Yet again the Solar System is being buzzed by what may well be a visitor from interstellar space. Everything known so far suggests that C/2019 Q4 (Borisov) is a natural object. Certainly, it appeared more or less where we would expect a random bit of detritus to arrive, along the galactic plane. The current consensus is that it is a comet. The surface composition is comet-like. It’s probably not a leaky derelict spaceship venting gas as it approaches the sun. Probably …
In fact, I find myself wondering if it isn’t suspicious that Borisov is so remarkably unremarkable. How likely is it that one of the objects spotted tumbling in from deepest space would be arriving more or less where we’d expect it, with more or less the composition we would expect of a natural object? Isn’t that exactly how some inquisitive galactic civilization would cloak a probe, so as not to attract undue attention from locals? Perhaps the reason we’re suddenly seeing what seem to be mere space-rocks, comets, whatever, is not thanks to tech improvements on our side, but is because something is carefully looking us over.
But if that were to be the case, not all is lost. SF authors have imagined futures in which friendly extraterrestrials hold out an appendage of welcome and extend to us the full benefits of their society, just as our terrestrial empires from the Romans and Babylonians to the Spanish, French, and British (not to mention the US) have shared theirs with astounded neighbours over the millennia. How wondrous to think that our Terrestrial civilization might find itself enjoying the same sort of uplifting benefits as were given the Tasmanians, the Inca, and the Ainu!
There have been many such tales, of which one of the earliest, and most famous, would be H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Here are some others:
One early example of this genre would be William Tenn’s 1953 short story “The Liberation of Earth.” Earth has been “liberated” in turn by the Troxxt and the Dendi, both of them galactic empires. When the Troxxt control the Earth, the Dendi convince the gullible humans to help them oust the Troxxt. Then the Troxxt convince the humans to help them oust the Dendi. After this has been repeated several times, the Earth is transformed beyond its natives’ wildest dreams.
John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy—The White Mountains (1967), The City of Gold and Lead (1967), and The Pool of Fire (1968)—depicts a world in which all merely human threats—nuclear war, pollution, overpopulation—have been swept away thanks to the complete control careful oversight of the extra-terrestrial Masters. Unable to live unprotected on Earth’s surface, the Masters are for the most part a distant reality enslaving governing every facet of human society. A lucky few, like thirteen-year-old Will and his friend Eloise, earn their way into service with the Masters. It is challenging work but worthwhile; what Will learns from his Master is the wondrous news that the Masters will soon have the means to venture out of their cities. Humanity’s days of being guided remotely will soon be over.
Walter Jon Williams’ comic Drake Maijstral series—The Crown Jewels (1987), House of Shards (1988), and Rock of Ages (1995)—is set long after humanity were conquered by met the Khosali and after a brief consultation accepted the Khosali’s generous offer to guide humanity towards more cultured ways. This partnership has fallen apart shortly before Drake’s adventures begin, but both races have been changed by their time together. Every human institution has been reshaped in accord with Khosali values, while the Khosali have very graciously adopted various human icons, tweaked in ways to make them more acceptable to those whose tastes define propriety.
From Drake’s perspective, the most interesting adopted Khosali custom was that of Allowed Burglary: it is okay to steal other people’s stuff as long as you do it with sufficient style and panache. The rules make it difficult—but then, games are not fun if they are easy.
High school students have it hard. When they are not studying hard to pass university entrance exams (while fretting about how to pay for university), they’re wrestling with the difficult question of, what real world job to try for after graduation. Not to mention the merry-go-round of friends, infatuations, and bullies. Happily for Chi Kim and his fellow students of Sungdong high school, the aliens that descend on Korea in Ha Il-Kwon’s webtoon Duty After School erase all of these challenges simply by being present. No more pencils, no more books for Korea’s school kids; Chi Kim and pals are conscripted into active duty off on the camping trip to end all camping trips in an effort to come to terms with the terrifying invaders enigmatic visitors.
The humans of Octavia E. Butler Lilith’s Brood series—Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), Imago (1989)—owe their very existence to the Oankali. When the Oankali arrived, humans had just finished a hands-on field test of the hypothesis that a massive nuclear exchange would be bad (spoiler: it was). The Oankali scavenge a handful of survivors, and repair the ruins of Earth. That alone would be reason enough for gratitude, but there is more. The Oankali have a grand scheme to interbreed with the human survivors and incorporate humanity’s best features into the alien melange—a plan which if successful will transform Earth and guarantee no repeat of the recent thermonuclear shenanigans. And yet for some reason the humans are less than welcoming…
In Fonda Lee’s Exo series—Exo (2017) and Cross Fire (2018)—Earth is a client state of the Mur Commonwealth. The Mur are kindly protecting humanity from the Rii, who would strip-mine the Earth before discarding the husk. Donovan Reyes is one of those who, like the Scots, Gurkhas, and Canadians in decades past, signed up as a colonial soldier. This puts him directly at odds with misguided human rebels. It may someday leave him face to face with the Rii.
The wonderful thing about science fiction is that there’s almost always many examples of pretty much anything you care to look for. No doubt you have your favourite examples of Earth conquered and colonized benevolently freed by technologically superior aliens from the ravages of independence and sovereignty, not to mention the distractions of our local cultures. Feel free to mention them in comments.
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF (where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He was a finalist for the 2019 Best Fan Writer Hugo Award, and is surprisingly flammable.