“Earth is ghetto / I want to leave / Can you beam me up / I’m out on the street by the corner store / You know the one on 15th…“
I’m sure many of you have heard the viral song by Aliah Sheffield by now–it’s the toast of TikTok. If not, take a moment and listen below.
Much has been made of what the song says about the current state of humanity, the planet we live on, ghettos, corner stores and aliens. In light of the global garbage fire that was 2020 (and everything leading up to it), the joke’s not new, but there’s something particularly poignant about Sheffield’s delivery that I think we can all appreciate.
However, when I first heard it, I thought of alien invasion stories, and why you almost never see aliens land in the ghetto. Aliens almost never land on reservations, near prisons, next to slums, or basically anywhere other than heavily gentrified big cities where white ex-Marines or plucky white single parents or mysteriously disgraced (and usually white) scientists live.
I’ve mentioned before that I go through odd reading phases, and one I often come back to is global alien invasions. I’m particularly interested in tales of aliens landing on islands with tourist economies, in favelas, in remote rural spaces, in Asian superpowers, and so on. There’s something that hits different about alien invasion told through the lens of a culture that has experienced real invasion, colonization, genocide and oppression–something deeper and grittier, that realizes you can’t shoot your way out of everything but you can get a bit of your own back in other ways. The following books all show some of that grit, and in one case, the intergalactic consequences of being the instrument of oppression.
As usual: Not an expert. Just a reader. Be nice. Read well. Find the whole list with extras HERE.
The Lesson, by Cadwell Turnbull
Some books take a while to really grow on me, and this story of aliens making first contact in the US Virgin Islands is one of them. The best alien invasion stories contain parallels to real human migration and uncertainties about diversity. Turnbull excels at using the backdrop of a Caribbean island with a colonial past to illustrate the continuing pain of historical oppression, embodied by the alien Ynaa. It’s a remarkably culturally literate book with a lot of layers and a genuinely frightening climax. Find it HERE.
This first contact story is set in rural Nigeria, written by a British-born Nigerian who used to be a psychiatrist. It’s a tense, spare book that really keeps you guessing–at times it’s more of a thriller than sci-fi. I honestly don’t know enough about Nigeria to say that something belongs authentically to it, and that sort of statement is reductive anyway. I will say that I enormously enjoyed the idea of aliens interacting more or less peacefully with an African economy and government instead of immediately initiating shootouts and abductions. The conflict naturally comes from the Earthlings. This is the first in a trilogy, and the only one I’ve read so far. Find it HERE.
The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (no relation)
I debated including this because the author is developing a reputation for political asshattery. However, I just could not stop talking about this book when I first read it, and it has an important twist that I think deserves to be included here. It’s one of the most intellectually fascinating sci-fi novels I’ve ever read. Basically, a genius imprisoned during the Chinese Cultural Revolution accidentally makes first contact with a murderous alien society light years away, learns about their history and culture, and hides it from everyone. Years later, others discover the threats the aliens have sent and all of Earth scrambles to prepare for an invasion hundreds of years in the future. The book is centered in China, of course, with a few token Westerners hanging around, and even though you never really meet the aliens in question, their history is boggling and their messages terrifying. There’s an interesting undercurrent in the book regarding what happens when a superpower gets outclassed due to its own authoritarian shenanigans. This is another trilogy I’ve only read the first installment of–find it HERE.
Take Us To Your Chief And Other Stories by Drew Hayden Taylor
Only two of the stories in this tonally diverse First Nations sci-fi collection are about alien invasions, but all of them are brilliant regardless of subject. The ones about aliens are wildly different from each other–one is terrifying, the other hilarious–but they both are about indigenous communities facing invasion in pretty culturally apt ways–after all, what could be worse than Europeans? Whether aliens come to rescue or destroy, Indigenous people are arguably the only demographic who already have experience in the matter. The stories in this book all have a Golden Age charm to them and it’s well worth checking them all out. Find it HERE.
This is admittedly an odd choice, made odder still by the fact that I haven’t read this one yet. Apparently in this book aliens have already invaded and subjugated Ireland and the story revolves around an unintentioinal freedom fighter who’s been caught and sent to a notorious prison for Earthlings, where he discovers something terrible. I have no idea what he discovers or what happens in the book but something about an alien invasion in Belfast with potential analogs to Partition intrigues me. I haven’t read it yet but I hope to soon. Find it HERE.
While I’m of the opinion that if aliens do exist they avoid humans, I still enjoy imaginings of how they would fare if they landed in different parts of Earth, especially when those parts are culturally rich and have a history of other types of invasion. There’s more books on the theme of course, and you can find them all HERE on the full list. Peace!
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