The Story Of Thanksgiving Is A Science-Fiction Story

It has come to my attention that people are woefully uninformed about certain episodes in the Thanksgiving narrative. For example, almost no one mentions the part where Squanto threatens to release a bioweapon buried under Plymouth Rock that will bring about the apocalypse.

I learned about this and other similarly neglected episodes from the Smithsonian Magazine’s Thanksgiving article, and I can’t believe I spent seven years of primary school cutting out little belt-buckle hats and feather headdresses while everyone avoided telling me the interesting stuff.

I think the problem is the story of Thanksgiving doesn’t really fit in the fables beloved of primary school teachers and moralists. The article above has convinced me that the proper genre for Thanksgiving is science-fiction.

Mr. S, an ordinary American, is minding his own business outside his East Coast home when he is suddenly abducted by short, large-headed creatures from another world. They bring him to their ship and voyage across unimaginable distances to an alien empire both grander and more horrible than he could imagine. The aliens have godlike technologies, but their society is dystopian and hivelike. Enslaved at first, then displayed as a curiosity, he finally wins his freedom through pluck and intelligence. Despite the luxuries he enjoys in his new life, he longs for his homeworld. He befriends a local noble who tells him that the aliens in fact send ships to his world on a regular basis, quietly scouting and seeking resources while the inhabitants remain blissfully unaware of these incursions. He gets passage on such an expedition.

Before his ship gets far, he is abducted and sold into slavery again, only to be rescued by a sect of alien priests who believe he may hold the key to saving his entire race. They are kind to him and ask him to stay, but when he refuses they reluctantly arrange him passage home.

Yet when he returns, Mr. S finds a postapocalyptic wasteland utterly unlike the world he left. America is empty, its great cities gone, a few survivors fighting for scraps among the ruins. 95% of the population is dead, slain by a supervirus unlike any doctors have ever seen. The few rumors from afar say Mexico, Canada, and lands further abroad have suffered the same or worse. He finds the site where his hometown once stood. There is nothing. Wandering in despair, he is captured by a gang of roving bandits and awaits execution or slavery.

Instead, the bandit leader reveals he is the state governor, reduced to his current station by the devastation that destroyed his capital and entire government. An alien ship has landed, and a handful of colonists have set up a little settlement. The governor’s scouts have been watching them from afar and noticed their strange powers. With their help, he could defeat his rivals and re-establish control over the state, restore his old position. “You have been to these creatures’ homeworld,” he says. “You know their ways, you can speak their language. Negotiate an alliance with them, and I will let you live.”

Mr. S is split. The aliens have shown themselves capable of terrible cruelty. They might kill him or enslave him. But they have also shown themselves capable of something resembling kindness. In the end he decides they are neither fully good nor fully evil – just alien. And his own people now seem as alien to him as his former abductors.

So Mr. S heads to the alien settlement, where once again he finds dystopian squalor and shocking ignorance combined with fantastic technology. The aliens are unfamiliar with even the basics of agriculture and desperate for aid. He quickly makes himself indispensable, and although he successfully gets the ex-governor his treaty, he starts forming grander plans. What if he could use these aliens as a tool to unite the warring bands of survivors? Break the ex-governor’s stranglehold on the region? Start rebuilding civilization? What if he could make something completely new, a merger of American ingenuity and alien technology?

Gradually establishing a base for himself in the alien colony, he starts sending out feelers to the local warlords and bands of survivors, speaking of the aliens’ power, implying but never stating outright that such power could be theirs. At first it seems to be working. The warlords treat him as an equal, start to listen to his ideas. They just need one little push. He decides to try an insane bluff.

The apocalypse, he reveals, was no plague but a bioengineered alien superweapon, an attack unleashed by their warships in retaliation for some offense real or imagined. The aliens have brought caches of this weapon from their homeworld and buried it underneath their colony. If they are crossed, they will unleash a second cataclysm, killing even the scattered survivors who made it through the first. And the one who manipulates the aliens, who can unleash their wrath upon a target of his choosing and who is thus unstoppable? This guy.

Just as he seems on the verge of some success, Mr. S takes a step too far. He tries to free himself from his old nemesis the ex-governor by “warning” the aliens of his plot to kill them; the alien leader discovers the subterfuge and the strike against the ex-governor never takes place. When the surviving Americans learn of this betrayal, they accuse Mr. S of going native and turn against him en masse. He dies a few months later of what is suspected to be poison, perhaps planted by one of the governor’s men. The aliens seem to take it in stride.

And then a few generations later, they kill nearly everyone. Mercilessly. They do it while praising and admiring their victims. When their genocide is over, they make loud protestations of regret, and try to placate the survivors with gifts. But they do not stop until the massacre is complete. They are neither fully good nor fully evil – just alien.

