Please welcome TROUBLE IN MIND author Donna S. Frelick! Her latest Interstellar Rescue sci-fi romance releases this month and she’s here with an insightful essay about the alien abduction trope and its connection with society and pop culture over the years.
Who’s Afraid of the Little Gray Alien?
by Donna S. Frelick
Not so long ago the fear of “alien abduction” was a real and visceral thing in human consciousness. We had eyewitness accounts of our fellow humans being “beamed aboard” alien spaceships, of “experimentation,” of repeated abductions for nefarious purposes. Even now, an estimated one-third of Americans believes UFOs are real and a much higher percentage believes intelligent life exists somewhere else in our galaxy. One of our most prominent scientists, Dr. Stephen Hawking, believes we better hope there’s no one else out there, because we’d be at their mercy.
It’s no surprise, then, that alien abduction and its companion, interstellar slavery, are common tropes in science fiction and SFR. Granted, not a few of the titles which claim those tags tend to use the abduction as prelude to a sexual encounter (or twelve). But we can put those in a separate category for purposes of this discussion—“Sexual Fantasy”, certainly, “The Upside of Abduction,” maybe.
I’m here to talk about the dark side of alien abduction for the purposes of slave labor and the nightmarish fear we humans may have of it. The first sign of this fear came just after the Second World War, with the first flush of UFO sightings, the Roswell crash and its aftermath, and the B-movie sci-fi craze of the Fifties. This coincided with the final years of the Golden Age of science fiction (Thirties to Fifties), which was dominated by stories of evil aliens on Earth and spaceships to distant planets.
Our real sources of angst, of course, were not to be found in the skies, unless you count the time we spent looking up for those missiles from the USSR that would be carrying the A-bombs to wipe us out. Then there were the Commies who were supposedly infiltrating everything. Those real fears were reflected not in the cheesy MARS NEEDS WOMEN, but in the truly scary THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951-based on a short story by John Campbell), the creepy INVASION OF THE BODY-SNATCHERS (1956) and the stellar THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951).
By the time the Seventies rolled around, however, no one believed in the Commie under the bed and we’d stopped digging fallout shelters. Our thoughts about aliens had fallen into two camps: those who believed their coming would bring a wonderful new day to this tired old Earth, and those who thought they knew better. Even those who supposedly had had “interaction” with the little Gray aliens in their UFOs were split on the matter. Some said they’d had a great time on the ships; some relived their experiences in horror.
Stephen Spielberg captured this push-pull perfectly with CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). Most of the movie was enough to give anyone nightmares: a little boy is pulled out of his screaming mother’s arms into a blinding light, a man goes more than a little crazy trying to re-create a compelling vision in a plate of mashed potatoes. But in the end, the boy is returned unharmed and the man happily volunteers to venture off into the galaxy with his new-found alien friends. Let’s just hope there’s not a labor camp waiting for him at the end of his journey.
Spielberg’s optimistic vision reflected a relatively optimistic period. America had not yet seen its embassy staff taken hostage in Iran, interest rates hit 12 percent with almost ten percent unemployment in the early Eighties (how quickly we forget), or either Iraq war. Oh, and the Russians were mired in Afghanistan in those days.
With the Nineties and early 2000s our fears had begun to return. Chris Carter’s THE X-FILES was a perfect example, with FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder trying desperately to find the truth behind the abduction of his young sister. He wants to believe aliens took her and seeks proof. His partner, skeptic Dana Scully, wouldn’t believe if a little Gray alien hit her over the head.
The cynicism of its audience was well reflected in the dark conspiracies of THE X-FILES. Mulder and Scully could trust no one but each other as they navigated their world of skulking monsters and government smoke and mirrors. The new X-FILES show, which debuted January 25 on Fox Television, brings these conspiracies even more to the fore. Now it’s not the aliens that are the real enemy; it’s our own government.
