With all the chaos and confusion in the world today, it would be sort of nice if a flying saucer would touch down in the middle of a major metropolis carrying an alien bearing a message of peace and hope for all mankind. Science fiction has been dreaming of such a close encounter for a long time now.
Do we really want someone to come and tell us how to live our lives? What answers are we looking for from such an interstellar prophet?
Plato talked about the ideal forms of everything that he thought existed beyond the physical plain. The ideal of “Chair”, that all chairs are measured against. The ideal of “Rock” that all rocks are measured against. The ideal of “Human”. The ideal of “Friend”. The ideal of “Civilization”.
Perhaps we’re looking for that perfect future, that perfect peace, out there in the cosmos. If it is possible- if some other race has achieved such a state- then maybe there’s hope for our feeble, bloodstained, and tainted human civilization as well.
In any case, the moments when those fictional alien peacemakers from Utopian worlds touch down on our war-torn planet make for great stories, scripts, and songs.
The first example that comes to my mind is the classic 1951 thriller, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Though everyone remembers it for the robot, Gort, and his laser eyes that can only be stopped by the phrase, “Klaatu barada nikto”, the story really revolves around Gort’s master. Klaatu is a humanoid alien who has come to Earth to invite the planet into a peaceful alliance with other worlds. However, in the heat of the Cold War, he finds it impossible to discuss peace with the nations of Earth. Instead, he goes undercover, and meets the only people who will listen to his message, a working class, single mother, and her son.
The lore of a wise, alien messenger of peace has extended even to the world of rock music. The narrative in David Bowie’s song “Starman” is a good example of this science fiction trope. This time, the titular “Starman” sends his message over the radio through unearthly music. The theme of peace on Earth for the sake of a brighter future is epitomized in his lyrics describing the message of the alien: “He’s told us not to blow it/’Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile.”
This idea also plays a small part in the novel, The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin. The protagonist, George Orr, is able to dream up new realities. When a manipulative psychiatrist gets custody of George, he hypnotizes him into creating worlds of the doctor’s own design. In attempt to unify humanity, he gets George to dream an alien menace. When that inevitably backfires, George’s next dream turns the aliens benevolent, and they help humanity to become a unified, utopian society.
While it may never come to fruition, this dream of ours for interstellar aid seems particularly alluring in such a time of division as this. Even if it doesn’t come from a well-spoken humanoid in a flying saucer, or a mysterious voice on the radio, I hope you find peace in this season of celebrations, and in the year to come.