On the night before Halloween in 1938, a strange story crackled over radios across the United States. An announcer interrupted the evening’s regular programming for a “special bulletin,” which went on to describe an alien invasion in a field in New Jersey, complete with panicked eyewitness accounts and sounds of gunfire. The story was, of course, fake, a dramatization of The War of The Worlds, the science-fiction novel published by H. G. Wells in 1898. But not all listeners knew that. The intro to the segment was quite vague, and those who tuned in a few minutes into the show found no suggestion that what they were hearing wasn’t true.
The exact nature of the reaction of these unlucky listeners has been debated in the decades since the broadcast. Some say thousands of people dashed out of their homes and into the streets in terror, convinced the country was under attack by Martians. Others say there was no such mass panic. Regardless of the actual scale of the reaction, the event helped cement an understanding that would later be perpetuated in science-fiction television shows and films: Humans, if and when they encounter aliens, probably aren’t going to react well.
But what if the extraterrestrial life we confronted wasn’t nightmarish and intelligent, as it’s commonly depicted, but rather microscopic and clueless? Perhaps clusters of tiny organisms not unlike the earliest life-forms of Earth, long before they evolved to make Hollywood movies about little green men. How would we react then?