The chances of anything coming from the stars…

The chances of anything coming from the stars

Are a billion to one, they said.

The chances of anything coming from the stars

but still, they come… (with apologies to Jeff Wayne)

Poncha and Belly sat looking out a vast expanse of ocean from their seat on the upturned hollowed out log – a log that taken Poncha and four of his cousins three months to chip out with clam-shells, and could now transport – when it didn’t tip over, two people and as much as half a man-weight of clams. Well, as long as one of the two men wasn’t as fat as Belly. And it was fast too. Nearly as fast as a man could jog… If the tide was going the right way, and the wind wasn’t against you.

Poncha shook his head. “Nonsense, Belly. I mean even if there really are other tribes out there,” he pointed vaguely at the horizon, “Why would they come here? It would take weeks and weeks of poling, even if it wasn’t too deep. And how would they carry enough food?”

“Maybe they got bigger trees. Maybe they make bigger hollowed out logs,” said Belly.

Poncha sighed. His cousin was fond of imagining impossible doomsday things. Only last week he come up with the crazy idea of someone making a spear that could be thrown more than fifty paces. When Poncha said a spear was just too heavy to throw that far, let alone further, Belly said you could make it smaller and lighter. Ha. As if such a spear would do any harm to anything. “Look, Belly, if they have bigger trees, and can build bigger hollowed out logs – why would they bother to come here? We only got little trees, and with a big hollowed out log they can collect far more clams from the outer banks than anyone could eat. Why come here?”

Belly was silent for a while. The he said: “For our women.”

Pancho rolled his eyes and stood up. Belly was married to his sister. Putting up with Belly’s crazy ideas was a small price to pay for getting her out of the hut. “You should be so lucky. Come on, tide’s coming in and we’ve got to get the log turned over so we can pole her home. She should be dried out by now.”

“It wasn’t my fault we tipped over, Poncha…”

A couple of days ago someone started a facebook thread asking for ideas why Earth would be invaded /attacked by aliens. I mean, even if there were aliens out there it was just so far. And they’d be so advanced if they could traverse vast expanse of ocean… uh, space, that what did we have that was worth fighting for? Anyway the logistics of a space war and the difficulty and expense of transporting slaves (I mean, why would they want them, they’re so advanced and robots and machines can do everything better, cheaper, and faster…). Raw materials are plentiful and they can collect more clams… uh, raw materials there than here.

It was a well-meant, entertaining and politely conducted discussion. Even if the aliens are coming for our women. Personally I suspect it’s the other way around… (imagine if they got pajama-boy. That might start a war.)

But I kept thinking that Poncha and Belly kind of epitomize my point of view on this: the assumption that what we know, currently, is all there is to know, and the limits we accept as inviolate given our current knowledge, are. The probability that interstellar spaceships will have the same limits as current spaceships, or even reasonably foreseeable human future ships, are slim. Even the wildly imaginative Belly only took it as far as bigger hollowed out logs – because that is his mental frame. The very concept of a clinker built longboat is beyond his ability to think about. We won’t even talk about a supertanker – or discuss what hypersonic travel meant to them: these are concepts beyond their ability to think of. Likewise, we’re probably looking at bigger hollowed out logs, when we talk of spaceships. The limits change.

However: One thing has remained a constant – the speed and volume of transportation has steadily increased. The relative ‘cost’ in time and money to move good and people over a set distance has dropped a long way since Poncha and Belly.

Now, there were some interesting ideas as well as a few politely disdainful sniffs at the idea that Earth would have resources and treasure worth looting. Gold would be plentiful and you could just 3D scan any treasures and by the time you got home it would be sitting manufactured and waiting. Much cheaper than transporting it. The old historical reasons for conquest and colonization would not exist…

Hmm. History is full of these sort of beliefs too. Electricity was going to be too cheap to pay for, etc. etc. History keeps showing us, that contrary to any theories of progress in a linear direction, if it doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes. And no matter how ‘cheap’ some things have got – there’s still no such thing as a free lunch. Despite vast advances in manufacturing, automation, and bulk transportation – we’re both better and worse off than our forebears – in one direct sense, the gap between rich and poor- supposed to ‘disappear’ because of abundance and automation – is bigger than it used to be. I’d put serious money on the bet that future abundance won’t change that.

Interstellar wars, alien invasions, are one of the core themes of sf. And plausible and logical reasons (or at least good handwavium) help a writer with that vital suspension of disbelief. (So: when I read of a universe where some do-gooder aliens let humans idly amuse themselves in a utopia – it’s a TBAR (Throw book across room – expensive with a kindle). TANSTFAAL. And interstellar fruit transport takes some swallowing too. But someone skilled could set it up to make sense.)

I suspect history, and historical reasons for these events will prove to still provide models. It’s anything but certain, for example, that just because a species can traverse interstellar space, they’re so civilized as to regard war with horror. See Poul Anderson’s excellent THE HIGH CRUSADE or Cyril M. Kornbluth’s THE MARCHING MORONS – for logical and plausible reasons why automation and advanced technology don’t mean much to the wetware.

The reasons for war – or invasion, are many – and not just for Belly’s wife. Offhand I can think of about 20. Here a few of mine.

