Monday, 29 August 2011

What would aliens really want with Earth?

As Douglas Adams famously wrote, space is really big. So any aliens who might come a-knocking will have travelled really far to get to our neighborhood, possibly having slept a few hundred years en route. So what could possibly be worth the cost and physical endurance of such a trip?

1. Land: a place to live?
Many problems here. First, gravity. Aliens would have to come from a planet of similar size and density, otherwise they'd find it pretty rough going living here; unless intelligent (space-faring) life as the galaxy knows it could only exist on a planet such as ours, so that its size and make-up alone meet some kind of 'sweet spot' engendering life via just the right atmospheric and life-giving (e.g. water) conditions. Second problem is that there are probably (i.e. probabilistically speaking) many planets nearer to them than us, and if they can travel the stars, they can probably do some basic terraforming nearer to home. Third problem is that earth is already a bit toxic, irradiated and polluted, and that's not counting the billions of bacteria which might give aliens more than a cold.

2. Water; resources?
Sounds reasonable at first sight, but surely an advanced civilization who can beat or approach light speed can bundle together a few atoms of hydrogen and oxygen to form water? And again, our water is full of local microbes and toxins, not exactly the 'evian' of the galaxy. Other resources? Metals, ore, maybe? But you don't tend to seek out what you don't know about, and any civilization capable of serious space travel should have a few alchemic tricks up their sleeves.

3. Slaves, cheap labour?
Are we really that useful, physically speaking? Our physical strength, endurance, and tolerance to environmental variation is not outstanding. Many Scifi films and series focus on this plot-line. Slaves at first sight sounds reasonable; for us, maybe, but for aliens? Wouldn't they just make robots? I really wonder if this is just one of our own personal (galactically speaking) hang-ups.

4. A dangerous species to cull
Now we're talking, and a number of authors have already tackled this one. If there was any kind of Standard & Poor's rating agency out there looking at wolfling races like us, they might after a quick scan decide that we are too dangerous to be allowed to reach interstellar travel. We make atomic weapons and wage wars all the time, and trash our planet. We might be considered weeds. [This is the plot of one of my upcoming short stories, called the negotiator].

5. Research
Maybe aliens are curious like us, and come and abduct people every now and again, either to keep a check on us, or to catalogue our development. Sounds plausible, but as an ex-researcher, I'd sure like to have that kind of research budget!

6. A quick snack en route...
Aliens might be passing by and need something to eat. But remember, space is really big. Chances of ending up here by accident are like winning the lottery twice.  Again, physiological incompatibility might make us poison to an alien species, or just plain tasteless...

7. Biodiversity
Now we're getting interesting. In my novel series and one or two stories I hint that we may be unique in our biodiversity, i.e. the sheer number of species of life on a single planet.  This is just a hunch, that you don't need this much diversity to lead to intelligent space-travlling beings. If the hunch is correct, then Earth might be seen as a cornucopia to research and/or harvest.

8. Genetic base material
In one of my (less serious) story lines (Looking for Hell; Escape from Hell) an advanced race (the Skrim) pops over from another galaxy, having digitally-encoded its entire species, which it then needs to 'download' onto basic DNA, which happens to be us.

9. Sport
Hunting, to be precise, as in the film series 'Predator'. Problem here is that we'd surely be poor sport for any alien species capable of star-travel. Still, many sports we indulge in seem crazy, so why not?

10. Drugs
Many pharmaceutical companies these days forage the Amazon basin (no, not the online store, the other Amazon) for new plants or frogs whose genetic make-up can lead to new medical wonders. This 'alien plot-line' is really a combination of biodiversity and research. But it could also be that material here could be drugs in the more common sense today, i.e. allowing aliens to get 'high'. This was the plot-line of an old film called 'Dark Angel' where a nasty alien was after our endorphins, but didn't know the word 'please'.

So, in summary, maybe it's not that surprising we've not been visited by aliens. My own Eden Trilogy builds on two of the above so that a species called the Q'Roth have an unhealthy interest in humanity . One thing's for sure - if aliens do one day arrive, they're probably not going to announce why they're here. The epithet "a friend in need is a friend indeed" probably does not apply to aliens who come a-knocking...

The Eden Paradox is available on ebook on and and Barnes & Noble
And as paperback from October 15th. Sequel Eden's Trial available from November 8.
Free stories are available here.


  1. You forgot religion. We might one day be visited by the galactic equivalent of Mormons.

  2. you forgot the most important.. they can be after our souls

  3. aliens want the pile of protein earth life will make... there is little doubt that all life if it exists any where is protein and protein nourished ...i suspect that earth protein has been harvested at least one time maybe more...look what a pile of protein the dinosaurs made....we harvest and exist on protein...why would any other life do less... john l. mccowen, fitzgerald, ga.


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