This idea of a world hidden beneath the world we’re familiar with is a core element of my Interstellar Rescue series, too. In my first book, Unchained Memory, my heroine, Asia Burdette, only learns of her abduction by aliens and internment in an alien labor camp as she is on the run from government black ops kidnappers who want access to what she knows. In the second book, Trouble in Mind, launching February 16, that black ops group succeeds in kidnapping Asia and her son Jack, who is the key to an interstellar power play. Lana Matheson, an FBI agent every bit as skeptical as Scully, must join forces with a half-alien tracker, Gabriel Cruz, to find the boy and his mother.
The action in Trouble in Mind revolves around the question of how far those in power will go to protect their secrets and/or the foundations of their system. We know, of course, that this black ops group will do almost anything to get at the knowledge of other worlds that Asia has. What would they do with the psi talent that Jack has? The alien government minister who is also searching for Jack wants to use him in a bold move to take over the Minertsan Consortium—and ensure the continuance of slave labor as the basis of the empire’s economy. What will he do to get at Jack?
In this day of media manipulation, general cynicism, economic uncertainty, partisan politics and distrust of government, our science fiction view of aliens as threat has morphed from UFOs taking us as individuals to aliens invading us en masse. Either those aliens want to destroy us outright (PACIFIC RIM, the upcoming INDEPENDENCE DAY II) or they want to colonize us, forcing us to resist or collaborate (FALLING SKIES, COLONY). Again, it’s no surprise that our screens and SF/SFR stories are filled with Mulder’s paranoia writ large—post-Apocalyptic tales, dystopias, unseen aliens with human collaborators (one of my favorite themes).
It’s becoming clear we no longer fear merely being Taken and enslaved. We fear being conquered and enslaved. And that speaks volumes about what we really fear.
About the author
A number of years ago, as an aspiring science fiction writer, I took a workshop from noted SF writer Ann C. Crispin. She took one look at my SF short story and said, “You have a talent for writing romance.”
“Romance” in those days meant “historical” or maybe “contemporary”. There was no “paranormal” and certainly no “science fiction” romance. So I wasn’t sure how to take that comment. Then I realized that much of the kind of science fiction I loved was full of romantic elements–Classic STAR TREK, X-FILES, AVATAR, even many New Age SF authors like Ursula K. Leguin, Zenna Henderson and Theodore Sturgeon.Thankfully, the world has turned, these and other wonderful pioneers have laid the groundwork and now I can finally take Ann’s advice and follow my true calling.
Along the way to my science fiction suspense career I’ve been married to a wonderful guy since just out of college, been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa, raised a family (two girls, two grandkids), tried organic farming, worked as a freelance journalist and editor, been a community activist, earned black belts in two different styles of martial arts and written four STAR TREK fanfic novels (and a number of short stories) for “underground” publication. (Ask me sometime about STAR TREK cons!)
In 2012, my first two SFR novels finaled in the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® contest. Shortly thereafter, I found a literary home with the fabulous Michelle Johnson, founder of Inklings Literary Agency and INK’d Press. Unchained Memorywas released in February, 2015 from INK’d Press. Trouble in Mind will follow in February, 2016.
I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America, the Science Fiction Romance Brigade, the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Chapter of RWA, the Golden Network (of past and current Golden Heart finalists) and the Firebirds (2012 Golden Heart finalists).
I live on 44 beautiful mountain acres in Marshall, NC, with my husband and two talkative cats.
Follow Donna S. Frelick on Twitter: @DonnaSFrelick
FBI Special Agent Alana Matheson is good at her job, despite a past that would make even a seasoned agent cringe. She has no time for the outside help the victim’s family has brought in on a kidnapping case, no matter how good-looking he is.
But galactic tracker Gabriel Cruz is no ordinary private investigator, and the skills he brings to the job will save both their lives.Because Lana and Gabriel are not the only ones seeking an unusual little boy and his mother.Their rivals in the chase are not of this world, and only an alliance built on the bonds of love can ensure that Lana and Gabriel beat the alien hunters to their prey.