The other day, I was remembering the time when I read Mick Farren's SF novel Protectorate (1985). One scene that has stuck with me was one that showed us the thought processes of the "Protector," basically the ruler of the bulk of what remains of human civilization (long after an alien conquest), regarding an ugly decision. The Protector has become painfully aware that, because of some recent disturbances in one district of the city (the only city left!), he must have his military commander take out the troops to kill many of their fellow human beings . . . because the Protector is very much a puppet ruler for the alien occupiers ("the Wasps"), and if he doesn't kill a bunch of troublemakers, then the Wasps may very well use Weapons of Mass Destruction to kill a great many more humans -- or all of us at once, if they perceive us as too rebellious to be worth the headache of keeping around any longer.

That's a really nasty position for anyone to be in, and it made me wonder just when was the first time that a science fiction writer wrote something in which human defenders had not beaten the alien invaders, nor even fought them to a draw and then negotiated a truce, but instead had surrendered to them . . . and the alien regime had then demonstrated serious staying power, instead of being overthrown a short time later?

In other words: What was the first science fiction story that showed aliens successfully conquering the Earth in a reasonably "modern" or "futuristic" setting?

Note: If the actual story begins long after the act of conquest has already occurred, with the main characters living in a world where alien dominion is taken for granted as the current Status Quo, that still qualifies for my purposes!

Defining Terms:

  1. "A modern setting" may be defined (for my purposes) as "when the aliens arrive, human science and technology has at least gotten started on what we now call the Industrial Revolution." That puts the earliest possible date for the alien invasion as being around the later decades of the Eighteenth Century (or in some alternate history where a similar level of technology exists at the moment when the aliens arrive and take over).

  2. "A futuristic setting" may be defined as "human technology, at the time of the alien invasion, is significantly ahead of anything we have yet achieved in the real world." (Right now, I'm not interested in a story about a postapocalyptic future where, after a nuclear war or other devastating event, most surviving humans have reverted back to Stone Age conditions (or even Medieval ones) and then an alien invasion shows up to make things even tougher for us!)

  3. "Successful planetary conquest" may be defined as: "For a period of at least five years, the alien occupation force undeniably was in control of anything on this planet that was really worth controlling, and the vast majority of the surviving members of the human race were meekly accepting orders from their new masters. These humans might not be happy about doing it, but they recognized that this was, in fact, the new government."

In such situations, the aliens didn't necessarily know or care about every single case where small groups of "free humans" were still living out in the woods, or deep underground, or whatever, but they had a tight grip on the cities, the heavy industry, the oil wells, the major mining operations, etc. That's enough to let me call it a real conquest.

Examples of What I Do Not Want:

  1. Stories in which the aliens invade the Earth, trying to conquer it, and get off to a good strong start . . . but fairly soon (i.e., before the aliens have actually been running the show for five years at a stretch), the tables have been turned by human courage and ingenuity. Or even by dumb luck! (An early example was The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, and it was definitely "dumb luck" that saved humanity's bacon in that one.)

  2. Stories in which the aliens only conquer a human colony on some other planet, but never manage to conquer Earth itself. (As an example of what this rule excludes: In Larry Niven's "Known Space" universe, the colony world of Wunderland was successfully invaded and subjugated by the Kzinti for many years during the first Man-Kzin war, although the rest of the human race eventually managed to liberate it.)

  3. Stories in which the aliens are revealed to have once "conquered" the Earth, or as much of it as they felt the need to occupy, well before the Industrial Revolution ever got going. Perhaps thousands, or even millions, of years ago, and thus there was never a serious chance of terrestrial natives managing to muster the military resources to fight off a heavily-armed invasion force. (Julian May's "Saga of the Pliocene Exile" series, with most of it set six million years ago, in and around the area we now call "Europe" and "the Mediterranean Basin," qualifies as a prime example of what is excluded by this rule. So do any stories which have Stone Age or Bronze Age humans being subjugated by high-tech aliens who pass themselves off as a pantheon of mythological deities.)

  4. Stories in which the aliens simply succeeded in their goal of exterminating the human race -- or at least all of us who lived on Earth at that time (regardless of whether or not they care about any stragglers in interstellar spacecraft or whatever). In other words, the aliens didn't even try to just kill enough of us humans to make the rest beg for mercy; they didn't have any mercy in the first place, and had zero interest in conquering us and turning us into slave labor! (Poul Anderson's novel After Doomsday deals with the aftermath of such genocide, with the surviving humans feeling very angry about what happened to everyone they'd left behind on Earth.)

