Alien invasion and infiltration literature became hugely popular at the onset of the U.S/Russian Cold war. The public became obsessed with the idea that Communists agents were secretly infiltrating America. Of course this paranoia spilled over to popular culture and left us with some of the best (and worst!) novels and films in the history of Science Fiction.
Anyone interested in alien invasion has to start with H.G. Wells’ proto-invasion novel The War of the Worlds (1898). This title set the template for all subsequent invasion stories. There were hideous unstoppable invaders, an everyman hero and no shortage of damsels in distress.
The sub-genre is perhaps best typified by three novels: John Campbell’s The Thing From Another World (1938), Robert A.Heinlien’s The Puppet Masters (1951) and Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers (1954). All three offer up healthy doses of evil moon men, daring heroes and plenty of destruction and mayhem. The common theme that unites them is the idea that the invaders are indistinguishable from regular humans. A clear allegory for the supposed Communist infiltration as promoted by Senator Joseph McCarthy. These three novels form the core of the genre – the Holy Trinity of Invasion Lit.
Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (1959) offers a reverse invasion tale. In Heinlein’s adventure, humans are the invaders and pre-emptively strike against a planet of hideous slug creatures. Considering the perception of Heinlein’s politics as shamelessly right-wing, many viewed this as a thinly veiled argument in support of an American invasion of Russia.
No discussion would be complete with the finest SF film of the era The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Humanity’s refusal to cease the nuclear arms race has raised the ire of Klaatu, and super powerful alien. He lands on earth in his interstellar spaceship (which strangely resembles a giant hubcap) and gives humanity an ultimatum – shape up or be destroyed!
There’s plenty of great Cold War lit and films from other places too. Pro wrestler El Santo protected Mexico from being invaded by “Los Marcianos” in a series of unintentionally hilarious films. The world’s most famous man-in-a-lizard-suit Godzilla was a constant threat to the Japanese citizenry. Angered when scientists start testing atomic bombs in his habitat, Godzilla destroys Tokyo and reminds us of the nuclear follies of man. Defenders of the British Empire included Professor Alan Quatermass and the iconic Doctor Who. Quatermass first came to prominence in a series of BBC radio serials. These proved so popular the character was spun into a television series and several films. Doctor Who defended Earth from alien invasion in a television series that began in 1963 and continues to air today.
Just because the 1950’s are over doesn’t mean we can let our guard down. Try picking up a copy of the Alien Invasion Survival Handbook (2009). And keep watching the skies…
Booker, M. (2001). Monsters, mushroom clouds and the Cold War: American science fiction and the roots of postmodernism 1946-1964. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
Buker, Derek. (2002). The Science fiction and fantasy reader’s advisory: the librarian’s guide to cyborgs, aliens, and sorcerers. Chicago: American Library Association.
Gannon, Charles E. (2000). “Silo psychosis: diagnosing America’s nuclear anxieties through narrative imagery.” Imagining apocalypse: studies in cultural crisis. Ed. David Seed. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Seed, David. (1999). American science fiction and the Cold War: literature and film. New York, NY: Routledge.