Invasion and Colonization Narratives

This research project focuses on the correlation between realworld cultural and political history – particularly that of colonialism, empire-building, and warfare (both cold and hot) - and the fictional representation of the arrival of extraterrestrials, as invaders, messengers or explorers, from other worlds. The science-fiction invasion narrative reflects and enacts the processes of settlement, colonization, imperialism, and the struggles for territory, influence and Lebensraum that have been and still are key motivating forces in the shaping of the history of this planet.

The first pages of a founding text of the subgenre of extraterrestrial invasion, H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds (1898), explicitly stress the connection between the practices of European colonialism and the novel’s depiction of the Martian invasion of Earth with superior technological warfare. Science-fiction invasion narratives can be read not only as pure fictions but as metaphorical representations of the realworld cultural and political conflicts of the period in which they were created. Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film War of the Worlds constituted an interesting example of the inherent instability of possible metaphorical readings of the invasion narrative: the movie was interpreted both as a representation of a terrorist attack on America, and as an evocation of the scenes of panic caused by the American and British invasion of Iraq in 2003. The question of who or what the extraterrestrial might represent is therefore often much more complex than any simple binary constellation of victim and aggressor, and the fictional invasion narrative can incorporate and echo many different realworld events, images and narratives. Don Siegel’s original film version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers offers one of the most complex and subtle texts for interpretation; this 1956 narrative of the alien infiltration of small-town America, in which human beings are transformed into soulless replicas, evokes and suggests multiple perceived threats of the period – McCarthyism, Communism, Social Conformism, and emergent feminism.

Other stories about different, more benevolent arrivals from outer space have also been told: Robert Wise’s film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) offers a metaphorical critique of American Cold War rhetoric and global Cold War politics; Ursula K Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) reconstituted the processes of terrestrial colonization, imperialism, and gendered identities in fictional form in narrating the encounter of different cultures on the planet of Gethen. Key science-fiction texts from the postwar and postcolonial period therefore offer defamiliarized narratives of realworld colonization processes and encounters between different cultures.


  • “Invasion Narratives and the Cold War in the 1950s American Science-Fiction Film.” Between Fear and Freedom: Cultural Representations of the Cold War. Ed. Kathleen Starck. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010. 39-52.
  • “Interpreting the Aliens: Representations of American Society in Science-Fiction Movies of the 1950s.” Rebels without a Cause? Renegotiating the American 1950s. Eds. Ann Marie Fallon and Gerd Hurm. New York: Lang, 2007.
  • “Edle Wilde im Roman der britischen Kolonialzeit und ihre intergalaktischen Pendants in der Science Fiction des 20. Jahrhunderts: Aphra Behns Oroonoko, Daniel Defoes Robinson Crusoe und Ursula K. Le Guins The Left Hand of Darkness.” Der Alteritätsdiskurs des Edlen Wilden: Exotismus, Anthropologie und Zivilisationskritik am Beispiel eines europäischen Topos. Eds. Monika Fludernik, Peter Haslinger and Stefan Kaufmann. Würzburg: Ergon, 2002. 193-213.

 Conference Papers: 

  • “Representations and Reflections of the Cold War Era in the Science Fiction Film” Cultural Representations of the Cold War. Conference at the University of Osnabrück, 5-7 December, 2008.
  • “Invasion Narratives and American Identities in the Science-Fiction Film” Americanisms: Discourses of Exception, Exclusion, Exchange. Conference at the Bayreuth Institute of American Studies. University of Bayreuth, January 2008.
  • “Images of American Society and Culture in Key Science Fiction Movies of the 1950s.” Rebels without a Cause? Renegotiating the American 1950s. Conference at the Trier Center for American Studies. University of Trier, June 2005.