Then, still caught up in the legends of their homeworld, they forget everything more than a slight inkling that an apocalypse ever happened. A few strangely shaped hills that look like they might be artificial – who built them? Hundreds of miles of groves – who planted them? It is not in the aliens’ nature to think too much about such things.

As for Mr. S? The man who traveled worlds, who pulled the puppet strings behind the scenes, who tried in vain to reverse the fall of civilization? The aliens remember him fondly. Their legends record him as the person who taught them how to fertilize corn with fish heads.

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27 Responses to The Story Of Thanksgiving Is A Science-Fiction Story

  1. Ryan Reich says:

    I really liked this story. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. houseboatonstyx says:

    Definitely fictional. On our timetrack, there really was a party in November 1621 where 53 Pilgrims “entertained and feasted” 90 Indians for three days, after the Indians really had helped them survive, given them seeds of ‘Indian corn’, brought them venison and oysters, etc. Unless Winslow and Bradford just made that up. Or maybe Winslow’s and Bradford’s accounts were forged, really faked by someone to pad a museum’s exhibits or something, a hundred years later.

  3. Liron says:

    Awesome, best blog post I’ve read in a long time.

  4. ckp says:

    The story of Thanksgiving hasn’t wormed its way into British popular consciousness via osmosis as other American traditions have, so I’m completely ignorant about what it is. This description sounds fascinating though.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      The story actually told in the US is from this first-hand account of a celebration in Plymouth Colony.

      We set last spring some twenty acres of Indian corn, and sowed some six acres of barley and peas; and according to the manner of the Indians, we manured our ground with herrings, or rather shads [….]
      [In late autumn after the harvest], among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming among us, and among the rest their greatest king, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation, and bestowed on our governor [….]
      We entertain [ the Indians ] familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us.

      — Letter from Plymouth Colony leader Edward Winslow, 1621

    • MugaSofer says:

      This is actually the story of a minor character in the traditional Thanksgiving account – just way more interesting!

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      And the funny hats came from paintings sort of contemporary with the iconic 1844 painting of the Holy Maccabee Martyrs, perhaps. Both groups improbably formally dressed for their respective occasions. has the painting, and several versions of the historic events in question.

  5. Jimmy Koppel says:

    It’s probably more accurate to say that a lot of SF is inspired by European imperialism. War of the Worlds is supposedly a commentary on the British empire.

  6. Also, rather amusingly, the technique of burying fish heads as fertilizer was actually a technique used by a slightly different group of aliens (the Irish).

    (See the excellent book 1491, mentioned above.)

  7. Jack says:

    That’s awesome!

  8. Lumy Li says:

    Read it once, thought it as just a strange SF story, but the fish heads line at the last part reminded me about something I’ve read before, then BAM! It FINALLY hit me that this the home world population are the native Americans and the “aliens” are Europeans. Great story, especially for people who don’t know about the original!

  9. asdf says:

    Doubt it will work.

  10. Robert Wu says:

    interesting story, though I do feel that it is disingenuous of you to constantly mention that the aliens were neither good nor evil, while in the next breath talk about their thorough extermination. It’s a bit like saying steel is neither iron nor carbon because it has elements of both, creating a false impression of a 50-50 split when we know that one element dominates.

  11. Damien says:

    “blissfully aware”

    Missing ‘un’.

  12. Vladimir Slepnev says:

    They came to kill us and take our land. OMG they’re so alien and incomprehensible! That’s never happened before!

  13. Sam says:

    All lies. There was no purposeful infection of the Indians.

    From wiki;
    Germ theory first proposed by Girolamo Fracastoro in 1546… Italian Agostino Bassi was the first person to prove that a disease was caused by a microorganism when he conducted a series of experiments between 1808 and 1813.

    If infection was on purpose then this proves that the Plymouth colony was a group of time travelers.

    • Roman Davis says:

      People definitely had a concept of contagiousness before then. The concept of seperating people who are unclean or have diseases goes back to the old testament. The use of germ warfare to spread diseases goes back to Hittites. Dead bodies were used to spread diseases in antiquity. The use of blankets to kill the (in this case, white) enemy happened in the Pontiac War during the siege of Ford Pitt, in the 1760s.

      Now, I can’t prove such tactics were ever actually used against the Indians. I can prove, however, that the tactic was being discussed by Lord Jeff in 1763. And that this also coincided with an epidemic of small pox among the local Indians during the next season. If he was in court, there’d be reasonable doubt, but it certainly doesn’t look good. Here ya go:

      Further Reading:
      Skip to verse 3 and 4, if you’re short on time:

    • Ian D Osmond says:

      That they didn’t know the mechanism doesn’t mean that they didn’t know the effect.

      They didn’t know “germs”, but they knew “contagion.”

  14. Pingback: Epic Science Fiction | Random Nuclear Strikes

  15. L. A. Julian says:

    And thus R.A. Bradbury wrote of the Fall of Mars in such vein…