Created By: AltseHashkeMay 18, 2013 Last Edited By: AltseHashkeMay 22, 2013

Third Conflict Ball From The Sun

Alien invasions (or humans invading other planets) invade Earth to get things that are more conveniently obtained in space.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Alien invasions (including those where humans are the invading aliens) often seem not to know how easy things are to get in space. They routinely invade Earth for its water (passing by entire comet belts made of ice), or for its metals (passing through an asteroid belt where the very densest materials are far more conveniently obtained).

This is a specific form of science fictional Conflict Ball: the aliens need a reason to fight with humans, so plainly, they want our resources. Only, writers apparently didn't bother to check what resources a spacefaring civilization would have to fight over.

Earth's water is relevant to whether aliens similar to us would want to invade us—because it exists as a solid, liquid, and gas on our planet, i.e. we're in the "Goldilocks zone" (not too hot, not too cold, but just right). Yet the aliens are remarkably seldom just interested in Lebensraum.

Similarly, Earth has hydrocarbons that only form from organic life—yet somehow Hollywood has missed a lot of chances for a Green Aesop or "war for oil" analogies.

Obviously happens because Sci Fi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale.
Community Feedback Replies: 16
  • May 18, 2013
    AltseHashke
    • In District9, the prawns used to mine ore from alien planets.
    • In Battle Los Angeles, the aliens come to Earth for our water. A Stapledon on the news says that Earth's water being liquid is significant, but doesn't explain that it's significant because it means we're not frozen; rather he implies there's something special about the water itself.
    • Avatar has an unusual example in the Unobtainium: aside from a naturally-occurring hot superconductor being, basically, impossible, anything that is naturally-occurring must certainly be easier to synthesize than it is to mine from another star-system.
    • Oblivion has the aliens trying to harvest Earth's water for fuel, as if they couldn't much more easily get hydrogen and oxygen from the gas giants' atmospheres.
    • V (the 1983 miniseries anyway) has the Visitors invading Earth in large part because they want our water. And To Serve Man.
  • May 18, 2013
    DennisDunjinman
  • May 18, 2013
    zarpaulus
    I think the hydrocarbon thing might be because most people seem to assume that a space-faring species wouldn't want to use a power source that requires a lot of oxygen and produces carbon dioxide, assuming that they breathe the same stuff we do.

    It seems like space colonization for living space or "putting your eggs in multiple baskets" is a foreign concept to Hollywood. I can't think of a single movie or TV series where the reason for Alien Invasion (if stated) isn't resource theft or loss of homeworld, and I can count the number of TV series where humanity colonizes other planets for Lebensraum and earth is still inhabited on one hand (Star Trek, Babylon Five, and Andromeda).
  • May 18, 2013
    StarSword
    See also How To Invade An Alien Planet, where this trope is one of the reasons not to bother.
  • May 18, 2013
    Ryusui
    I think this is tropeable, but it Needs A Better Name - it's when Earth Is The Center Of The Universe gets the Voodoo Shark treatment (i.e. there is a justification for why Earth is targeted, but it makes no damn sense).
  • May 18, 2013
    spacemarine50
    Anything to do with Third Rock From The Sun?
  • May 18, 2013
    zarpaulus
    The Headscratchers page for Oblivion has a suggestion that the Tet attacked earth instead of just harvesting hydrogen from Jupiter is that humanity was a potential threat.
  • May 18, 2013
    AltseHashke
    Yeah, the name's a play on Third Rock, although "third (something) from the sun" shows up lots of other places. "Through the Never" by Metallica, for instance. Anyone got a better name?

    I also don't think it directly involves Earth Is The Center Of The Universe, since it applies equally to things like Avatar where the humans are the alien invaders. And I don't think "these guys chose to rob us" necessarily implies "we're super special", the way that trope does; we might've just been the "prey" they noticed.

