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Premise

Recently, there were 2-3 science fiction movies where alien technology was overcome by humans in the same way. I will omit the titles and their debut years to avoid spoiling for others. But for those who have seen them will notice that so often the aliens possess a kind of 'hive' technology. To the discerning viewer this is becoming borderline dull, because the plot invariably leads up to killing the 'queen', or disrupting their swarm intelligence -- at which point the aliens fall into total disarray.

Question

If my readers are really tired of the repetitive science fiction plots, what can I introduce as a new/different plot twist?

As mere humans writing science fiction stories, it's not easy to fathom an alien technology's weakness. Swarm intelligence / hive minds are very cutting edge, I will concede it is hard to beat that.

Of course I could wave my magic pen and write their technology down as omnipotent, but I would like to create something for the reader to identify with. If I take too many creative liberties, the technology and possibly plot could seem overly contrived. So it's a fine line I'm walking, I'm hoping some other people have some helpful input.

Example Answers

  • You can cite emerging technology that you feel one-ups the whole 'hive' concept (in terms of cool technology, novel looking/sounding, paradigm shifting, etc), and any conceivable weaknesses
  • You can use your imagination and briefly describe a semi-imaginary technology and potential weakness (perhaps a technology rooted in something real, but with higher limits)
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    $\begingroup$ Organic technology, ability to manipulate genes, rapid growth of whatever they want to produce. Options seem almost unlimited if they could bio engineer a custom made weapon in a few minutes. They could make an infectious killing human only disease spread by wind for example. $\endgroup$ – Kilisi Apr 15 '17 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ This feels like brainstorming, not what this website is for directly. I'm also not entire clear on what you're asking. $\endgroup$ – Mormacil Apr 15 '17 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Mormacil The question section sums it up best, "How to up the ante?" If readers are bored of the hive concept, what are some examples of novel technological weaknesses? Ideally keeping within the realm of known science to some degree (not necessarily 100% scientific). This way the reader has some way to identify with the story. I provided 2 example answers to further clarify things. $\endgroup$ – Arash Howaida Apr 15 '17 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that there are substantial differences between a self-organizing swarm and a centrally directed hive. On the other hand, an anthill isn't centrally directed. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Apr 15 '17 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ Ya, biological warfare could be a quick way to win for humanity. Design something that targets something unique in these aliens and let it loose. $\endgroup$ – rclev Apr 15 '17 at 21:40
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The alien system consists of different components which negotiate protocols and networks among each other. A related concept would be dependency injection. Either way, very complicated software systems come together at runtime.

So the guidance package of each alien space missile searches a way to talk to the fire control systems in CIC. Perhaps the humans manage a DDOS attack on this protocol negotiation.

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It's not that far fetched to believe that the alien technology will be fragile. Our most advanced technology (aircraft, spacecraft, laboratory robotics) are in fact quite fragile. One of the main difficulties in space travel is that the energy required scales up dramatically with mass, and this would be even more the case in travel between stars.

There is currently a project called Breakthrough Starshot that's investigating sending tiny wafer-thin sensing devices from Earth to the next closest star system at about 20% of the speed of light. If successful, these will be tiny incredibly fragile devices, built to be as light as possible. They'll barely have the capability to take some readings and pictures of the surrounding area and send them back to Earth. Certainly the designers aren't going to give any thought to security or defense. The attacker in an interstellar war has one big disadvantage: they have to move their force across an incredibly large distance, with all the logistical problems that entails, weakening them the entire way.

Now imagine there's an alien race on the receiving end of these Breakthrough Starshot probes. Assuming they could figure out the basic purpose and mechanisms that make them work (possibly by intercepting a transmission from one back to Earth), it may be quite simple to interrupt their function.

That's really the root question: can we understand how the alien technology works, and what its limitations are? If we can, there's a good chance we can find a weakness and exploit it.

Of course, one can always come up with a more powerful technology. Some kind of grey goo bomb could be delivered almost undetectably and relatively inexpensively across interstellar distances, and cause enormous destruction once it arrives. What you're really sending in that case is self-replicating information - a pattern that makes copies of itself. Information is one of the least expensive things to send anywhere. However, we do have ways of combating self-replicating machines (in fact we have them here now and call them bacteria and viruses). In general, we look at them under a microscope, figure out how they work, and attack them in one of two ways: quarantine, or medicine. Medicine is just a form of chemical attack on the device... figure out something it needs and take it away, or figure out how it works, and introduce a chemical that sabotages it. The basis of self-replication on Earth is DNA and we have a pretty good understanding of how it works, but also how to stop it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Of course, science equipment designed to save as much weight as possible will be fragile. But since we want to exploit their weaknesses, it is implied, that we are at war against the aliens. Military technology is not fragile. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Apr 15 '17 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ @b.Lorenz - I disagree. Sure, a tank isn't fragile per se, but it contains fragile components (ask any infantryman), and a jet fighter is certainly fragile. Fighter planes can be taken down by flak guns, missiles can be confused by foil strips, and drones can be brought down by overriding the GPS signal and feeding it false readings. $\endgroup$ – Scott Whitlock Apr 15 '17 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, jet fighters are relatively fragile (still can endure high acceleration.) but they fly fast and high and manouver and employ EMC to avoid getting hit. Same applies for spaceships. That they can get there in reasonable amount of time, and survive the hardships of interstellar travel implies that their ships are not glasslike. You don't start interstellar war when your ships are easy prey for any asteroid. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Apr 15 '17 at 19:44
  • $\begingroup$ Your premise: 'more advanced is more fragile' is not true in general. Even jet fighters are more durable than WWI wood and paper planes. Not to mention smartphones vs. electron tube computers. Jet fighters are fragile because they are designed for speed and weapon load, not for being robust. It is possible to design a warplane for survivability, like A-10 Thunderbolt. Laboratory equipment is fragile because it would be a waste of money to make it bulky. They could make the LHC into bullet-proof, but it would cost additional billion dollars. So they use the most skinny solution that works. $\endgroup$ – b.Lorenz Apr 16 '17 at 13:00
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Their tech is overoptimized for conditions common in their home planet/system/galaxy.

An exaggerated example: The Kmplian Empire had subjugated 120 silicium based lifeforms in the Kmpli Cluster with their formidable bioweapons. When they find the wormhole and attack Earth, it turns out that the dust they eject into the atmosphere only causes mild silicosis to humans.

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