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Eli Katz discusses and links to some of the best short fiction available for free on the Web. This week's pick: Theodore Sturgeon's "Unite and Conquer."
Last Sunday, on CNN, Nobel Prize-winning Economist Paul Krugman offered a solution to the ongoing job slump: "If we discovered that, you know, space aliens were planning to attack and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat and really inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months. And then if we discovered, oops, we made a mistake, there aren't any aliens, we'd be better [off]."
Critics of Krugman, and there are many, immediately jumped on him for offering an absurd and ultimately foolish solution. Some asked what would happen after everyone realized that the alien invasion was false. The economy would likely retract to its previous levels, only now with even more debt from unnecessary military spending.
Remarkably, Krugman isn't the first public figure to wish for alien threat. As Rachael Maddow noted a day after the Krugman comments, President Ronald Reagan repeatedly noted that the Cold War would end quickly if Earth faced a common enemy. Before the United Nations Generally Assembly in 1987, Reagan opined, "In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world."
Mention of a fake alien invasion to unite humans should make fanboys think immediately of Alan Moore's The Watchmen. In that story, Adrian Viedt has millions killed in an effort to manufacture a phony extraterrestrial assault and, in turn, "save humanity" from the threat of nuclear war. Powerful and disturbing, to be sure, but Len Wein, who edited Watchmen, once admitted that he disliked this ending . It was unoriginal, he explained to Moore, noting that a 1963 episode of The Outer Limits had already depicted a fake invasion to unify Earth. Moore dismissed Wein's concerns and kept the ending as originally intended, but he did add a reference to The Outer Limits episode in the final chapter of Watchmen to acknowledge it as a source of inspiration.
That Outer Limits episode, "The Architects of Fear," focuses on a group of idealistic scientists convinced that the Cold War will lead to global apocalypse. They decide that one of them will undergo drastic surgical procedures to become an alien invader from the planet Theta. The inspiration for this episode comes from a 1948 short story, Unite and Conquer by Theodore Sturgeon. Like many Sturgeon stories, this one focuses on one man who has the ability or opportunity to save the world.
Sturgeon, who died in 1985, at age 67, wrote novels, short fiction, and several episodes of the original Star Trek series, including "Shore Leave" and "Amok Time." He is credited with coming up with the concept of the Prime Directive, the guiding principle that prevents Star Fleet from interfering in the domestic affairs of other alien races. (Unfortunately, the script in which he first developed the Prime Directive was never produced.) Today, Sturgeon is best remembered for his 1953 novel More Than Human, which is about a group of extraordinary people who can blend and mesh their abilities together and act as a super entity.
Most of Sturgeon's work holds up well decades after its publication. His Star Trek episodes, especially "Amok Time," are fondly remembered. He received a Retro Hugo, nineteen years after his death, for More than Human. And his short story "Unite and Conquer" has been recycled and reused by so many authors that it has inspired a pop cultural cliché. That's quite a legacy. And it is well deserved.
(Below is a photo of Sturgeon)
Written or Contributed by: Eli Katz