories, of course, humans are themselves the alien invaders of other worlds, and works of this kind (which rarely appeared in Astounding) were often fiercely critical of such human follies as racism and Imperialism; examples range from Edmond Hamilton's "A Conquest of Two Worlds" (February 1932 Wonder Stories) through Robert Silverberg's Invaders from Earth (1958 dos) and Downward to the Earth (1970) to Ursula K Le Guin's The Word for World Is Forest (in Again, Dangerous Visions, anth 1972, ed Harlan Ellison; 1976).

From their earliest inception, stories of invasion featured a paranoid anxiety that the invaders might already be lurking undetected in our midst. William Le Queux was an indefatigable propagator of the notion that a Fifth Column of German agents was already in the UK, preparing to play its part in open conflict, and many US Yellow-Peril novels likewise featured Fifth Columnists. This kind of Paranoia could be taken to extremes in sf, where aliens could easily be credited with the power to masquerade as humans. The notion was understandably attractive to low-budget film-makers, and it was extravagantly deployed in the magazines and in the Cinema during the McCarthy witch-hunts of the early Cold War period. The new wave of paranoid alien-invasion stories was launched by Murray Leinster's The Brain-Stealers (November 1947 Startling as "The Man in the Iron Cap"; 1954) and Ray Bradbury's "Zero Hour" (Fall 1947 Planet Stories), but it really hit its stride with Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (September-November 1951 Galaxy; 1951; text restored 1990), quickly followed by Invaders from Mars (1953), Eric Frank Russell's Three to Conquer (August-October 1955 Astounding as "Call Him Dead"; 1955), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958). By this time, however, the comic potential of alien invasion was being more widely exploited, too, in such works as Fredric Brown's Martians Go Home! (1955) and Richard Wilson's The Girls from Planet 5 (1955). The possibility of benign invasions was considered, notably by Arthur C Clarke in Childhood's End (April 1950 Famous Fantastic Mysteries as "Guardian Angel"; much exp 1953; rev 1990), by Algis Budrys in "Silent Brother" (February 1956 Astounding as by Paul Janvier) and (somewhat perversely) by Theodore Sturgeon in The Cosmic Rape (1958).

By the 1960s the alien-invasion story appeared to be old hat, fit for cynical display in such stories as Thomas M Disch's The Genocides (1965), in which humans are relegated to the status of irrelevant vermin, and his Mankind under the Leash (1966; vt The Puppies of Terra), in which they become pets; or surreal Parody, in such works as Keith Laumer's The Monitors (1966) and Philip K Dick's and Ray Nelson's The Ganymede Takeover (1967); or romantic nostalgia in such works as Robert Silverberg's Nightwings (September 1968 Galaxy; fixup 1969). Serious treatments of the theme were rare: William R Burkett's Sleeping Planet (July-September 1964 Analog; 1965) and Piers Anthony's Triple Detente (March 1968 Analog as "The Alien Rulers"; exp 1974) do not quite qualify, although Gordon R Dickson's The Alien Way (1965) and John Brunner's The Day of the Star Cities (1965; rev vt Age of Miracles 1973) might. More recent attempts to revitalize the theme have been relatively few in number; by far the most determined and most successful is Footfall (1985) by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, a conscientiously controlled melodrama. Other notable examples include Jack L Chalker's Dancers in the Afterglow (1978), where the attack is on a colony world rather than Earth; the Earth "invasion" subplot of Gregory Benford's Across the Sea of Suns (1984); and Harry Turtledove's Alternate-History Worldwar sequence opening with Worldwar: In the Balance (1994), whose aliens invade with history-changing effect during World War Two. See also Xenoforming for further examples of Earth's invasion by entire alien Ecologies which displace or attempt to displace our own.

In the tradition of The War of the Worlds, further Cinema depictions of alien invasion of our planet are numerous. Some examples with entries in this encyclopedia are The Purple Monster Strikes (1945; cut vt D-Day on Mars 1966), Radar Men from the Moon (1951), Target Earth! (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Quatermass II (1957; vt Enemy from Space US), The Brain Eaters (1958), Uchū Daisensō (1959; vt Battle in Outer Space; vt The World of Space), The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1962), Invasion of the Star Creatures (1962), Unearthly Stranger (1963), They Came from Beyond Space (1967), Strange Invaders (1983), The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension (1984), Bad Taste (1987), Predator (1987), Body Snatchers (1993), Independence Day (1996), Mars Attacks! (1996), Signs (2002), The Invasion (2007), Attack the Block (2011), Battle: Los Angeles (2011), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) and Oblivion (2013).

In Television the alien-invasion-of-Earth theme regularly recurs in multi-storyline series to which it is not central, notably Doctor Who (1963-current) – with many repeat offenders, of whom the most notorious and persistent are the Daleks – and Torchwood (2006-2011). It is the essential backbone of several further series such as The Invaders (1967-1968), "V" (1983, 1984; 2009-2011), the BBC adaptations (1984, 1985) of John Christopher's Tripods tales, Earth: Final Conflict (1997-2002), The Event (2010-2011) and Falling Skies (2011-2015).

A notable theme anthology of early genre stories is Groff Conklin's Invaders of Earth (anth 1952). [BS/DRL/DP]

see also: Invasion U.S.A.; SF Music.

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