Friday, January 19, 2007

Return of the Son of the Friday Challenge

UPDATE: Just using my awesome site owner powers to bubble this one back to the top, in hopes of drawing a few more entries. For example, off-blog, someone gave me a wonderful idea for a story in which both sides of the global warming debate are wrong: Earth is merely the latest battleground in the ongoing war between the Dolphinoids from Tau Ceti, who want to turn the whole world into a warm tropical ocean, and the Polar Bear People from Ursa Major, who want to cover the planet in glaciers and ice floes. (Gore, as you may have guessed, is actually a Polarbearian secret agent in disguise.)

Unfortunately, only entries posted in the Comments count towards — the prize! That's right, I didn't announce a prize, did I? What do you think it should be? How about, one slightly shelfworn but never read copy of Earth in the Balance? Or maybe something else from the "We're Doomed!" book collection?

H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds first appeared as a serial, beginning in the April 1897 issue of Pearson's magazine. Wells was a solidly Darwinian atheist, as well as a Fabian socialist, and it doesn't take much effort to read this story as an allegory about the coming destruction of genteel 19th-century English society at the hands of the mechanized barbarian hordes of the dawning 20th. In the end, the narrator and his wife are spared, not by anything men can do, but by the dumb luck of the evolutionary draw; the Martians have no resistance to bacteria to which most humans have long since developed immunity, and Wells makes it clear that there is no guarantee that it won't happen again and that the Martians won't be better prepared the next time. (That business about being saved by "the tiniest creatures which God in His infinite wisdom placed upon the Earth" is pure Hollywood. No such line appears in the book.)

As usual, though, the fans ignored the subtext and seized on superficialities. Giant walking mechanical war machines? Cool! Drooling bug-eyed bloodsucking monsters with tentacles? Yeah, baby! Death rays, mass slaughter, and the end of the world as we know it? Give us more!

And for 110 years now, we sci-fi writers have labored to give the fans more, writing variations on the WotW theme time and time again, only usually supplying the one element that Wells inexplicably forgot to include: the two-fisted action hero who discovers the aliens' one weakness and figures out a clever way to exploit it and defeat them.

But, let's face it. It is 110 years later, and the WotW plot is getting a little threadbare. Any aliens sufficiently biologically similar to us to be interested in our planet would probably want to capture it with the ecosystem mostly intact, and any beings intelligent enough to cross space to get here would most likely be smart enough to realize that the whole "invasion" thing is an unnecessary waste. The extermination of the current dominant species could be accomplished much more cheaply and easily from orbit, and if they're really like us, they wouldn't want their tentacle prints on the job anyway, just in case something goes wrong and we survive. No, the best way to wipe out those billions of hairless monkeys on Sol III would be to find some really clever and insidious way to talk them into offing themselves...

Which brings us to today's challenge. Al Gore, it turns out, is not merely a rather stiff ex-VP and former Senator from Tennessee; he's actually an alien robot. Is he from a much colder world, with a mission to con us into triggering a new ice age and preparing the way for his alien masters? Or do his creators want to make Earth a much hotter place, and are they enough like us to understand and use reverse psychology? Or is he simply a tool of one faction, and are there forces even more sinister and Byzantine at work?

Anyway, that's today's challenge. I've spotted you the idea, now it's your turn to come up with a brief synopsis of the story you'd write developing this idea. You have one week; the winner(s) will be announced next Friday.

Ready? Set? Go!