They strike from the heavens and rain down fiery death. They infiltrate us secretly, replacing us with doppelgängers. Their evil plants strangle our children and livestock. They impregnate our women with creepy telepathic children. Their terrible death machines burn our cities into ash. They affix to our brain stems and control us like meat puppets. They practice terrifying experimentation on their captured human slaves, transplanting Sarah Jessica Parker’s head onto the body of a poor, innocent Chihuahua. Their methods are many. Nearly the only common element between the alien invasions depicted in our films, books, and video games is that humanity appears doomed from the start.
After all, they come to us. We barely have the means to leave low-Earth orbit, but these would-be conquerors have traveled light years with the express purpose of pressing us into human-flavored cider. You can usually assume that if they are here, they are more advanced than us technologically.
In truth, there are not five distinct ways to win a battle against an alien invasion. There are barely five documented and proven methods to end them. When you think about it, it’s amazing we poorly-evolved apes ever survive their superior onslaught at all.
Not only are their methods manifold—aliens also have diverse reasons and goals when it comes to bending the human race to their vast and unsympathetic wills. For some, we’re mostly liquid bags of precious nutrients—we’re basically walking, talking Capri Suns. To others, we are fleshy shells in which to live or ride upon, or work to death as slaves. Then there are the aliens to whom we are merely an inconvenience to be crushed before tapping into our sweet, sweet natural resources.
Despite the odds, our incompetence, and their obvious technical superiority, we often succeed in putting a stop to their aggression.
Sometimes, we even win.
1. Sneeze On Them
“But there are no bacteria in Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow.” —War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
In the most common method of ending an alien invasion, humans don’t get any of the credit. It is our “microscopic allies” that manage to break down the alien defenses, leaving only decaying piles of bodies for our surviving sanitation workers to dispose of.
Plenty of movies are focused more on the results than the methods. Whether it’s the fact that old-lady yodel-music causes their brain tissues to explode or their spaceships run on operating systems compatible with MacOS, we don’t win because of our ingenuity or determination. We survive for the same reason we have often survived extinction—dumb luck.
2. Make Super Soldiers
“You want to make me the best soldier possible. Go down and look at the standings. Look at the all-time standings. So far you’re doing an excellent job with me. Congratulations. Now when are you going to put me up against a good army?” —Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Humanity au naturale is just wimpy compared to most aliens in invasion scenarios. Not only do the aliens have superior firepower—they’re often stronger, faster, and smarter than us.
But we’re adaptable, and we can improve ourselves with genetics, cybernetics, and other-etics technologies we haven’t even conceived of yet. If humanity isn’t good enough to win, well, we make ourselves good enough to win.
In Ender’s Game, this takes the form of turning child geniuses into xenocidal generals. In the blockbuster video game Halo, humans created a group of super soldiers called the Spartans—initially to deal with human uprisings—but ultimately, they become crucial in the ongoing war with the Covenant, an alliance of multiple alien races. A single Spartan known as Master Chief mows down thousands of Covenant forces in the three Halo titles released so far.
3. Outsmart Them
“What you have brought into the world may be utterly alien, it may share none of your desires or hopes, it may look upon your greatest achievements as childish toys—yet it is something wonderful, and you will have created it.” —Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
This is perhaps the most difficult method to swallow. The aliens must fundamentally have more advanced technology than us if they have traveled from their world to ours, given that we still have technical difficulties driving down to the corner store for a gallon of milk. Still, intelligent people are perfectly capable of being perfectly stupid under the right circumstances.
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, a classic according to most distinguished readers of the subgenre, involves an alien invasion by the Overlords. These are aliens of a different sort—less “devour our young” and more of the “I’m grounding you to your room for your own good.” Sure, they end wars and bring about a utopian golden age, but at the cost of human creativity. When the aliens finally reveal themselves, they resemble Tim Curry’s demonic character in Legend. Humans attempt to rebel against the Overlords and found a hippie commune, which ends like most communes tend to—total nuclear annihilation, but not before a bunch of psychic children are born. They evolve into a super-consciousness and become one with the Overmind, thus effectively ending the need for the occupation for the Overlords who all this time have been shepherding humanity towards this goal.
Luckily for the blood-thirsty reader, not all invasions are so benign.
4. All-Out War!
“We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” —President Thomas Whitmore, Independence Day
In the waning days of the American Empire, it’s been popular to depict alien invasions defeated by our conventional military hardware—perhaps with a little assistance from our devious scientists working behind enemy lines, but mostly in the “War!” scenarios, we win because we’re vicious bastards with a whole hell of a lot of explosive Made-In-U.S. ordinance.
The recent Battle: Los Angeles doesn’t depict an ultimate victory against the full alien forces, but it does feature ordinary military grunts out-fighting and out-thinking an overwhelming force of alien attackers—mostly with lots of shouted lines like “Look out!” and “Eat this!” against a backdrop of satisfying explosions tearing up the Los Angeles skyline.
Battle: Los Angeles is so far unique from other “Our military owns!” scenarios in that it depicts extraterrestrials with dirty technology that is not so obviously superior to ours. Their ships are loud and ramshackle. It doesn’t address how such patchwork methods of transportation survive in interstellar flight, but their decidedly lower-tech appearance lends some credence to the notion that we could beat them with the primitive tools we have.
5. Surrender or Assimilate
“One thing is for certain: there is no stopping them; the ants will soon be here. And I for one welcome our new insect overlords.” —Kent Brockman, The Simpsons: “Deep Space Homer”
When faced with the choice of turning over our planet or being atomized, sometimes the best thing to do is to turn it over and live to fight another day. We humans have an independent streak—we rarely seem content to let alien invaders actually rule us for any length of time. Even in Battlefield Earth, primitive cave people eventually rise up and throw off the shackles of alien oppression. In the film version, they do it by learning to fly thousand-year-old Harrier jets—which takes an admirable amount of mule-headed determination when you still associate the sound of thunder with “GODS AAAANGRRY!”
Octavia E. Butler’s Lilith’s Brood trilogy takes human-alien assimilation to the extreme of literally combining species. Rather than fighting the alien Oankali, who arrive after a nuclear war that has nearly wiped out humanity, the survivors are genetically-engineered to cross-breed with the aliens, creating new alien-human hybrids (leading to some hot alien-on-human tentacle sex). In the final book Imago, one of the hybrids convinces the Oankali to reverse their sterilization of the remaining humans and allow them to go colonize Mars (and no doubt screw that planet up, too).
So there you have five solid plans of action in the event of a hostile alien invasion. Whether you choose to fight back with nuclear missiles, engineer an army of Master Chiefs, hope they catch the flu, or resign the species to an existence of laboring in their sugar mines, you can rest easy knowing you are prepared to deal with their inevitable arrival.
That is, assuming they don’t just throw asteroids at us from orbit until we’ve been reduced to an evenly distributed, thin layer of pink paste.
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