The other day, I had an interesting question directed my way. I have actually had this question asked a number of times over the last few years, but it's one I never quite understood what the answer actually was. I've reflected on it for a while and think I've come to an answer.
In short: What is your obsession with Aliens?
First to clarify: For the longest time, I've had a veritable hunger for just about anything other worldly and powerful. The Xenomorphs from Aliens and Yautja from Predator are definitely two of my favorite 'big baddies', but I've maintained a fascination for as long as I can remember with monsters, demons, creatures, dragons, zombies, ghosts, vampires...you name it and I probably studied and or obsessed over it during some period of my life. That's not to say this is hugely uncommon, particularly for a literature nerd who reads, writes, and plays dungeons and dragons. But I never understood why.
At first, I thought my like of any of these given creatures, alien or otherwise, stemmed from a sense of power. Of seeing something strong or strange and so unlike those around me. But, after many years of playing with this concept, I realized that the concept of a perfect, powerful character was incredibly boring.
What made them interesting was using them as a foil. A twisted mirror.
I've realized that my love of different threats for lack of a better term, be it paranormal, alien, or otherwise, stemmed not from the creatures themselves but the reflection of humanity that was shown back. What are zombies without survivors that are making it against all odds? What is an alien loose on a ship without men or women fighting to regain the control that is rightfully theirs? What is a dragon without the knight who slays it?
One of my favorite stories as a child and still one of my favorite stories to this day is Beowulf. When introduced to it, I found I was one of three people in my entire class that even liked it and I was the only one who loved it. "I was too simple!" some said. "It's so black and white!" others said. But that was the beauty of it...it wasn't something twisted or strange. It was a story of a man overcoming a monster. The triumph of humanity over the wiles of the world. At least until he got eaten in his old age, but what is the act of being human if not being bound by mortality?
Surely, there are stories out there that expand against these basic concepts. Grendel is an excellent example compared to Beowulf. But I ask you: "Why do we empathize more with Grendel in his own book than we do in Beowulf?" In short, he is given his humanity. A state of being. Of thought and emotion and a scale that we can weigh ourselves against.
Now, I'm likely not saying anything particularly new. Plenty of people have come to similar realizations but there's one thing that I feel gets skipped over often. While it's very easy to paint the canvas with the brush of "reflection" based on observations of mortality, morality, and a basic man compared to beast motif, there's something that seems to be forgotten: imagination.
No matter the beast, the monster, the alien, whatever...all of it stems from the imagination of man. Many can argue that some stories and superstitions have a basis in nature (creatures like a Werewolf), a basis in true human monstrousness (like a Wendigo), and many more...but I ask: "How many of these things do we actually deal with?" Fiction, by definition, is outside of reality. Whether or not something turns out to be true is up for debate, yet everything supernatural, paranormal, alien, monstrous, etc. has a basis not necessarily in reality but in the power of our imagination.
Everything ever. Everything you've ever known and seen and loved and thought of and read and watched and imagined. Everything was born of and created on our little blue and green marble in the sea of nothingness that is space. While they might be formed from observations of worlds beyond, even those observations require leaps of imagination until we can actively get there. Nothing is from outside our own realm of creation. No matter what we find, similar or not to our 'monsters', everything we've ever known or imagined about the world came from us. It came from humanity and their understand of the world, the universe, and themselves.
And I'll be damned if I don't think that's the most amazing thing.
It's incredibly easy to be calloused and cynical; to let yourself swim in the rivers of hate, animosity, and ignorance that have been poisoned by a select few terrible people. But when you really stop and look around and consider what WE have done. We as a species have accomplished so much! We have built and created and helped and done more than you can imagine...more than you could even learn in a single lifetime. No matter what you believe, consider that humans have risen from the dirt and now have their eyes on the stars. On other planets and suns. On other places who have never heard of us or even considered creatures like us.
So, to come full circle: Why do I love Aliens so much? Because it shows me a distant reflection of that which we will become. Survivors. Explorers. Humans who will see the light of another sun and will bend the very fabric of space and the horror of the worst monsters we can imagine to our will. We will be greater than the sum of our parts and those monsters out there are nothing compared to us.