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Alien Life
Guide to Alien Literature

Alien Life
  • Vera Historia (by )
  • A Voyage to the Moon (by )
  • Micromegas (by )
  • Asgard and the gods : the tales and trad... (by )
  • The Pyramids of Giza (by )
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The possibility of alien life fascinates humankind. The earliest recorded references to extraterrestrials occur mainly in religious terms. The earliest known record of alien life in literature can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which dates from the Third Dynasty of Ur (circa 2100 B.C.). In these tales, the King of Uruk (Gilgamesh) and Enkidu (originally Gilgamesh’s adversary) defeat occult monsters on epic quests either in defiance or obedience to an assortment of gods and goddesses. In the 2nd century B.C., Assyrian satirist Lucian of Samosata wrote True History, a parody of Greek mythology that involved traveling to outer space, alien life forms, and interplanetary warfare. 

The concept of alien life forms conflicted with the Christian doctrine of mankind made in God’s image. Insistence upon the existence of intelligent alien life could have dire consequences, as discovered in 1593 by Giordano Bruno, an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, and poet, when he was first tried for the heresy of cosmic pluralism. An admirer of Copernicus, Bruno’s fame exploded after his execution in 1600.

Nearly 2,000 years after Lucian, Johannes Kepler penned a scientific fantasy about a population of intelligent beings on the moon in his unpublished manuscript Somnium (1611). Cyrano de Bergerac wrote Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon (1657), Empires of the Sun (1662), and A Voyage to the Moon (1899)--all of them published posthumously--and  Voltaire wrote Micromegas (1752). Modern author Arthur C. Clarke credits de Bergerac with predicting rocket-powered space flight.

Various philosophers and writers throughout the centuries speculate whether the ancient gods, such as the Nordic gods in Asgard, can be considered aliens. Theories about regarding the existence advanced aliens interfering in less advanced, human concerns, such as aliens building the Great Pyramids of Giza and Stonehenge in England, thought to be far beyond the technologies and capacities of the peoples who built them.
Of course, the whole genre of science fiction and its focus on alien life forms didn’t really gain traction until iconic author H. G. Wells and Edgar Rice Burroughs burst upon the literary scene in the early 20th century. Other 20th century literary titans who fantasized about intelligent life beyond Planet Earth include:

  • In 1963, the United Kingdom dominated the exploration of extraterrestrial life in popular culture with television programs based on the character of Dr. Who. The series continues today.
  • A decade later in 1973, Arthur C. Clarke broke into fame with Rendezvous with Rama, in which alien life enters Earth’s solar system rather than human explorers venturing into outer space.
  • Douglas Adams, a comedic English writer, satirized the entire genre of science fiction. Radio broadcast his most famous book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in 1978, and filmmakers produced a movie of the same title in 2005.
  • Terry Pratchett, another comedic English writer, took an approach more closely aligned with fantasy with his Discworld series.
  • In 1961, Robert A. Heinlein released Stranger in a Strange Land, about a human born and matured on Mars who travels to Earth.
In the 1980s, Orson Scott Card showcased the deadly consequences of potential conflict between aliens and humankind when both want to dominate the universe in Ender’s Game.

Breaking into an overtly masculine genre, Octavia E. Butler wrote of humanity’s salvation at the hands of aliens in her 3-volume collection titled Lilith’s Brood.

The Hainish Cycle, a series of award-winning novels by literary icon Ursula K. Le Guin, deals with the consequences of alien descendants of humans who founded colonies on other planets contacting each other for the first time or establishing diplomatic relations.

Madeleine L’Engle continued the strong feminine presence in the literary exploration of other planets, other dimensions, and other intelligent life with her breakthrough children’s book A Wrinkle in Time (1962).

The Martian Chronicles (1950) by Ray Bradbury explores the human occupation of Mars.

Of course, no list focusing on alien life forms can be complete without television’s iconic exploration of social issues in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek and its many spin-off series.

By Karen M. Smith

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