Science fiction's strictures and structure often are used as convenient metaphors and symbols for concerns existing outside the realm of galactic empires.
Be it the social commentary of Metropolis, the race wars of Planet of the Apes, the cold techno-future depicted in 2001: A Space Odyssey or the Cold War warnings issued by any number of 1950s flying saucer and giant irradiated animal tales, science fiction has always worked best when it had a message in mind.
Sometimes, however, it can be worrisome. After all, science fiction can reflect attitudes or biases that we might not fess up to. It seems to be the case right now.
This fall, there are three new science fiction series premiering on network television that deal with a similar subject: aliens on Earth.
In Threshold, airing Fridays on CBS (WRDW, Channel 12), a team of scientists investigates an alien invasion after a military ship in the Atlantic is taken over by an intelligent presence.
In ABC's Invasion, airing Wednesdays on WJBF (Channel 6), strange things are afoot after a hurricane blows through Homestead, Fla. What first appears to have been a storm looks instead to have been a cover for the first stage of an alien attack.
In Surface, airing Mondays on NBC (WAGT, Channel 26) the sea starts bearing evidence that we are not alone and probably should stay out of the water.
These paranoid invasion thrillers are nothing new. What makes the current crop interesting is that there are three, each dealing with alien attacks, appearing at the same time.
What does this fascination with alien attack say about our state of mind? Has America become so xenophobic that the idea of mysterious others invading our lives has become satisfyingly prophetic, an answer to our own paranoid musings? If so, how does water, an essential plot point in each series, play into that paranoia? Is it playing off the idea that true fear comes from not being able to trust what we require the most, or is this just a clever marketing scam, an attempt to make us thirsty. You know - there are aliens in the water, so soda up.
Regardless, it seems highly unlikely that all three of these shows, if any, will survive.
At some point, people will decide that they just don't like invading monsters from Mars enough to watch them three nights a week, and someone will have to go.
After all, it's not as though we're talking about crime-scene investigators.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.