    As for hydrocarbons, petrochemicals are at least as useful as a raw material as they are a power source, and that's not going to change for a long time, no matter what we run our cars on.
  • May 19, 2013
    Arivne
    Film
    • Independence Day. The aliens are said to move from world to world, consuming every natural resource and then moving on.
  • May 19, 2013
    StarSword
    Hang on a second, don't we already have Planet Looters? Or is this specifically about the Fridge Logic?
  • May 19, 2013
    AltseHashke
    Yes, it's specifically about the fridge logic. There are things you might loot a planet for. Water and metals are not among them. Sci-fi writers need to put more thought into "how do we make a conflict make sense".
  • May 19, 2013
    Stratadrake
    ^ Yeah, that could be a problem with this YKTTW.
  • May 19, 2013
    arromdee
    Going to Earth for hydrocarbons is as bad as going for water or ores. Titan has lakes full of the stuff and probably anything with a methane atmosphere and a surface would.

    And I don't think Independence Day counts. There's nothing special about our world in that except it was the one the aliens happened to pick.
  • May 19, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    With hundreds of billions of stars--and a good fraction of those with metallocities (in astrophysics terms, percentage of elements heavier than helium in them, and the protodisc which they and any planets they'd have would have formed from, read from spectral analysis) at least comparable to Sol's--it seems alien invasion for any material resources would be highly implausible. Plus, such technological advancement as starfaring would probably require would probably also be accompanied by some proficiency in nanotechnology and synthesis of various needed elements and materials themselves. Fermi's Paradox, IMHO, is fallacious for reasons such as this--races advanced enough wouldn't necessarily or even likely feel the need to exponentially expand across a galaxy, as the paradox implies.

    The one plausible reason for invasion, in my mind, is the direct targeting of humanity itself for some reason, such as maybe a perception that humanity might be dangerous if they ever spread out among "more civilized" space--being perhaps more aggressive or ecologically destructive than the norm--and were getting too close to doing so. Simple scientific curiosity might be a possible reason for visiting us (and perhaps in a manner that to us is "invasive", as if we were lab rats), if our particular biosphere is significanlty different from the norm, or whatever they've seen so far.

    But even Lebensraum seems implausible, as there are, again, hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy, and likely many uninhabited worlds out there that can be "terraformed" to whatever alien specs with less headache.

    But... something needs to drive the plot of a good story. :)

    I think the Fermi's Paradox question of "where are they?" is simply answered with "they haven't found the need to come here". Unless they have... discreetly. (I do think even our galaxy is big and rich enough that we're not the only advanced sentient life even within that. The whole universe? It would seem absurdly outrageous if we were the only ones in it.)
  • May 20, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    The Babylon 5 premise of older races guiding younger races could be plausible, too, though--and as that show presented it, they did this discreetly or through unexplained "supernatural" phenomena which we interpreted as being from God or gods (or if there is a God, He worked through them). When we became spacefaring, we got to see those older races more directly (but still on their terms, for the most part).
  • May 22, 2013
    AltseHashke
    The whole idea that humanity is unusually aggressive is probably wishful thinking on the part of, to put it delicately, hippies (or warmongers, if that's one of the ways that Humans Are Special): evolution ain't a cakewalk, and several factors that contributed to our evolving to sapience seem like they only happen to apex-predators (several of the things about how we learn, for example, are more like wolves or hyenas than they are like chimpanzees). Not, of course, that non-predators are lacking in aggression; the most dangerous animal in Africa is almost exclusively herbivorous (the hippo...because it's basically a multi-ton wild boar).

    But aliens of remotely comparable technology to any predictable human developments really would want habitable planets; realistically, terraforming is basically impossible within the likely lifetime of a civilization. It actually takes tens of millennia, only a crazy optimist would assume their culture would still exist at the end to take advantage of it ("we started doing this and then collapsed before it finished" would be a cool setting detail, come to think of it). There is the issue that building space-station colonies is relatively (!) cheap and easy; rather than take other people's planets, aliens would just build O'Neill Islands. But other than Gundam, I can't think of a major SF franchise that makes more than sporadic use of that kind of colony. (Also, while terraforming is a thing on the same time-scale as "domesticating the dog", paraterraforming - habitat domes - is quite doable in the same time-scale as any other construction project.)

    As for Fermi's Paradox, the real answer is "both Fermi's Paradox and the Drake Equation it was a response to are working from a statistical universe of one inhabited planet; if you try to derive probabilities from one example, your math-teacher is supposed to hit you". Well, and also "we've already mostly stopped using the kind of radio transmission that makes a civilization easy to detect". Which second one is probably related to, as you said, "they haven't felt the need to come here".

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable