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Bluffing the Advance Scout

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Earth is about to be invaded by a horde of hostile aliens. They outnumber us, outgun us, and have massively more advanced technology. We're doomed.

Except that they don't know much about Earth, so they've sent some advance scouts to find out how dangerous we are. If we can just persuade the advance scouts that we're too nasty to mess with, the invasion will be called off and we'll be left alone.

It used to be a common trope in the Golden Age of Science Fiction, but not so much these days. Even then, it was frequently Played for Laughs. Sometimes overlaps with Mistook the Dominant Lifeform.


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    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
    • One story has Scrooge McDuck make a bunch of money by producing and selling semi-sentient 'growing' cars to people. Things are already falling apart, however, when an alien race arrives and hits the planet with a shrink-ray, designed to leave the people of the planet helpless when the invasion-fleet shows up later... but since said aliens happens to be a race of sentient cars, they mistook the growing cars for the dominant species of Earth, and shrunk those instead of the people. Since there's Negative Continuity, however, we never get to see the invasion-fleet show up, but presumably, they'd be in for a nasty surprise...
    • Failed attempt in Paperinik New Adventures. The first story has Paperinik beating up the Evronian scouts to try and convince them that Earth is too tough to invade. In their next appearance, the Evronians recognize that if Earth has more people like him their invasion could be a failure... and, having a long experience in similar situations, promptly send three commando teams to kill him and other scouts to check if there's others. Paperinik survives only because Xadhoom, who hates the Evronians, is passing by, and the invasion is prevented only by the combination of the devastation she visits on the Evronians preventing them to spare the forces necessary to break through Earth's defenses (the fact she decided to come to Earth every once in a while because she knows she'll find Evronians to kill there helps) and Paperinik preventing them from establishing a bridgehead.
  • In one issue of Exiles, the omniscient whatever-it-is that commands the Exiles sets up a chain of events that ends with some minor supervillain, feeling unappreciated, setting off a weapon that fills the Earth's atmosphere with foul-smelling gases for 72 hours. All because the omniscient whatever-it-is has foreseen that right as he sets off the weapon, an alien invasion fleet will arrive, scan the planet, and decide that humanity must have somehow seen them coming and decided to destroy their planet's atmosphere rather than let the aliens conquer them so they depart before anyone actually knows they're there.
  • In Fantastic Four (1961) #2, the first appearance of the Skrulls, the FF bluff them into thinking that Earth is crawling with giant monsters by showing them pages from a comic book, pretending they're real photographs.
  • In Journey into Mystery #83, the issue that introduced Marvel's Thor, had this scenario. The Kronan aliens arrive on Earth with intention of invading, but the first human they encounter is Dr. Donald Blake having been transformed in Thor. He proves to be more than a physical match for them, and the Kronan flee, not wanting to fight a planet full of Physical Gods like he.
  • A Mickey Mouse Comic Universe story has Mickey and Goofy visiting an archaeologist-friend at Abu Simpel in Egypt, when they're abducted by Ancient Astronauts — specifically, the old Egyptian gods and pharaohs, who left Earth back in the day after being insulted (and nearly accidentally fed to the crocodiles) by one of Goofy's ancestors. Now they've returned with an invasion-fleet to wipe out humanity in repayment! Mickey tricks them into believing that humanity has developed Psychic Powers in the meantime, by taking advantage of the knowledge that Abu Simpel contains their landing-beacon, and claiming that he was using his powers to affect their advanced navigation-equipment. Sure enough, the UFO crashes on approach, and the aliens are scared off. How did it work? Well, Abu Simpel was moved — in a massive engineering undertaking — back in the 1980s, to protect it from a flooding. The new location obviously screwed up the navigational calculations, but the aliens obviously didn't imagine that anyone would tear down something that huge, stone for stone, and then rebuild it exactly identically somewhere nearby.
  • In one issue of West Coast Avengers, the aliens test the WCA line-up individually, putting their battle robot (and ship's power systems) under increasing stress. Then they finally get to Moon Knight, who is empowered by the ancient Egyptian moon god... and they're testing the heroes in a dimension filled with moons.
  • In Phil Foglio's XXXenophile story "My Favorite Oitling", the human explorer convinces the Martian warrior women that the huge suit of power armour that arrives to rescue him is a typical Earth female and so Earth will be too tough to invade. This works in large part due to the Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism found on Mars, where the women are the stereotypical Green-Skinned Space Babe, but the males are 2-foot-tall balls of fur with hilariously oversized "equipment".

    Film — Animated 
  • In Lilo & Stitch, the Space Police are prepared to destroy Earth to get rid of Stitch, but Pleakley insists against it because Earth is considered a nature reserve for mosquitoes. Turns out this was because of an enterprising CIA agent (better known as the social worker Cobra Bubbles) convinced visiting aliens that mosquitoes are a rare and endangered species.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Battleship, Earth found another planet in a "Goldilocks" zone around another star, not realizing that if they can actually come here, rather than merely sending a radio signal like us, they might want the planet instead of becoming friends. By stopping the advance scouting party from reporting back our weak defenses, a full scale invasion, which we had no chance of winning, was prevented.
  • Coneheads has an inverted example. When Beldar returns to Earth, this time with his planet's entire invasion force, he sends distressing messages over the radio about Earth's "advanced defenses" before self-destructing his ship and faking his death, which leads the invasion forces to believe that Beldar died a hero and that Earth was too dangerous to conquer.

Examples by author:
  • Fredric Brown has two stories in which the aliens aren't scared off, but, instead, are convinced the humanity is useless. In the first, they take two apes out of a zoo (naturally, their intellect measuring device tells them to come again in two million years); in the other, an alcoholic.
Examples by work:
  • Animorphs: This almost happens by accident when the Yeerks first find Earth. They pick up a Star Trek: The Original Series broadcast and freak the hell out because their technology is not up to the level depicted in the TV show. Unfortunately, they quickly realize that the broadcast is fiction, and upon assessing humanity's actual level of technological development, decide that the Earth is ripe for invasion.
  • In the Arrivals from the Dark novel Consul Trevelyan, humans discover that one of their earlier colonies, a lush paradise called Gondwana, has been a nature preserve of sorts for a race of Human Aliens called the Nil'hazi. They are really upset that their efforts have been marred by humans using the planet as a resort planet. A powerful Nil'hazi ship is detected in the system. In response, the Earth Federation sends one of its cruisers to intercept it with Consul Ivar Trevelyan aboard, who has recently acquired an ability to open portals to, pretty much, anywhere. Aboard the cruiser, Ivar meets an officer named Cro Light Water, who turns out to be a Voluntary Shapeshifting alien who has been living on Earth since the 13th century. The alien can make short-range teleports. When the two ships exchange first volleys, Ivar realizes the two sides are about even, and a war would lead to great bloodshed. So, he teleports aboard their ship and tries to convince them that all humans are capable of such feats. To their credit, they correctly assume he's unique in that regard. Ivar then signals Cro, who teleports aboard the Nil'hazi ship in full battle armor, claiming the rest of his force is waiting for his signal to board. The aliens are forced to put off their attack plans until a diplomatic solution is found, even after Ivar's deception is discovered.
  • In "The Best Policy" by Randall Garrett, alien advance scouts kidnap a human, stick him in a Lie Detector, and order him to describe Earth. He manages to give them a description in which every sentence is technically true, but the overall effect is a misleading picture of humans who possess immense, even supernatural powers, and the aliens are frightened off.
  • A story from an old issue of Boys' Life has a young boy doing this to a team of Martian scouts completely by accident. He's just moved into the neighborhood and thinks the scouts are neighbor kids playing spaceman, and decides to play along. Through a series of contrived coincidences, he ends accidentally convincing the Martians that that all of humanity is fearless and morally incorruptible, and that humans far outmatch the Martians technologically. In the end the Martians decide to invade another planet.
  • Callahan's Crosstime Saloon: In the story "The Guy with the Eyes", an alien is the advance scout for a race of extremely powerful aliens who plan to destroy the Earth. After deciding that (a) humans are decent after all but (b) his race won't believe him if he just tells them that, he comes up with the idea to render himself unconscious so the other aliens won't receive a transmission from him. Since he is exceptionally powerful himself, they'll conclude that humanity is too dangerous to attack and leave us alone.
  • The Demon Breed: Aliens planning an invasion capture a remote scientific outpost to study what humanity is made of. The scientist at the outpost tries to sell them a story about humanity having secret mutant warlord protectors. This being a more dramatic take on the trope, the aliens don't immediately buy it, even though it was their theory in the first place, and it's up to the heroine to cause enough of the right kind of trouble to persuade them it's true.
  • In "Ginger's Secret Weapons" by Peter Wingham, originally published in Story Teller magazine, a schoolboy named Ginger is abducted by froglike aliens and uses the contents of his pockets — which include itching powder, a small rubber ball, and a slingshot — to reduce them to a state where they're promising they'll go away and never return if he'll only just, please, leave them alone.
  • A short story titled "Master Race" has the conquistadorial aliens' mighty armada of miles-long starships flee the Solar System in terror after their scout swipes some comic books from a boy's treehouse and the aliens conclude that these are historical records of the awesome powers of humanity.
  • Happens by accident in Tom Holt's Only Human, in which, by a suspiciously contrived chain of circumstances, the advance scout manages to exclusively encounter humans with non-human consciousnesses — such as the guy with the soul of an industrial robot who manages to charm the machinery aboard the alien's ship, or the demon switched into the body of a clergyman who talks about meeting God at a barbecue once. The scout leaves with the impression that humans have incredibly close ties to both their devices and their deities, making them too risky to invade.
  • An inversion of sorts occurs in "Victory Unintentional". Humans send a team of highly advanced robots to negotiate with hostile aliens living on Jupiter. In order to be able to survive in the extremely high gravity, the robots have been built to be extremely strong and durable (the Jovians themselves function more like deep sea fish and maintain their internal pressure the same as the outside in order to avoid being crushed). By the end of the story, the Jovians surrender to humans, and after some confusion, it's realized that the humans never told them they were sending robots to negotiate, leading them to assume that humans are a race of super-powered indestructible metallic beings.
  • Warhammer 40,000 Expanded Universe: In the short story "Iron Inferno" from the anthology Fear the Alien, a Lord General, of the PDF of a conspicuously Japanese system, made a ploy against the Waaagh! that had just made planetfall. The plan was an elaborate deception to convince a vanguard force that a poorly defended hive was a veritable fortress with many more defenses and men guarding it than there actually were. After a brief battle, the deception had indeed worked, but the Lord General was horrified that his goal met failure. Because of his inexperience with Orks, he didn't foresee that not only would they not avoid a costly and hard-fought battle, but they would jump right at it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An Earth-bound variation occurs in The Addams Family. A pair of Russian diplomats wish to visit a "typical American family", so they randomly choose the Addamses out of the phone book. The Addams family impresses them so much (e.g., they think Lurch is a robot butler) that they decide they need to treat Americans with greater respect from now on.
  • Zigzagged in Babylon 5 when a probe threatening to destroy the station unless humanity can prove itself advanced enough to be worthy is discovered instead to be on a mission to eliminate any civilization advanced enough to be a threat, and the cast defeats it by not responding.
  • A version of this is attempted by Joshua in First Wave in order to prevent the invasion of Earth by the Gua or, at least, forestall the Second Wave. He continually brings up the experiment that resulted in Cade Foster (a.k.a. Subject 117) becoming their greatest enemy. Joshua argues that, if every 117th human is the Determinator like Foster, then the invasion is doomed from the start or, at least, will be a Pyrrhic Victory. Joshua does not succeed in cancelling the invasion, but it is put off indefinitely.
  • The Goodies: In "U-Friend or UFO", faced by an apparently hostile UFO, Graham declares that they must convince the aliens that humans are a race of supermen! Cue the Goodies ducking into a line of phone booths so they can put on superhero tights, then a Failure Montage of them bulking up their phony muscles with bike pumps and attempting to fly with firework rockets or cranes. Finally, they give up and decide to send up a more friendly ambassador, Tim crossdressing as Supernun (a parody of The Flying Nun).

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin uses a variant of this in Calvin and Hobbes, telling the aliens that he is the Supreme Potentate of the Earth when they ask him who he is, then selling them the planet in exchange for them completing his homework. Additionally, he forgets to tell them about winter.
  • The Phantom: In the 1970s story "The Blue Giant", alien advance scouts land to check out whether humans are a good prospect for invasion. After encountering the Phantom, they decide that if all humans are like him, the planet's best left alone.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: In the Al-Qadim setting Land of Fate boxed set, a dragon comes to Zakhara from the cold northern regions of Faerun to find out if it would be a good place for dragons to colonize. He meets four genies (a djinni, a marid, a dao and an efreeti) who are masquerading as human beings. When he threatens them, they kick his butt thoroughly. This causes him to assume that all humans living in Zakhara are extremely powerful and that it's no place for dragons to live.

    Video Games 
  • Attempted in Iji by the invading Tasen, who are themselves fleeing a species of genocidal aliens known as the Komato. When the Tasen kill a Komato scout team, they realize that their commanders will know that the Tasen are hiding on Earth when they don't report in, and curb stomping will ensue. So, they fake a report from the scout team claiming that before they went down, their planetary scans failed to reveal any sign of Tasen habitation. Assuming Iji doesn't contact the Komato herself, they realize the report is BS because the "planetary scan" technology never left the drawing board, but the Tasen don't know that part. Either way, Curb Stomping Ensues.
  • Played with in Orion Burger. An alien fast-food company comes to Earth to administer a "sentience test" heavily rigged against humanity. Failing the test means humans have no rights and can therefore be harvested for burger meat. The goal of the game is to rig the tests yourself, convincing the scouts humans are too intelligent to eat.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of Arthur, "The Contest", has a short story by Buster called "The Day the Earth Was Saved" (which contains several references to South Park, including the animation style) where aliens capture Arthur with the intent of eating him but first subject him to brief medical testing. They then toss him out of their spaceship and leave Earth, assuming all humans are as high in cholesterol as Arthur is. The real Arthur is not amused.
  • Birdman (1967): In "Skon of Space", Birdman battles an alien scout named Skon and barely manages to defeat him. He sends Skon home claiming that everyone on Earth has powers like him. Later, Birdman tells Falcon 7 what happened and tells him to prepare for an invasion anyway, just in case Skon's superiors are not as gullible as him or decide the risk is worth the reward.
  • Garfield and Friends: Garfield tells the alien scout that Earthlings eat a lot of food and sleep a lot. The scout analyzes Garfield and becomes convinced that's Garfield telling the truth, then concludes that Earthlings will make terrible slaves.
  • In the 1960s Filmation Superboy series episode "Operation Counter Invasion", aliens land and want to take over, and Superboy bluffs them with things like "Fly? Of course I fly, doesn't everyone?".