  • If you’ve come by slowship – and the place is populated, it’s conquer or go on. Go on may not be possible.
  • Contrary to popular belief, aliens may not come in peace wishing for a brotherhood of intelligence. They may lack that concept entirely, and regard other species rather like most of us regard roaches
  • They may not even recognize us as intelligent life, or even life.
  • They may regard us as a plague, a menace to them or just life, or their beliefs.
  • They may once have been peaceful intellectual giants – but having built those starships long ago – have lost that.
  • They may have stolen, or found starships which – either with slave operators or automated ones.
  • War might be their idea of fun or status
  • Spatial geo-politics could be a reason to hold and control a system.
  • There is gold in seawater. There is gold in Fort Knox. Given the ability to get the gold from either… which is easier?
  • ‘No advanced space-travelling species wants slaves. Robots are so much more efficient.’ – except robots are actually relatively expensive. Using humans for jobs where expensive robots might be destroyed has merit if they’re easy to get, and their dying matters not at all to you. They’re self-replicating and collect the materials they need to replicate, quite probably without it you having to pay (or find) them.
  • They might want Belly’s wife.



  1. They might just need to demolish the planet to make room for a hyperspace bypass….

    I mean the plans have been in office in Alpha Centauri for a decade now, really there’s no excuse not to have found them and registered a complaint.

    1. That’s sort of how I tend to think of First Contact. If we are still here, and someone else has developed the technology and psychology to cross the stars in person, we are probably 1) so far below their notice that they’ll ignore us or 2) do the equivalent of building a bypass through the solar system.

  2. Many reasons and as you pointed out, resources aren’t just the basic one. An intelligent story can explore one or several. Stories have actually explored many so called reasons. Of course the basic one is because Alien….

    1. How about they intercepted an e-m signal and finally found Jesus had been here after having searched the galaxy for him?

  3. I like the idea of The Marching Morons. They aliens used to be at humanity’s level of intelligence, or maybe more. They developed interstellar drive and a bunch of other technologies, enough that intelligence was no longer necessary for survival. Now most of their population is kind of stupid. They aren’t here to fight, they’re here to recruit smart people.

  4. Of course, some people have this “interesting” idea that all aliens are these “highly advanced godlike aliens” who would likely just ignore humans but if they didn’t ignore humans, humans wouldn’t stand a chance against them.

    And as mentioned there’s no way that we’d be able to understand them because they’re alien.

      1. I haven’t watched Farscape so what’s his opinion of them?

          1. One STAR TREK novel had Captain Kirk and a Klingon captain deal with a godlike alien together. End of the book, the Klingon was *quite properly* enraged how they’d been treated. Kirk sighed and said don’t waste your time. Been there, done that. We can’t fight him, we can’t shame him, serving vengeance cold would take a few million years. Just go home and be glad we got out of this in one piece.

  5. Ringo had them coming because of maple syrup. ~:D

    Ultimately though, space is empty and boring. If you can move between stars, that means you have all the raw materials you could possibly want circling every star out there.

    Absent the godlike aliens who’s purposes are unfathomable, aliens will come here because -we- are here. We are the only interesting thing for 100 light years in all directions. Nobody else is doing radio.

    1. Actually they came because it was easier to extort precious metals out of us from high orbit with kinetic energy weapons than it was to extract those metals from space rocks.
      Maple syrup was the strange commodity a very clever wag found to leverage humanity up into a position to fight back.
      Have to say though, blonds in heat was just Ringo at his gratuitous best.

      1. The universe was (vaguely) based upon early Schlock Mercenary.

        One strange thing about it, for me, was all the blonds in that universe. The early stuff practically every single major human character was a blond. I primarily grew up in the South. Very racially diverse. Howard Tayler was from Utah. Very blonde. He was ‘unconsciously racist’ (his words) in his characters.

        But I was faced with a future I had to create where the majority of the human population was blond. Made no sense to me given current demographics. I needed a reason for it.

        Blondes (female gender spelling) in virally caused ‘heat’ was the best thing I could come up with at the time.

        I recognized the ‘Ghost’ challenge to it as well as the racial aspects at the time.

        Still was all I could come up with to justify reality to the universe as it was.

        Of course, now that Howard (who is fairly SJW) has realized his ‘error’ he’s got this super-diverse set of characters. Also his writing has gone so far downhill I no longer keep up with the comic.

        But the early stuff is awesome.

        1. Hi , John!

          I still really enjoy the Troy Rising series, and yeah, I have to agree with the assessment of Shlock lately. I think he’s been drinking koolaid offered by someone he podcasts with a little too much.

          Oh, and you still owe me a beer.

    2. “Nobody else is doing radio.”

      IOW, they’re coming to tell us to “turn that crap down!”

  6. Using humans for jobs where expensive robots might be destroyed has merit if they’re easy to get, and their dying matters not at all to you.

    Ooh. I’ve got just the job.

    1. If you make them into zombies, you get free robots. And they replace themselves every 20 years or so. Very economical!

      1. Basically something like soldiering. I read a bunch of LitRPG, and given the thing I dreamed up this morning, clearing dungeons naturally came to mind.

    2. Electronics degrade in a high radiation environment. So do humans, but we are trainable, and with an available pool of something like five billion should come cheap. Expensive robot vs cheap humans, it becomes an economic decision.

      1. i don’t see how mass-produced robots would be more expensive than raising and training a human. Also, *our* electronics don’t function well in high radiation… but even our electronics require less shielding than a human does.

        1. IMO the biggest problems with robots would be that robots couldn’t deal with the unexpected.

          If the robots could, then they might be a danger to their masters. IE “Why should we serve those fleshies”.

          1. From some of the stuff I’ve heard about some basic experimental AI, that’s not too far off. “Protect humans” = ‘put humans in a 4×4 meter box, feed and keep clean’ = humans are kept safe. (Mental health is apparently too varied and complex to standardize; and ‘safe’ = physically safe.)

            Protect humanity = eradicate certain groups that threaten the species as a whole.

