Stranger Than Fiction: First Contact Conspiracy Theories

In this ongoing series, we ask SF/F authors to describe a specialty in their lives that has nothing (or very little) to do with writing. Join us as we discover what draws authors to their various hobbies, how they fit into their daily lives, and how and they inform the author’s literary identity!

I have long had a fascination for First Contact novels, films and stories. I have probably read every English-language First Contact novel published. I am an inveterate Trekker (one of the kindest takes on First Contact there is), and I’ve seen angles on the theme ranging from the hard-science approach (Sagan’s Contact, Clarke’s Ramas series, Pournelle and Niven’s Moties series) to the sociological (McDevitt’s Thunderbird, Patrick Tilley’s seminal Fade Out) to the way-out-there (Zelazny’s Doorways in the Sand).

A few years back I started doing the research for my Willful Child series (no, really, there was research!). The first thing I needed to sort out was how to subvert the Star Trek take on First Contact (you see, it occurred to me that, unlike the enlightened humanists who found themselves face to face with Vulcans, a more realistic approach would be to assume that the inmates in charge of the asylum that is present day civilization would be the same inmates in charge of the asylum on the day the aliens arrive, and all we’d see is a fractal expansion of our collective idiocy. Granted, I was aiming at a satirical take on this, but even so….)

Anyway, this led me into my new hobby here at Wingnut Central. Needing to people the future for Willful Child, I went in search of UFO sightings and related conspiracy theories. Did you know there’s a lot of them out there? In fact, according to quite a few of these theories, we’re already in contact with aliens. We already have bases on Mars. There are ruins on the Moon and extraction plants on the dark side. We have a space fleet. The little greys work for the big greys and on Friday nights they get their kicks probing anuses. We’re being genetically manipulated. We’ve been genetically manipulated. Aliens visited, are visiting, and will really visit in the near future. Governments know stuff and they’re not telling. NASA knows stuff, too. Whistleblowers spill all and then mysteriously die or just disappear. Professional debunkers troll all the sites. (I assume they’re professionals, since why would any disbeliever spend all that time debunking stuff to people who don’t believe anything they say in the first place? Is it an ego thing [“I’m rational and smart and you’re all idiots”], or is the perpetual sneer the only reward they require? Do tell, interested minds want to know. Because, like, if you’re professional, who’s paying you? {American Skeptics Syndicate, isn’t it? That’s my guess. You’re an ASS.})

Where do I stand in all of this? That’s the great thing. I don’t stand anywhere. My curiosity, as insatiable as it is, remains firmly unattached. That said, these new predilections worry my wife. They make my son roll his eyes. Behind my back, friends are conspiring to do an intervention. Probably late at night, with a sack over my head and psionic stunners, and I’ll wake up in some West Coast rainforest with no memory, and strangers in the dark angling their flashlights everywhere but on the path they happen to be walking. I’ll have to run. Even disappear.

Conspiracies are wonderful, the best thing ever. Their only flaw is in the assumption of extraordinary efficacy in governments and their ability to (a) organize; (b) stay organized; (c) keep a secret; (d) keep keeping a secret; (e) decide to do things; (f) get things done; and (g) represent our interests. They can’t. They don’t. In fact, if you think about it, it’s in our interests (we, the people) to get this damned First Contact done with, so we can get on with the show. Conversely, it’s in the interests of the ones in power to block every effort at First Contact, so they can get on with the show. And therein lies the crux—the fertile core of every conspiracy out there.

People wanting to maintain the status quo to hold onto their power, wealth, etc., against people who want it all taken down, blown apart, the guilty punished, and a new paradigm established on the basis of equality and justice.

You see, from this angle, who can blame the conspiracists? More power to ’em, I say.

As for those professional debunkers, WTF’s wrong with you?

PS:  NASA, stop smudging those Mars pics, will you? I get better pics on my vintage 2.3 Mb phone cam, circa 2001. I mean, really guys, what do you take us for? Oh, and I tried driving around off-road with two of those phone cameras strapped to my eyes and take it from me, you can’t drive worth shit using those things. I know you’re not using crap technology on those rovers, so what’s the deal?

Hobbies. Hobbies are good for the soul.

Top image from The X-Files

Steven Erikson is an archaeologist and anthropologist and a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. His New York Times bestselling Malazan Book of the Fallen has met with widespread acclaim and established him as a major voice in fantasy fiction. He lives in Canada.

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