Last night, SyFy debuted two shows, ‘The Expanse’, which I’ve already written about, and ‘Childhood’s End’, which is an adaptation of a classic science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke. With these two shows, along with some other pretty decent ones earlier this year such as ‘Dark Matter’ and ‘Killjoys’, the network seems to be on a mission to return to quality sci-fi. That, and they’ve actually been showing reruns of good science fiction movies in recent months. All of which brings them back to being a hub for science fiction entertainment. It’s a nice change.
Growing up, I enjoyed most of Clarke’s stories, but I can’t say that ‘Childhood’s End’ was one of them. (To explain why would involve discussing spoilers.) But I have to say that the first part of the TV adaptation was superb. And it also did an excellent job of highlighting something I’ve mentioned here before.
Namely, that if aliens capable of crossing interstellar distances did ever show up, the difference in capabilities between them and us would be roughly equivalent to the difference between a squad of naval seals and a troop of baboons. If the aliens wanted our little speck of leftover stardust, we’d be, at best, a minor hindrance to their plans.
The show does an excellent job of demonstrating just how wide that disparity in capabilities would be. One of the characters remarks something to the effect that they’re just like us, but with a 30,000 year head start. In reality, given cosmic timescales, any species we’d likely encounter would be millions of years ahead of us, possibly billions.
Consider what would happen if we went to a world identical to ours but 1% behind us in evolution, about 45 million years. The most intelligent thing around would be primitive proto-primates. There would be little the inhabitants of that world could do to prevent us from doing whatever we wanted. Indeed, the inhabitants wouldn’t even understand most of what they were seeing.
Now consider if someone 1% ahead of us comes here.
As the ‘Childhood End’ miniseries shows, in that situation, we’d be completely at their mercy. We could only hope that their intentions toward us would be benevolent.
The good news, or depending on your view the bad news, is the simplest answer to Fermi’s Paradox. The paradox is, if alien civilizations are prevalent, then where is everyone? The simplest answer is that the nearest extraterrestrial civilization is probably millions, or perhaps even billions of light years away. Otherwise Earth would likely have been colonized long before we evolved.