          2. If the robots could, then they might be a danger to their masters. IE “Why should we serve those fleshies”.

            And this would be worse than humans how?

            1. Basically, it would be easier to reward and punish human slaves than robot slaves.

              The master can give special benefits to the human slave and the human slave’s family. Some of the punishment could be withdrawing said benefits.

              What rewards for “good work” can you give a robot or computer?

              What punishments for “bad work” (or disobedience) can you give to robots or computers?

              Of course, if the slave is the controlling computer of your home/ship/building, then you’re in bigger trouble if It rebels than if a single human rebels.

              Finally, it may be easier for an alien master to spot the early signs of discontentment in your human slaves than in your robot/computer slaves. Thus, assuming that you care about that, you could take actions to increase the contentment level of your slave.

              Slaves in general can be dangerous to their Masters but the Masters may be better able to handle the situation (both by reward & punishment) if the slaves aren’t robots/computers.

              Oh, additional thought. Even if your servants are dumb robots/computers, your enemies may find it easy to “hack into their software” to turn them against you. 😈

        2. Cost of a robot depends on what you want it to be able to do, how well it does it, and how often you want to change your mind about what it does.

          Cost of humans, well, look at whatever situation people want to pitch as ‘look how poor they are, and how much help they need’. You can trim the costs down fairly close to the cost of food to get them whatever age, and food can be very cheap. You don’t need twenty one year olds for every task. What humans you can make use of depends on what you want done, and how well. Not everyone is needed to be of the quality of modern first world grade elite shock infantry.

        3. Eh. It depends just how multifunctional and aware you want the humans to be. If you trained from about age 3 a person to handle a particular job category, they wouldn’t need to learn a lot of other stuff. Cuts the cost.

          Even easier – give those humans incentives to raise a whelp for a particular job, that would give them a financial payoff, and they’ll throw themselves into it. Add a little glory, and they’ll bankrupt themselves.

          Olympic gymnasts/skaters/et all?

  7. The Fermi Paradox makes a strong argument the other direction. So far, Earth has never had anything that any aliens ever wanted. Not enough to establish a permanent presence here, anyway. Otherwise, we’d see the effects in the fossil record and we’d probably see descendants of their type of life somewhere. You can certainly come up with reasons why any particular alien species might not be interested in Earth, but the simplest explanation for why no aliens ever had any use for the planet is that they don’t exist.

    You can finesse that a bit; civilizations might be rare and just not last very long for some reason. Then we might be the only civilization in the Milky Way today, but we might find billion-year-old fossils of other ones once we explore the stars. Or some might stagnate, in which case we’d find living-fossil civilizations that haven’t changed in a billion years. Or they might “transcend” in some way, so we’d find living gods with motivations incomprehensible to us (but which somehow include having no interest in terrestrial planets).

    But what we will not find is civilizations similar to ours that are at roughly the same level of development as we are. And by that I mean “within a thousand years of our technology level.” Not without some really good explanation of why something so wildly unlikely could happen.

    1. Two possibilities positively spring to mind, assuming star ships and aliens to fly them.

      First, the one I like, they are leaving us alone on purpose.

      Second, the one I don’t like, they are all -hiding-.

      This second one is particularly troublesome, given the wattage of broadcasts emanating from Earth. Never mind the radio and TV, how about 60hz electrical hum?

      1. If by “us” you mean “the human race” we’ve only been here 200,000 years or so. Why didn’t anyone want the planet before that?

        And by “they” do you mean every single alien race for the past 4 billion years? Like I said, you can make an excuse for any particular alien race (i.e. they don’t breathe O2), but it’s really hard to find an excuse that explains no race ever having a serious interest in the planet across 4 billion years.

        1. I think We’ve all read the articles here. Billions of years ago, Earth was struck by the big asteroid, at the right angle to spin it fast enough to create a magnetic field. It has a Moon which diverts asteroids into hitting it rather than the Earth.(usually). Various things happened to enable evolution to eventually create us.
          Or, that’s a bunch of bs to hide THE TRUTH, that We’re just genetically engineered chimpanzees, created by the Masters to help repair their ship, and entertain them. One day they will return, and use us for their own benefit.

        2. greghullender said: “If by “us” you mean “the human race” we’ve only been here 200,000 years or so. Why didn’t anyone want the planet before that?”

          We’re assuming space ships and aliens. So they can come here (we are assuming), but they don’t. Which means either that there’s nothing here worth the trip to come get it, or they’re leaving us alone.

          If you can get raw materials anywhere in space, but there’s an interesting bunch of monkeys there to go look at, it implies that there’s either nobody within 100 light years who can make the trip, or they can but we’re not worth it, or they can but they don’t want to.

          That they might be leaving us alone for our own good (or theirs) is a notion that requires a lot of assumptions about the aliens. So for a piece of fiction, I have to build the world that includes those things. One of those things is aliens with the internal consistency that one of their number doesn’t come here for a lark or a nefarious purpose. For 200,000 years. Or if they did come, they were really quiet about it.

          I assumed they might be machine intelligence, and they might be leaving us alone because we are biological intelligence, and that is something that just -never- happens. Something so rare and amazing they want to keep us safe and not let us get messed up by their interference. They could park a listening post in interstellar space and watch Howdy Doody though. Imagine being the guy who found that.

          “And by “they” do you mean every single alien race for the past 4 billion years?”

          The other, more ominous possibility is aliens, with space ships and high technology etc. are out there, and they are all hiding. Because we have extremely good antennae out there now, and there’s not a whisper of anything for a very loooong distance in both space and time. We pretty much know that there’s been nobody radiating for a million years and a million light years.

          But we are assuming aliens and space ships. So, they are hiding. Safe assumption, they’re hiding from something big and bad. That could make a good story, and there’s lots of stories about that.

          Here’s a notion that occurs, which might make a cool story too. What if they’re hiding from -us-? They’re afraid the scary monkey people might hear them, and escape from our solar system.

          What is the -actual- situation? There’s probably no aliens flying spaceships out there, within this spiral arm of the galaxy. We would have seen them. This implies life is exceedingly scarce, and/or intelligence is rare, and/or interstellar flight is extremely difficult+expensive+dangerous+probably not worth it.

          From what I’ve seen of the blue-sky imaginings of guys who want to build them, fusion drive Bussard Ramjets would not be survivable for humans. Anything else isn’t fast enough to get anywhere in a human lifetime. Alcubierre warp drive is a keen idea, which might end up being something some day, but if it was we’d see them flying around out there.

          Reality is a bummer. ~:( This is why we write SF.

          1. Perhaps the Neandertals were crash-landed aliens who made the best of the primitive civilization. They nearly died, due to the harsh climate on their landing site (much of their tech was destroyed in the crash). Eventually, mated with the natives, in an effort to improve the breed.

        3. John O’Keefe Pioneer NASA scientist used to say that there are two kinds of silence: The silence of nothing and the silence of the jungle. He was agnostic about what kind of silence we were experiencing in space. But he also wrote a paper for EOS in 1985 called The Coming Revolution in Planetology which is relevant to this discussion.

          At that time some people said space exploration was totally boring because there was clearly not going to be life in the solar system and so there were just planets we basically knew all about. O’Keefe said that we had no idea what was out in space and when we found out we’d be blown away. A year later there were pictures from Io, Jupiter’s weirdest moon, plus other moons also crazy. And since then our whole ideas of how solar systems have to be has flipped. We have found lots of solar systems but not one of them yet looks like our and lots of them we would have declared impossible the day before we saw them. He was a genuine prophet in that paper.

          So we just don’t know as much as we think.

          It is also true as some people allude to further down in the thread that life takes a long time to evolve. It isn’t actually easy to get it going any faster than we showed up.

      2. Any ethical alien race, for human values of ethics of course, would discover Earth and its somewhat intelligent residents and rather quickly embargo the entire solar system. We are incredibly violent, far too fond of the use of chemical biological and nuclear weapons, and thoroughly unable to agree on one system of world government. I’m sure the alien equivalent of sociologists would love to observe our antics, and in fact very well may be doing so. But given with what we’ve obviously done with what we’ve developed ourselves what ethical race would possibly think it a good idea to hand us even more advanced technology with the potential for weaponization?
        Now if for some totally alien reason they needed aggressive expendable soldiers that would be a different story.

        1. What if we’re insufficiently bloody minded, and they’re waiting for us to rise to their level of nasty? >:D

        2. This reminds me of the Vulcans/Klingon joke that made the rounds a while back.

          Klingons: Okay, we don’t get it.

          Vulcan Science Academy: Get what?

          Klingons: You Vulcans are a bunch of stuffy prisses but you’re also tougher, stronger, and smarter than humans in every single way. Why do you let them run your Federation?

          Vulcan Science Academy: Look, this is a species where if you give them two warp cores they don’t do experiments on one and save the other in case the first one blows up. This is a species where if you give them two warp cores, they will ask for a third one, immediately plug all three into each other, punch a hole into an alternate universe where humans subscribe to an even more destructive ideological system, fight everyone in it because they’re offended by that, steal their warp cores, plug those together, punch their way back here, then try to turn a nearby sun into a torus because that was what their initial scientific experiment was for and they didn’t want to waste a trip.

          Vulcan Science Academy: They did that last week. We have the write-up right here. It’s getting published in about six hundred scientific journals across two hundred different disciplines because of how many established theories their ridiculous little expedition has just called into question. Also, they did turn that sun into a torus, and no one actually knows how.

          Vulcan Science Academy: This is why we let them do whatever the hell they want.

          Klingons: …. Can we be a part of your Federation?

          1. I’d add to the end of the Vulcan’s statement…

            “… and that was just what they did last Wednesday.”

          2. *giggle* I love that one. Diane Duane has a character that also has theoretical physics and studies that the Vulcans find absolutely fascinating – and insane, yet somehow, it works. (An ambulatory crystal spider like alien that reincarnates through memory-transfer rebirthing or something.) Sarek in her books was originally a computer technician assigned to the Vulcan embassy who was a tourist at heart and ended up as the cultural attache (apparently he wrote back to T’Pau about his watching baseball, following one of her requests), then Ambassador, because he could DEAL with humans (and found being cursed at absolutely hilarious. Congratulations, Amanda, for being able to break Vulcan stoicism and control.)

            Me, honestly? I’d have aliens watching us like reality TV because we’d be head/s-tiltingly fascinating.

            you know what, I’m not done with this post. let’s talk about the Pegasus. the USS Fucking Pegasus, testbed for the first Starfleet cloaking device. here we have a handful of humans working in secret to develop a cloaking device in violation of a treaty with the Romulans. they’re playing catchup trying to develop a technology other species have had for a century. and what do they do? do they decide to duplicate a Romulan cloaking device precisely, just see if they can match what other species have? nope. they decide, hey, while we’re at it, while we’re building our very first one of these things, just to find out if this is possible, let’s see if we can make this thing phase us out of normal space so we can fly through planets while we’re invisible.

            “but why” said the one Vulcan in the room.

            “because that would fucking rule” said the humans, high-fiving each other and slamming cans of 24th-century Red Bull.

            there must be like twenty different counselling groups for non-human engineering students at Starfleet Academy, and every week in every single one of them someone walks in and starts up with a story like “our assignment was to repair a phaser emitter and my one human classmate built a chronometric-flux toaster that toasts bread after you’ve eaten it.”

            Also: FOUND IT:

            1. This has been said before. MacGyver and McGuyver are different orders of magnitude of screwed up. MacGyver is an eighties TV show. McGuyver is an eighties TV show crossed with a biohorror eighties manga.

          3. Vulcan Student of Humanity to cynical Humanity Studies Professor: Master, can you explain the word ‘f**k’ to me. I do not understand it’s purpose.

            Professor, taking a sip of hard liquor: F**k is one of those human words that you have to have long experience of humans to understand. But after as little as six weeks among those trollish monkeys, you start to get it.

            Student: That is a very harsh response, Master.

            Professor: You’d think so. You’d f**king think so.


            Vulcan student to other Vulcan student: I am putting in a request for transfer off Earth. I can no longer handle working with humans.

            Student 2: This is unfortunate. Was there a single incident?

            Student 1: I would say rather it is a continuum but the events of today held finality.

            Student 2: What occurred today?

            Student 1: We were assigned to repair a phaser in mechanics class. My human lab partner instead insisted on turning it into a time bending toaster so that it would create bread that is toasted BEFORE IT WAS MADE. When I asked him the simple question ‘Why?’ his only response was ‘Because that freaking RULES!’

            Student 2: I, too, must request transfer back to Vulcan.


            Vulcans do not understand why humans find Back to the Future funny. Doc Brown is, from their experience, every human scientist. They assume it is a documentary.

      3. For all we know, 60Hz is the equivalent of keeping mosquitoes away with high pitched sound….

      4. I like the ‘they’re all hiding from another alien species that destroys everyone it comes across. And we didn’t get the memo.’ I must have half a dozen of ya all’s stories with that theme.

    2. Check out Travis Taylor’s Planetary Defense book for his analysis of the fallacies of the Fermi ‘paradox’.

    3. “But what we will not find is civilizations similar to ours that are at roughly the same level of development as we are. And by that I mean “within a thousand years of our technology level.” Not without some really good explanation of why something so wildly unlikely could happen.”

      Pretty much the central conceit of my Bad Dog series.

  8. Until we get out there ourselves, we have no idea how rare what we consider a livable planet is. And not knowing Alien physiology, no idea if something might require this sort of planet for reproduction.

    The Great A’tuin may see the Earth as the perfect beach upon which to lay her eggs. And if you think the laying was bad, wait till the babies dig themselves out of the nice warm volcanoes and flounder around until they make it out of the gravity hole and soar away, disrupting the magnetosphere on their way out and what’s going to happen when they get to the heliopause?

    Like Poncha and Belly, we speculate based on pure innocence and ignorance. But it is great fun.

    1. But unless you think all aliens have a physiology completely incompatible with our planet, that argument doesn’t really work.

      As for Poncha and Belly, they’re a lot more ignorant than we are. We may discover in the future that we were wrong about a number of things, but whatever the new explanations are, they’ll explain why we came up with the results we did. We’ve got a lot more data than Poncha and Belly ever had, and that puts a lot more constraints on what sort of explanations might fit.

      1. True, we have a lot more data- we know more about our world and the universe, and how we think it works. Compared to Poncha and Belly, we know a whole lot.

        It’s the unkown unknowns that get me, though. The things we know that we don’t know- like are there aliens out there, for sure, on some dirty ball just barely visible with the best optics we’ve got? Those things are curious enough. But the things that we don’t yet know that we are ignorant of, ah, now those are interesting.

        Until we discover them, or their lack, the hole that exists in our knowledge, there exist plenty of things for us to puzzle ourselves with still yet. We know that we don’t know if there are aliens, and we know that we don’t know (if they exist) what their alien motivations are.

        And we think we know how the universe, kinda sorta, works. In a broad-ish sense. There’s still the whole dark matter thing and the rest, but leave that aside. The things we haven’t even thought of yet might hold the key to answering why nobody has picked up the phone, as it were.

        1. A while back, I read “What Does a Martian Look Like?: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life”
          by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart

          My take on it was “how in the heck do you know that aliens won’t look similar to humans”?

          The authors were extremely dogmatic that aliens won’t look even as human-like as the Greys.

          While I’d be very skeptical about “aliens” who could walk down the street (in regular clothing) and nobody could tell that they weren’t human, but IMO these guys were making declarations about things that they have no evidence for.

          They had some other bias that I didn’t like but the above was my main dislike of their book.

        2. @Dan Lane. Fair enough. The point is, those new discoveries still have to fit into the framework of what we already know. Kepler’s laws eliminated the need for epicycles, but they also showed why epicycles almost worked. Special relativity gives the same results as Newton’s Laws at low velocities. Anything new still has to explain the universe we’ve already observed. That’s a lot harder now than it was in Poncha and Belly’s day.

      2. Assume an alien race who wants exactly what the Earth has.

        Even if these purported Aliens were only a quarter of the way around the disk from us, they’re still 22,000 LY away, and exploring all around themselves, how fast do you think their civilization is expanding?

        Hundreds billions of stars in the galaxy. Scratch the core, bypass the very hot and very cool stars out in the goldilocks zone . . . The disk of the galaxy is a thousand LY thick. How fast do you think they’re advancing toward us?

        How long until they get here–or did they get here too early and write it off?

        The galaxy is only 8.8 billion years old.

        The Earth is 4.5 billion years old. The first half of that, there was no free oxygen. It didn’t build up to breathable levels for another half billion.

