A quick reminder that the Perseid Meteroid Showers are raining down on us. This year should be more impressive due to a diminished moon. But if you’re in a smoky environment because of fires, or the night is cloudy, then visibility could be poor. Check your weather.
Best of luck in viewing an amazing event from Earth.
Aliens in science fiction
The best place to find extreme characters or divergent world views is in science fiction because when writing, or reading best selling science fiction, usually there are aliens. As a writer, this can get tricky. For if your aliens are really different, i.e. alien, then most likely, your readers won’t understand or relate to them. This does not usually make for a good story. Your readers need to get engaged and identify with the characters in your book.
That is the reason I went with the Earth colony idea and threw in variances caused by a different environment. I wanted to write about characters that my readers could relate to.
Most of my characters are humanoid because it’s hard to love a slime worm or rancid igrot. Still in Past the Event Horizon just as they rediscover the alien signal, the crew on The Seeker discuss what might be out there in space, and what the aliens sending the signal might look like:
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
Idly Joel said, “What do you think they look like?”
“Surely someone has a bet?” commented Braden.
“I’ve got money on blobs that float,” answered Glaze. “They live in the ether and inhale methane.”
“Blobs?” Icabar snorted. “That’s ridiculous. You need dexterous digits to build a stargate.” He grinned and flexed his hand. “I’ll take your bet, and I’ll take your money.”
“It’s not a big bet.” Glaze shrugged.
“My money’s on a hive mind and insect-like creatures.” Icabar looked up. “The leader has a big brain and lots of worker bees.”
Solanje shook her head. “Insects stay small on Alysia because they can’t support a heavy exoskeleton under our gravity. No, I think maybe something with tentacles and eyes that shoot out on stalks. Something tall and skinny that survives in a light gravity.”
Glaze twirled around. “Tessa thinks they’re living plants with wavy fronds that walk on stalk legs.”
“Geesh, she would think something like that,” commented Icabar. “Just like a botanist.”
“Maybe they’re all hairy with ugly sharp teeth and red eyes,” offered Bashar.
“Putting money on that?” Icabar gave a grin.
Bashar smirked and shook his head.
“What about ghosts?” Joel blurted out. “Ghosts that glow in the dark.”
“I think bird creatures with wings,” Solanje chime in, flapping her arms.
“Yes, wings,” mumbled Joel.
Braden pursed his lips and thought. “They need digit-like hands so they can manipulate materials and build stuff. The need eyes to see and sensory equipment…feet and legs to walk with.”
The crew realized that they were parameters and rules that would dictate what an alien might look like, or how it might act.
Over the ages, science fiction stories have depicted many kinds of aliens.
Here are seven concepts to think about when writing aliens and my comments:
1. Aliens should be alien. This sounds pretty straight forward, but be careful with it. The problem is that it’s like trying to visualize the fifth dimension. One dimension…easy, two dimensions…easy, three dimensions– also easy. I live with them every day. The fourth dimension, dealing with time, I kinda get, but go past that and my mind starts to turn to jelly, trying to understand what other dimensions might look like. Same with an alien. If it’s truly alien, then how can I understand it or even try to write about it? Would my readers even care whether it lives or dies if they can’t understand it or empathize with it. So, maybe, somewhat alien? (Great title for a book… oh, one of mine.)
2. Aliens have their own history and story. What fun to construct a culture and history for an alien race. Going wild here.
3. Aliens that are naturally telepathic won’t grasp the concept of language. I have a few telepaths in my stories. In my most recent book, The Weight of Gravity, (coming out in September 2018) I have a very fun chapter where two characters can read minds at an Alysian Ball. What humans think to themselves in a crowd of others makes for hilarious writing. I have a language for the nontelepaths in the society because if your characters are all telepaths and don’t need language, then how on God’s green Earth are you going to write a book? Ummmm. No words.
4. Aliens that can’t hold a tool, won’t invent space ships. Love this one. So if your alien is a blob, or chittering insect, better have flexible mandibles if they are going to go far…like outer space.
5. If aliens have a different body chemistry (and alien means that they do) then they aren’t going to eat human food. And a corollary to that is that humans won’t be able to eat the alien food. Makes sense, but I bent the rules a little here. So if you have your characters land on an alien planet, they’d better be well supplied or they could starve. Still, playing around with humans reacting to alien food can be a lot of fun in a story.
6. If they don’t look human, then they most likely have a different definition of beauty. Silky filaments probably turn on the Jovian worm lord, but for you, me, and our reader…ugh. Maybe the males on Cassiopeia don’t appreciate the fine curves of Marilyn Monroe. Heh! Finally. I don’t mind competing with the three-eyed felix from Raegon … unless the judge is the three-eyed male felix.
7. Aliens should conform to their world’s environment. A tall skinny plant form would not grow successfully on a heavy gravity planet. Thus, if your alien is aquatic, his world would be dominated by water, or if his world is dry, his culture and physical form would reflect that. Remember Dune, and how that environment affected the natives there? How the spice affected them?
So here are seven concepts to consider when inventing aliens and an alien world. Maybe aliens aren’t visiting us because their worlds are too different, and our environment would kill them. Think of War of the Worlds. A very clever book.
So, writing about aliens provides rich fodder for your science fiction story as long as you keep a few concepts in mind.
4 responses to “Seven Concepts for Writing Aliens in Science Fiction”
Great list, Sheron. The items make perfect sense, but it’s amazing how often the logic is ignored for what we humans experience as a given.
Yes. True aliens may be too hard to write about as a main character. Who knows what may turn up.
You make good points! However, aliens still have to achieve the goals of all life forms – acquire matter and energy, and reproduce. So we would have at least that much in common. If they are space farers, then we would have some science in common – at least physics! Human beings here on earth gets lots of practice in extending themselves beyond their own mindsets by trying to understand our fellow earth animals. Although other animals on Earth are more like us than aliens would be, some of them can still seem pretty alien! Spiders that eat their mates, fish that can change gender… If the alien planet has an ecology similar to Earth’s, some of the animals might fill analogous ecological niches.
In retrospect, there’s another aspect. Aquatic lifeforms won’t have fire, and hence no technology as we know it. Any spacecraft they DO somehow develop would be water-filled and hence the mass for launching, accelerating to interstellar velocities and decelerating on arrival would require stunningly greater energy than even we would need.
I doubt alien merfolk or whales would ever make it to Earth.