Do you “believe” in life on other planets? I don’t but only because – in this case – “belief” is irrelevant. People used to believe that this planet was the centre of the solar system. The fact that this hypothesis was violently enforced does not make it true. What matters is the evidence and the logical deductions. Granted, we have limited evidence about life on other planets and what evidence we do have is disputed.
Hubble identified over 3000 galaxies in a famous image called the Hubble Deep Field. Each of these galaxies contains billions and billions of stars. To quote the late Carl Sagan’s novel Contact, if we are alone in the universe that is an awful waste of space. My logical deduction then is that life on other planets is highly probable.
From the point of view of fiction writing, “alien encounters” is perhaps the most prolific sub-genre and it all began with H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.
Despite his faults as a person, Herbert George Wells was a remarkable visionary. The ‘Heat Ray’ that is the primary weapon of the tripods can be compared in function to lasers. Giant guns are used to fire the cylinders out of the Martian atmosphere and toward Earth. Though it is said that such a method could not work, Robert H. Goddard who invented the first rocket was inspired by Wells’ concept. The black smoke, a poisonous gas spread by rockets fired by the tripods, describes what we now understand to be chemical weapons, something not seen until nearly 30 years after publication. The Martian vehicles do not have wheels, they move almost organically… something that robotics engineers are working on today.
Neither must we overlook the social messages of the novel. In the early years of Darwinian thought, it is probably the first novel to have at its core the evolutionary ideology of survival of the fittest and evolution by natural selection. The Martians, as the dominant and older species are asserting their technological and intellectual supremacy of an Earth yet to think about the space race as anything approaching a possibility. Wells clearly believes that we could have overcome our invaders, the artillery man advocates stealing Martian weapons, figuring out how they work and turning them on the invaders.
Wells also seems to understand the dangers of invasive natural species. The Red Weed, introduced by the Martians, kills everything in its path. We are only just beginning to realise the dangers of invasive species and the impact they have on indigenous flora and fauna: grey squirrels and North American crayfish and Japanese knotweed in Europe, rabbits in Australasia, yellowstar thistle in North America are all problematic and forcing out native species in some cases, destroying ecologies.
It is arguable whether this was a literal ecological warning fuelled by his understanding of evolution, or an analogy for the conquests of technologically primitive peoples by the British Empire under Queen Victoria. After all, this was a time at the end of the Industrial Revolution; we were seeing the rise of social liberalism and Marxism that emerged as a result of the abuses of the powers that be. Wells was a Marxist through most of his life, a member of The Fabian Society and was a cautious supporter of Stalin (until he met the man many years later). We see his political theme also in The Time Machine where he sees the human race splitting genetically between the decadent upper classes and the lower intelligent workers of the lower classes/
Whatever Wells was trying to convey, The War of the Worlds is one of the iconic science fiction novels that sparked several film adaptations and a highly successful musical. I find it remarkable that we can take so much from it over a century since publication.