This post originally appeared at The Oak Wheel on June 3rd, 2014.
“Craphound had wicked yard-sale karma, for a rotten, filthy alien bastard. He was too good at panning out the single grain of gold in a raging river of uselessness for me not to like him— respect him, anyway. But then he found the cowboy trunk. It was two months’ rent to me and nothing but some squirrelly alien kitsch-fetish to Craphound.” Craphound, by Cory Doctorow.
The following First Contact scenarios can be used with humans on either side of the encounter. Don’t discount the possibility humans being the relatively more advanced civilization making contact, or both being at about the same level. Most of them can be combined with several others (consider how “missionary work” could be added to “information/signals only”).
Space is pretty big and it seems like a really expensive thing to cross. Especially if technological advances extend the life span to indefinite lengths, it isn’t unlikely that a civilization would consider it more effective to stay at home and converse with other civilizations at range, despite the time lag.
There is also the possibility of a form of FTL that requires a device to be built on our end for travel to be possible. Again, it may be regarded as more efficient to simply talk with us, either just once or in a series of transmissions, and wait for us to work out the blueprints that they sent. Or maybe we’re the ones doing the contacting.
This is the first contact scenario seen in The Hercules Texts.
2 Rescue Mission
Horrible stuff happened, and now somebody is in trouble! Humans could be on either side of this. Is the planet in danger from horrible explosion stuff? Is there a starship stranded in the dead of space?
This is the first contact scenario seen in, like, every other episode of Star Trek.
3 Missionary Work
It could be religious. It could be political or philosophical or maybe even scientific. Whatever it is, one party has a school of thought that it wants to spread. This hasn’t been an uncommon motivation in our history, and a space-faring civilization that comes across an alien world may first make contact for religious reasons. One of the ideas kicking around in my head involves a missionary trip involving the combined efforts of the Catholics, the LDS, the Philip/Buckmanists (which is to Philip K. Dick as Scientology is to L. Ron Hubbard), and a revived Sufi movement.
It helps in that scenario that we’ve already colonized couple of dozen star systems by that point so interstellar travel isn’t nigh-impossible, just long, but one estimate supposes a cost of $6 billion to send four people to Mars. The Catholic Church spent $170 billion in America alone (and we have no idea how much was saved), so it isn’t out of the question even in near-future stories. The main problem is just having a reason to cross the distance.
This is the first contact scenario seen in The Sparrow.
Oh my. I don’t even need to make introductions here. You're all very well-acquainted with each other already.
You’ve already thought of a dozen stories where this is the first contact scenario.
5 Second-stage Investigation
The more advanced civilization has been monitoring its lesser for a long time and gathering all kinds of data. This has been pretty awesome but now it’s time for step two: Making contact. But not to introduce the other guy to the galactic party, oh no. They just want to see what happens when the primitives find out about aliens.
You know, for science.
And then later, maybe they’ll send an invitation to the party. Maybe.
This seems to be part of what’s going on in Future Boston.
One of the parties is escaping something. An invasion, a disaster, turmoil at home, the list goes on and on. This could easily turn into an invasion depending on the refugees’ circumstances and desperation.
What are the other guys going to do with them?
This is the first contact scenario seen in Alien Nation.
Boom! Maybe they didn’t mean to drop by but something went horribly wrong and now they’re here. And stuck. They’re also stuck, probably. This can be easily combined with refugees but they don’t have to be used together. Hell, maybe they were intending to invade but the ship had a malfunction and now they’re trying desperately to make it look like they were preparing to do anything other than attack us because they’re completely at our mercy.
Combined with the refugees option, this is the first contact scenario seen in Alternian Nation, a Homestuck/Alien Nation crossover (hey, I have to get my recommendations in somehow, don’t I?).
Any civilization capable of traversing interstellar or even interplanetary distances probably isn’t going to care very much about trading stuff like gold or uranium, but in my article Constructive Complexity, or Posthuman Ethics and Value Systems I lay out some things that we could reasonably expect an advanced civilization to care about. They could be interested in trading culture, whether that’s just ideas or the actual objects; scientific ideas or logic systems; and/or biological specimens. If I’m right then they’ll attach higher value to the original than to any copy that they could fabricate, whether we’re talking about parrots or the Mona Lisa.
Seriously, read it. I’ve hyperlinked it three times already. And here it is a fourth time: Read it now.
Your turn: What would you do if you were writing a story about first contact?
R. Donald James Gauvreau works an assortment of odd jobs, most involving batteries. He has recently finished a guide to comparative mythology for worldbuilders, available here for free. He also maintains a blog at White Marble Block, where he regularly posts story ideas and free fiction and is a contributor for Odin Lied, where he writes primarily on the latest news on Fenrir's illegal incarceration.
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