Magazine | October 18, 2010, Issue

Plan 9 from Turtle Bay

The Hubble telescope spots it first; the astronauts on the International Space Station watch in stunned silence as it glides past the moon and enters our atmosphere. It is an enormous craft of extraterrestrial origin. We are not alone! Well, except when we talk about that rash we had last year. But in a cosmic sense, we now have neighbors — or landlords. A nervous world scrambles to choose an emissary to greet them. Some possible choices:

Stephen Hawking. Downside: Aliens recognize his genius and explain where his theories are wrong, leading to another book we’ll have to pretend we read, when we didn’t even finish the review in The Economist.

William Shatner, ready to say, “You may remember me from my work as a diplomatic yet hot-headed advocate for Western civilization in the context of the great inky void we call . . . space.” Downside: Aliens may shout, “It’s T. J. Hooker!”

Dick Cheney, cradling a shotgun. Downside: None come to mind.

President Obama. Downside: Hopeful moment of celestial comity later spoiled when 18 percent of the aliens say they think he’s a Muslim.

None of the above? All of them? Don’t worry. The United Nations will soon appoint an ambassador to aliens. According to

Mazlan Othman, the head of the UN’s little-known Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa), is to describe her potential new role at a scientific conference at the Royal Society’s Kavli conference centre in Buckinghamshire.

She is scheduled to tell delegates that the recent discovery of hundreds of planets around other stars has made the detection of extraterrestrial life more likely than ever before — and that means the UN must be ready to coordinate humanity’s response to any ‘first contact’.

During a talk Othman gave recently to fellow scientists, she said: ‘We should have in place a coordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The UN is a ready-made mechanism for such coordination’.

So we’re planning on surrendering, then.

In order to be sensitive, we have to do something about all the movies we’ve made where first contact goes poorly, so they don’t get the wrong idea about us. The U.N. should be tasked immediately to revise several movies and beam them into space, along with a warning that Interpol expressed its concern at a 1977 Helsinki conference about pirating, so if we find these movies in a Klingon televiewer, there will be consequences. Unless they’re Chinese bootlegs, in which case, never mind. Here are some suggested revisions:

#page#War of the Worlds, original version: Three guys with a white flag approach the aliens are vaporized by a screechy ray. This sets the tone for the rest of the encounter. Eventually, however, the Martians catch cold and die. U.N.-approved alterations: As the doomed ambassadors approach the Martian craft, one of them lobs a bottle of Purell into the hatch and shouts, “Cough into your elbow, if possible.”

War of the Worlds, remake: The alien tripod uses a death ray to turn everyone into ash except Tom Cruise, who escapes because he is better looking. Eventually the invaders get laid low by germs, too. U.N.-approved alterations: Mayor Bloomberg sent in to lecture the Martians that when they smoke everyone and turn them into fine dust, they’re creating “second-hand neighbors,” which violate EPA standards on airborne particulates. Martians adjust their behavior and vow to eliminate humanity with organic pesticides.

Independence Day: Enormous spaceships appear and blow up our landmarks. Eventually we beat them when Jeff Goldblum uploads a computer virus, since the aliens are apparently running Mac OS 9.2. The Air Force attacks the ship and it blows up. U.N.-approved alterations: Goldblum is strongly condemned for what some are already calling “the Jenin in the clouds,” and there are calls for an investigation as to whether he took alien body parts and baked them into matzo.

Contact: Jodie Foster is sent in a small container through hyperspace to meet an alien in the form of her dead dad on an imaginary beach, where he gives her vague wisdom and no evidence of her experience, so no one will listen to her. U.N.-approved alteration: Father changed to Mohamed ElBaradei, who could never find any evidence lying around, either.

Star Trek: First Contact: The Vulcans, having detected humanity’s first warp-drive experiment, show up to establish relations and supervise our attempts to build a new society. U.N.-approved alteration: Complete denial of all sexual-abuse allegations lodged against Vulcans will appear in the credits.

Did we miss any? Well, there was District 9, which showed invading aliens put in barrios; that should be revised so they’re housed someplace nice and tropical, with full attention paid to their cultural and dietary needs. BUT NOT GITMO! There’s also a movie coming up next year based on the board game Battleship. Yes. The “You sunk my battleship!” Battleship. The Navy fights an alien invasion. The script should be changed so the Navy waits until the aliens are within territorial waters, then boards their ship and learns they simply want to ferry humanitarian supplies to the aliens from District 9. It would send the wrong message if we boarded the aliens when they were in interstellar waters.

Othman later told the Guardian she wasn’t really in line for the ambassador job, but it’s unlikely we’ll need one anyway — scientists note that any alien life we discover might be a microbe. But that doesn’t mean that something very small and hideously toxic to humanity couldn’t address the U.N. Ahmadinejad proves that every year. 

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