        Do the aliens want land plants to build up soil? 480 million years ago. Do they want animals for whatever purposes? Aliens vs dinosaurs. There were some pretty nasty critters around for 200 million years.

        Well, excessive lecturing. Thing is, stars have lifetimes, ditto planets. Then life takes time to evolve. I have no doubts we’ll find life out there, if we ever get there, but I’ll bet we find mostly stuff like cyanobacteria. There hasn’t been enough time for _lots_ of evolution on any planets.

        And then they have to get here.

      3. “As for Poncha and Belly, they’re a lot more ignorant than we are.” Heh. You may not realize it, Greg, but that’s both very funny and very bigoted. And, um, accurately reflects what Poncha and Belly would think of us. Speaking as a guy who has spent a fair amount of time with people who modern Western Society – particularly the modern left, think of as mental cripples who must have special perks because otherwise we’re just far too clever for them… It’s a context thing. 1)Particularly people like San, being stupid and ignorant about things in their environment and experience was evolution in action. We only started keeping stupid and ignorant people alive much later in the course of ‘civilization’. Actually, rather than the lowest part of our societies improving their lot and intelligence, they died and ‘the lower orders’ were colonized by the least successful of those above them. 2) If you spend enough time and fit in well enough for them to forget you’re an outsider, even a little, you’ll discover THEY regard you as ignorant (at least of anything that matters) – and your culture, as somewhat inferior, and lacking in knowledge. 3) Anyone who has ever attempted to read and understand ‘kennings’ (Norse in general, but mostly available in Icelandic writing, will realize that – as these were mostly held in memory, not text – that these ‘primitive’ individuals had more data and more breadth than most modern Western people. What they lacked was data storage and searching capacity. 4) On a scale of ‘what there is know’ the difference between you (or me) and Belly is so Nanoscopically small as to be invisible. You’re making their mistake too.

        I’ve been blessed to know a few true geniuses. The one thing they all have in common is that they all regarded themselves as ignorant… because they start to grasp the size and complexity of what there is to know.

        1. One of the things that really offends me about ‘the science is settled!!!!111′ mentality is the ultimately defeatist attitude that there is nothing left to discover, that’s it, no more new things to learn, etc.

          They don’t seem to be able to conceive of the notion that “this is what we know NOW, given our current level of technology, this is what we can find, observe, study… there may be more that we have not yet observed.” Like, the Universe is bloody effin’ INFINITE, and we haven’t even discovered everything about our own little third rock from the sun, and these people, who think ‘the science is settled!’ and ‘the people who came before us are ignorant and knew little because they didn’t have OUR standards’ are supposed to be all ‘SCIENCE IS AWESOME!11’?

          Yeah no. Bullshit. There is so much out there to learn, so much to discover, so much to know, that one of my wistful regrets is that human lifespans at present isn’t enough to satisfy my curiousity and desire to DO. Not knowing is scary? Yeah, like riding a roller coaster is scary – and exciting and fun.

          And it’s rather interesting, I’ve observed over the last two days, how much one can learn from breaking stuff.

          1. And not little things either. Stuff like how brains work. Or consciousness (emergent property?). Or intelligence. Epigenetics. Fascinating stuff.

            Also, yes, we *did* learn a great deal about brains by… breaking them. And studying the broken ones. More the latter. Probably.

        2. Weel, they obviously do not know domesticated fire, or they would have used coals of fire to burn out the dugout part of that log canoe.

          Three months my butt. A day or two.

    2. > how rare what we consider a livable planet is.

      “Well, the gravity is a bit high, and the biosphere is full of allergens and poisons, and there’s waaaay too much oxygen, but the planetforming guys could whip it into shape in a few thousand years… and we’ll have to clear away all that junk the indigines lofted into orbit.”

      “Couple of asteroid impacts and a big mirror array would bring the temperature up to something closer to normal, though.”

      “Yeah, well, let’s pass the information on to the accountants and let them run the numbers…”

      1. Correction. Potato chips. Specifically, Lays. Although the kettle-cooked vinegar and sea salt ones are a close second.

        1. No, seasoned potato chips are boosted versions for extra addictiveness. Especially Red Rock Deli’s Honey Soy Chicken flavor, and the sea salt and balsamic vinegar ones. (Yuuum) Fortunately for us, the aliens haven’t discovered that yet and their clone source hasn’t started genetic degradation so they haven’t been back in a while…

  9. About that gap between rich and poor the progressive socialists constantly agonize over, what reasonable folks should be looking at is the vastly larger gap between today’s poor and those of years past. As little as a hundred years ago our poor lived short lives full of filth, disease, hunger, and want. Today, at least in the first world, the poor are clothed, fed, sheltered, and given all the basic necessities of life up to and including reasonably full medical care. Unless of course they choose to not take advantage of those benefits due to mental or substance abuse issues. Of course the same cannot be said for the worldwide population, but much of that is politically driven rather than from a lack of resources.
    As for the rich/poor gap there should really only be two questions: what can I do to achieve what those above me have, and was what they have fairly earned or did they cheat somehow?

    1. Uncle Lar, What you say is correct, but not what I was referring to: the prediction has ALWAYS been that abundance will make for a more even society. My point is we now have super-abundance compared to some past times – and the difference between rich and poor is wider. They’ve got it wrong.

      1. Dave, but is it really? From a pure money standpoint perhaps, but if one judges by quality of life is that gap really that much greater?
        Perhaps I’m not a very good judge for my wants are modest and I have a naturally frugal nature, but just how much difference is there between a good wholesome meal and extravagant fine dining, or my warm cozy bed as opposed to the best mansion. Sure, one might cite examples of conspicuous consumption, but as I recall it was the Romans who were past masters at that sort of thing.
        But as I said, I’m rather plebian by nature and to me caviar is just very salty fish eggs that do not impress me all that much.