  5. Stories in which the human race had already died off (or very nearly -- perhaps a tiny fraction of the species still endured somewhere on or near the Earth) before the aliens in question ever came along and started surveying the planet. If the extinction (or near-extinction) of the human race was not the fault of the alien newcomers, then "conquest" is not the word I would use if the aliens decided they wanted to "colonize" all this lovely real estate which nobody else was using at the moment! (A.E. van Vogt's classic story "The Monster" presented a scenario where the human race was already extinct because of a catastrophic natural event before the alien viewpoint characters showed up . . . but the aliens made the fatal mistake of using their advanced technology to bring just a few humans back to life for interrogation, and then things got out of control . . .)

Got any suggestions? I don't care if the story you nominate is a full-length novel, or was a short story first published in a Golden Age magazine, or was an old movie, or even a comic book story, for that matter. I don't care if it's become famous as a "classic" science fiction story which is still in print today. I only care if it was chronologically the first piece of SF to look at the aftermath of a successful alien conquest of Planet Earth . . . "success," as I said above, being measured by whether or not the alien regime lasted for at least five years after it was established here!

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    I think you also meant to exclude (though you didn't explicitly mention) stories where aliens invade the earth in a setting (possibly but not necessarily post-apocalyptic) in which mankind has regressed from an advanced technological civilization and now lives a simple pre-industrial life. E.g., something like Campbell's "The Invaders". – user14111 Dec 17 '16 at 3:02
  • Not sure if I've ever read that story. I think I'd better take the time to follow your link and read it, to give me a better mental picture of what you're talking about, before I decide if my rules need any further editing. :-) – Lorendiac Dec 17 '16 at 3:05
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    Way too late for this competition, but the first conquered-Earth story I ever read (and maybe the earliest comic-bookal treatment of that theme?) was the Lost World saga which ran in Planet Comics from 1942 to 1952: Hunt Bowman and Lyssa, armed with bows and arrows, are resistance fighters against the Nazi-like wrinkly Voltamen who have conquered the Earth. – user14111 Dec 17 '16 at 5:09
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    I wish that other answer hadn't been deleted. It was interesting even if not strictly included in the criteria. – Z. Cochrane Dec 17 '16 at 16:35
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    @zabeus I think the Tumithak story fits the criteria perfectly; the reason I deleted that answer was that I found earlier examples, and the question asks for the earliest. Since you are interested, I've appended a copy of that deleted answer to my current answer. – user14111 Dec 18 '16 at 5:35

1897: Auf Zwei Planeten, a novel by Kurd Lasswitz, translated into English as Two Planets. Some excerpts from Everett F. Bleiler's review (of a 1971 abridged English translation) in Science-Fiction: The Early Years:

[. . .] While examining the seas around Greenland, the Martian airship encounters a British destroyer, and due to a misunderstanding and British stubbornness, a battle takes place, much against the wishes of the Martians. The British have no chance against Martian superscience, but a stray bullet damages the unprotected Martian steering mechanism and the airship can only limp back to the polar station.

[. . .]

The Martians, despite their high civilization, great intellectual powers, and complete social adjustment on Mars, can easily slip into behavior patterns like those of the earthmen. They are outraged at the unnecessary battle that the British forced on their airship, and many take the position that earthmen are so bestial that they can understand only force.

The Martians now send an ultimatum to the great nations, demanding from the world recognition as the paramount controlling power of the Arctic. They also demand reparations from the British. Most of the major nations accede to the Martian demands, but the British refuse, and war breaks out. Martian armored airships crush the British easily, a defeat rendered worse by the defection of their former colonies.

The Martians hoped that this brief war would be their last encounter with terrestrial political lunacy, but on the destruction of the British Empire, a series of small wars breaks out all over the world. In despair, the Martians declare a protectorate over earth, under the sovereignty of the Martian governor of the north pole. Europe is now placed under strict control, but America which has avoided confrontation, is permitted to retain its internal government. Mars now controls the earth.

[. . .]

The second part of the novel, which deals with the inevitable degradation that accompanies colonialism, takes place over several years. Life under the Martian occupation grows increasingly difficult for everyone. The Martians, who have portable personal antigravity units that permit them to circulate as freely as earthmen, are soon involved in the direct administration of Europe.

