“Say, what’s the matter? . . . Where are you going?” – “Not to your world. . . Goodbye, stranger. . .”

Science fiction is a genre in which intelligent, non-human entities cause us to question our own privileged place in the universe. It forces us to reckon with the intelligent other in order to ask what really defines us. If other beings can be more intelligent then our Earthly dominance crumbles, and with it part of our identity. So in this crumbling, and often fear and peril we are asked, “who will we become?” 

In the War of the Worlds, for example, near the end of the broadcast, when Pierson finds another man they have a disagreement about the future. “We’ll raid the museums, we’ll even spy on the Martians…” He continues with a plan of violence that is based on manipulation of knowledge. The aliens have turned their knowledge into a weapon; what will we do with it? He is the Magneto to Pierson’s Xavier. As soon as Pierson finds out the other man’s vision he leaves, making a statement about his version of the future of our species. He asks, “Where are you going?” Pierson replies, “Not to your world. . .”
But any genre can create pressure and question our nature. So this leads to the question of whether or not non-human entities are a necessary component of science fiction. One could imagine a destructive story with an army of technologically sophisticated humans arriving and taking over a continent. It could be as nightmarish; “science” may even be involved, but it doesn’t become science fiction, until the other crosses the human border. The film even builds a joke out of this distinction. Ray is describing the tripods to his son. He says they are from “somewhere else.” His son replies, “You mean Europe?”

We know intuitively that human power over humans belongs to other genres. It is the alien that is both like us and different that causes us to question who we are and what our destiny is. We’re asked, if this is the kind of being they have become, what will we let happen to us? Will we become Xavier or will we be Magneto?