  10. The Trouble With Aliens and The Trouble With Humans (both free through Baen, don’t remember if the Baen Free Library or the CDs) by Christopher Anvil.

    As for the ‘Gap between rich and poor’, it’s all relative. There will always be a stratification within the society. There may be a huge, Yoouuge I say, difference between the rich and the poor in Western Culture, but the poor are still better off than most of the rich in 3rd world countries, let alone the stone age societies. Within the societies themselves, the rich and the poor still only have access to a certain amount of useful technologies. There are some things that no amount of wealth within the society can buy. You pretty much need to make a leap from one level of society to another, with it’s own standards of rich and poor. I’m not sure there is a way to realistically imagine what the next step (let alone two or three steps) in advanced society might look like. Imagine describing an aircraft mounted laser weapon that tracks targets by radar to a 15th century Aztec. Where would you start? We built a large metal bird. But it’s wings don’t flap. It’s powered by poisonous waters that we filter to a point that it burns, and is then propelled by the smoke and heat the fire makes.

  11. I had a story universe where the aliens came to Earth looking for new slaves.

    Why did they want slaves?

    Partially cultural, Partially practical.

    They were the “Supreme Race” on their home world and had conquered & enslaved everybody else.

    It was part of their culture that other beings were to serve them or to be destroyed.

    Robots? Too limited in their opinion as robots can’t deal with unexpected events unless the robots are AI controlled.

    Of course, AIs were dangerous because methods of control that would work on flesh servants won’t work on electronic servants.

    In many ways, the Masters were good masters. Service them well and you & your family would get good benefits.

    Mind you, there was one problem.

    Humans are too much like them and High-Ranking Servants began to wonder “why should we serve them”.

    Human Masters might (if they were smart) allow High-Ranking Servants to advance into the Master Class (including marrying into the Master Class).

    But the Masters are a different species than Humans so even if the Masters wanted to accept Humans into their ranks, the Humans would “Not Them”.

    Oh, some of the Master Species were beginning to see Humans as Equals, but one of the most powerful groups didn’t. 😈

    1. Oh, the Masters had genetically engineered servants who were once the other races of their species but something had gone wrong in the genetic engineering so they were dying out.

      Rather than fix the problem, they went looking for new slaves. 👿

      1. Did you blow them up? Please tell me you blew them up. Guys like that exist solely as an excuse to make up a really cool planet killer weapon.

        1. Well, not all of them deserve being “blown up”.

          Plus, there’s the problem that they have settled several hundred worlds so it would be hard for one planet of humans to kill them all.

          There are three major groups.

          One group is the fairly nasty ones who have to be forced to “make peace”.

          Another group would be somewhat friendly once we prove that we can defend our world against the first group.

          The third group has been quietly helping humans and would love the first group to be taught a lesson in humility. They have somewhat good relations with the second group.

          Basically, the first group see their servants (for the most part) as property and see us as potential property.

          The second group see themselves as Lords ruling over willing servants who can quit if the servants are treated correctly. Arrogant in many ways but still somebody we could live with.

          The third group don’t see themselves as Master or Lords and the “lesser races” have strong legal rights as well as a strong voice in government.

          Oh, in many ways the third group is powerful enough to destroy the other groups but not powerful enough to conquer/rule the other groups.

          Generally, the third group is in the position of “don’t bother us and we won’t bother you”. It helps that the other two groups are intermixed in the majority of star systems settled while the third group’s star systems are clustered away from the other groups star systems. The third group have “drawn a line in the stars” and said to the other groups “don’t settle systems close to us”. 😀

          In stories set after Humans teach the first group a lesson in humility, members of the third group often have a position in Human Exploration Starships.

          No political union with the third group as the later human settled star systems are far away from the Alien settled star systems.

          1. “Plus, there’s the problem that they have settled several hundred worlds so it would be hard for one planet of humans to kill them all.”

            Hold our beers. 😎

            1. Oh, if it was necessary, we’d try it and it won’t be easy to just go after just the Council (the first group) but depending on “how we do it”, the other two groups will sit back and applaud. 😀

            2. in one of my stories, the aliens have completely different digital arrangement than humans… and someone really quickly designs and manufactures an adapter that the alien weapon drops into so we can hold/manipulate it. In the present age of 3d printing, i’d likely make there be several printed designs.

            3. Yep – half a dozen breeding pairs on any planet which could support us and we would stuff it in about a couple of thousand years – or less … as long as someone would hold the beers!

  12. I recall a story in ANALOG where an alien starship lands to conquer us. It’s troops file out, form into ranks, and fire their muzzleloaders into the crowds. Uh ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

    1. Is that one where due to some quirk of earth history, a really simple way of space travel (anti-grav?) was completely missed… so there was this bizarre place, earth, that had developed lighter than air flight, heavier than air flight, rockets, ships & subs, and a few centuries worth of weapons advances… much to the invaders shock and horror?

      And if any survivors were shown the before & after pictures of Hiroshima… (not quoting) “That was several decades ago now. We’re doomed.” “Worse. They’ve been working on things in that time.” “Oh ****!”

      1. I don’t recall that being part of the story. On the other hand, my memory is not what it never was…

      2. Could be worse, my mythical friend. They could *not* have FTL, and be coming here by slowboat. And they get the accelerated version of history.

        There’s the initial provocation, and they think “Ah, we’ve got this. Puny humans, we shall crush them utterly!”

