If you haven’t heard the news, military historians and Tor authors Myke Cole and Dr Michael Livingston are starring in Contact, a new show premiering Wednesday at 10pm on Discovery and Thursday at 9pm on Science Channel. They lead a team investigating UFO and alien-related phenomena around the world.
To mark the occasion, we asked them to come up with a Top Ten list of their favorite aliens across the media landscape (spacescape?). Their discussion was…eclectic.
Mike Livingston: I’ll start, because I have a story about this. I’m mainly a medieval military historian, so I raised an eyebrow when Discovery asked me to lead this with Myke. But when we talked on the phone about how they wanted to use my skills at extracting new information from old data sets (something I do a LOT in my day job), and that they liked my inherent skepticism about the subject, I went ahead and did a video test. Little did the producers know that I had a coffee mug just off screen, from which I took a drink at the most opportune time and sent them into hysterics. The mug? My favorite alien: Marvin the Martian.
Myke Cole: Yeah, I remember that. That was a hilarious moment. I hope they’ve got it saved somewhere . And of course you have to add Marvin’s horde of beaked Instant Martians with those flower things on their heads.
Livingston: Oh definitely. And I wish I had something profound to say about the whole gang, but as a kid I just loved them. Sometimes that’s enough.
Cole: Sure. And in a similar vein you’ve got those Sesame Street aliens. “Nope nope nope uh-huh uh-huh” … Like so much of Henson’s muppets, it’s both hilarious and educational to witness their pure, guileless learning about the world. Like…how would you understand a telephone as an alien?
Livingston: I’m not sure many of my students would understand those old telephones.
Cole (laughing): We’re so old. Okay, we’ve got to cover the Xenomorph from Alien.
Livingston: Slightly different from Sesame Street.
Cole: Slightly. The Xenomorph is just the perfect evolution for doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s brilliant alien biology turned into horrifying reality. And H.R. Giger’s designs are truly works of art.
And I can’t talk about alien parasite biology without mentioning Night of the Creeps. Alien parasites that slither into your mouth. Again, it’s very interesting biology, but unlike the Xenomorph that leaves an audience shivering, these leave you in stitches.
Livingston: Well, gotta add that to my watch list. You know, I can’t think about Giger’s aliens anymore without thinking of the prawns from District 9. Such a logical extrapolation of interaction. Just because the alien civilization is advanced, it still has familiar problems. And human beings still try to exploit them in familiar ways. Then setting it in Johannesburg, where it can be a metaphor for apartheid… just brilliant.
Cole: Absolutely. One of the great things about aliens in media is the way they enable us to talk about human things. Whether that’s Superman reflecting American exceptionalism, or The Thing representing our fear of the unknown.
Livingston: And the raw sense of wonder. Look at the aliens from Arrival. They do such a great job of accurately describing the gulf of communication that would be involved in contact if it happened. It’s just on the edge of familiar, but it’s still so gloriously full of wonder. And of course Ted Chiang did a masterful job of building a story around them.
Cole: Or the alien species of Annihilation. So truly alien. You know, when this show came up, I kept thinking back to when I was at the CIA, hype one of the things I was shocked to find is how many people were believers. And yeah, like you I’m highly skeptical, but it was hard to shake that feeling that maybe—because of information being siloed or whatever—there was something other people knew that I didn’t. Working on this show has fed that same sense of wonder in me once again. I hope it does the same for the audience.
Livingston: It will. And to finish this off—we’ve probably rambled through ten already!—I want to cheat a little bit and say, as our show Contact gets ready to air, that one of my other favorite aliens is the alien signal from the movie Contact. Because, you know, that’s what it’s all about.
So what do you think? What did we miss? And what’s your favorite alien?