In the early optimistic days many Martians and some earthmen, like Ell, thought that education would make earthmen more reasonable and less violent. Compulsory schooling was instituted, but the only result was that a few men learned technical skills. On the economic side, too, earth suffers. The Martians set up gigantic energy traps in the Gobi and Sahara to capture solar energy to ship back to Mars, and in return sell the earth people Martian goods. As a result the native cultures decline.

Worst of all, the once laudable Martians have degenerated. An uncomfortable existence in an unpleasant climate, limitless power, and the difficulties of working with the savages of earth all force the Martians into the position of an alien, unfriendly master race among primitives, much as, say, a German colonial official might have been in Togoland. Arrogance and tyranny become more and more common, and earthmen are pushed ever lower down the social scale. Decrees are passed compelling earthmen to wear special badges and to obey any command from any Martian.

The above answer, being an earlier story, supersedes my previously posted answer, which was as follows:

1932: "Tumithak of the Corridors", a novella by Charles R. Tanner, first story in the Tumithak series, first published in Amazing Stories, January 1932. Earth conquered by Venusians. From Everett F. Bleiler's review in Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years:

Around A.D. 3050 man first mastered space travel with an expedition to Venus. This was also the greatest disaster to befall mankind, for the natives of Venus (shelks) copied the design of the successful spaceship, built a huge armada, and invaded Earth. After prolonged fighting, Earth was defeated, and the human race was almost destroyed.

The survivors, however, had sufficient science left to disintegrate huge tunnels and chambers in the Earth, where they retreated. What with shelk pressure and general human deterioration, mankind gradually lost almost all [its] advanced science except the ability to make synthetic food and maintain lighting apparatus.

At story present, the early fifty-third century, mankind (in this area at least) has reverted to a series of small, independent, usually mutually hostile villages scattered throughout the maze of tunnels and pits. Humans no longer venture to the surface of the world, and to the men of Tumithak's world, the shelks are enormously potent, remote, unseen creatures. Shelks, by the way, are eight-legged creatures about four feet tall, with noseless but otherwise humanoid heads.

Tumithak, the son of an official in the village of Loor, has determined since childhood to be the first man to kill a shelk. On reaching manhood he sets out, equipped with three ancient, no longer understood heirlooms given to him by his father: a flashlight, a stick of explosive, and a six-shooter.

Tumithak's adventures as he creeps through hostile corridors to reach the surface need not be detailed, since they are not science-fictional, but one incident is of interest. Near the surface he comes upon the culture of the Esthetts, who are grossly fat sensualists gifted with great artistic ability. Their tapestries, statuary, and paintings are a revelation to Tumithak, since nothing of the sort exists in the corridors. The Esthetts consider the shelks their patrons and friends and believe it is a privilege to be taken to the surface by the shelks. But as Tumithak observes, the shelks drain the Esthetts vampirically.

Dazzled and enormously impressed when he reaches the mysterious surface, Tumithak kills a shelk and brings its head back to his village. His success is a bond between previously hostile settlements, and he is the new general leader.

  • I haven't read Two Planets myself, but I've read a couple of Lasswitz's short stories, "The Universal Library" and "When the Devil Took the Professor". – user14111 Dec 20 '16 at 0:46
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    In the novel the Martians do not conquer the United States of America (which become the seat of the resistance against Martian occupation), so by the standard of "controlling anything worth controlling" this might not count. – Eike Pierstorff Dec 25 '16 at 14:13
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    Plus I just looked it up, the Martian occupation lasted less then 5 years (the book covers exactly five years from first contact to the defeat of the Martians by resistance fighters led be the US, and that includes a time of peaceful cooperation). – Eike Pierstorff Dec 25 '16 at 14:37

1926 The Moon Maid.

My first thought was "Divide and Rule" by L. Sprague de camp, but that was first published in 1939. In that story the aliens who conquered Earth have reverted humans society to medieval levels, restricting science and technology to themselves.

1926 The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs involves a conquest of Earth by Kalkars from the Moon in 2050. Apparently civilization deteriorates over generations and eventually technologically backward humans overthrow technologically backward Kalkars in the former USA.

However, the Kalkars remain in possession of the world and bring millions of their fellows from the Moon to colonize it. But lacking Orthis' organizing genius, they are unable to maintain the civilization they conquered. Their oppressive rule degenerates into semi-feudal enclaves, and they lose contact with the Moon. Eventually, Americans fleeing Kalkar rule and reverting to nomadic tribal life on the Great Plains grow stronger—and the Kalkars correspondingly weaker—until at last the American tribes capture California and the last Kalkars flee into the Pacific.

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