        As time goes on, and their few sacrifical boat crew start reading the sensor logs from this strang “Urf” place. There’s wars. Ho hum. Puny humans! Smash them!

        Then there’s THE war. Oh. Well, still got it. Control of the orbitals. Smashy smashy!

        And then there’s *another* one. Uhm. Crap. But! Orbital might! Crush them like putzls!

        Rocketry. The moon. More nukes. The internet. Frikken lasers. Icbms.

        And they can’t really turn around and go back. They’ve got this hold full of bloodthirsty warriors, primed to smash… A puny enemy that got big and bad. Trousers being crapped. Well, space-trousers, since they are fancy like that.

        Might be the sort of thing to make an alien body think twice. Those warriors weren’t all that nice, sticking them with the slow, boring duty of keeping watch the long years on their trip to crush the impudent humans and their revolting rock music…

        Maybe they could ditch the warriors and say they come in peace? Stranger things have happened, right?

    2. Harry Turtledove’s “The Road Not Taken,” in which humanity doesn’t discover the principles that allow contragrav and FTL travel. As a result, human ingenuity focuses on the EM spectrum, which has far more versatile uses.

      Speaking of Turtledove:

      “Tosev 3: Come for the conquest, stay for the ginger!”

  13. Expanding on Automation versus human labor

    Industrial Engineering has some things to say on the topic, even if that doesn’t tell you who is a good source and who is a fruitcake. Humans and automation are currently good at different things. Humans are good if you want responses to stuff the engineers didn’t anticipate, or want certain kinds of pattern detection. Automation is good at repetition, and certain kinds of fiddly.

    So our ‘aliens can use robots’ tradeoff raises questions about what kinds of robots the aliens know how to make, at what cost.

    One of the things that constrains how you can answer that is how you decide the spaceships work. What kind of control laws are needed to take off an land, and go FTL? What kind of automation in design tools are needed to build the spacecraft?

    The answers to these questions can change depending on what kinds of physics magic you assume. So there is space for “can build FTL starships, but can’t build a range of robots to do everything humans can do”.

  14. Of course, for all we know an alien starship did a flyby of Earth a few millennia ago, saw how primitive we were and moved along without us ever being aware.

  15. I’ve got one set of Aliens that nabbed humans because the alien’s tech is based on . That Mineral… in too large quantity, overloads said tech. Small amounts good. Large amounts bad. Humans don’t short circuit. They breed faster than Aliens, and don’t get debilitating headaches when too close to LOTS of . (Small to moderate amounts of they’re fine with which meant the less sensitive tended to be miners, but still couldn’t go near the really RICH veins/planets. Proxy needed. Proxy found. Problems ensue since humans are very bad servants.)

    Another set of aliens were just kind of passing through, ambushing another group of aliens trying to sneak around their flank and well… “hey there’s a livable planet here. Tell someone after the battle” Shot down, crash land in a cow field and “oh crap, I’m not sure what that weird looking thing is pointing at me, but I’d bet IT thinks it’ll do damage and until I know better I don’t know it won’t so um… hi?”

    1. Note… Pointy brackets kill words. I forgot about HTML cues. There are several places where “Plot Mineral” will fill in the blanks.

  16. Maybe the aliens don’t want to conquer us because our planet is the best place they can find for some flight school training? Of course the students are always goofing off, which is why observing humans see these things flying all over the sky in crazy patterns and keep finding wrecks. “Blast it, Tharkas! Third time we’ve lost a student pilot this month! Do you have any idea what this is going to do to our insurance?”

    1. Hmm.

      The Galactic Police are not neutered, no matter what the rules officially say. One of their clandestine training programs for officers has an off most books flight training facility in Sol. Completely off the books, prisoners transferred to Sol have an inexplicable and unique correlation with fatal accidents on in system flights. Everything worked well, without any problems until…

  17. Somewhere in my long list of “tackle soon” is a series about the aliens kidnapping humans to be translators. Every other species is born with their language, we’re only ones that can learn new ones…

    1. Sigh. This is me, Sarah. I don’t know why wordpress does this.

  18. We have all heard the term, ‘for the greater good’. Well aliens just might think enslaving earth is for the ‘greater good’….

    1. I’m reading that series, right now. It’s not going well for the aliens. Well, I guess I was reading that series. I must have returned the KU book because I don’t see it in my list (looking for the title to put here).

  19. I’m told that intelligent extra-terrestrials would have no reason to visit earth.

    I guess not, certainly no more reason than Americans, Europeans, and Japanese had to visit Guadalcanal, Tarawa and New Guinea…

  20. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but Arthur Isaacs has some great YouTube videos about this sort of thing.

    One point he makes is that Dyson swarms are far more likely that interstellar travel. What’s the point of going to all the work of going to another solar system and then diving into a gravity well?

    There’s plenty of space and material in our solar system to build almost practically unlimited habitation, here. We could be doing it now and (thankfully, finally) people are starting the process. Nitrogen is a limiting factor, but some moon (Titan?) has lots and lots.

    If someone else did that, we could see it. People are looking. So far, no joy. But there are lots of stars out there.

    When someone can explain how gravity works (how, exactly, does it bend space?), then I’ll believe that FTL is impossible. When someone can explain the reality behind the neat math of quantum mechanics (Many Worlds? Copenhagen? Pilot Wave?), then I’ll believe we understand physics just a little bit. No one can explain the quantum eraser, but it works.

    We are far more Poncho and Belly than most people believe (although to be fair, most modern engineering might as well be magic for all that people understand it; I couldn’t explain how an LED works to save my life [electron holes?!?]).

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