Friday, December 12, 2008

Of Aliens and Nodkins

I’ve posted quite a few times about new races and species in fantasy, but this might be a helpful way to classify and separate them. It’s a scale of most to least alien.

1. Solaris

Or the Black Cloud. This is entirely alien. Does not in any way, shape or form resemble a human. Chances are, it either cannot be understood or is very difficult to communicate with. Usually vast, but could be small – imagine a world where there were trillions of creatures the size of a peppercorn, which built structures or communicated using complex patterns, but had absolutely no interest in dealing with humans.

2. The Dalek

Alien responds to communication, but there are major biological and social differences between it and a human. F. M. Busby’s Demu or Orson Scott Card’s Buggers are a great example of this. Most alien or fantasy races with a hive mind would qualify; a collective and gestalt intelligence is one way to instantly mark another race as very different.

This kind of alien or fantasy race may maintain relationships with humans or groups of humans (it may not see individuals as having any status or meaning outside of a community). However, close friendships or involvement are likely to be difficult or impossible.

3. The Pnume

Alien takes the basic bipedal form, but is non-human in other ways. The physical similarity means that such aliens can usually live among humans, or vice versa, often using the same types of clothing or living quarters. However, biological and social differences mean that the aliens cannot interbreed with humans and are unlikely to be physically attracted to them.

Named after the Pnume in the Tschai novels.

4. The Gaian

Alien looks quite like a human, but with subtle physical or mental differences. Key word is subtle; the Trill from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are a good example of this. If this kind of alien is physically indistinguishable from a human at first, speech patterns, behavior, social structure and mental skills should give it away, though this may not prevent it from being physically involved with one or more humans.

Named after the Gaians in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Empire. I loved the way Bliss never just used the first person singular; it was always “I/We/Gaia”, referring to her connection to her people and her world. The alien’s resemblance to a human could be used to great effect by an author; let the readers get comfortable with this nearly-human person, then use something like a very different mentality or an unusual breeding method to remind them that appearances can be deceiving.

5. The Default Race

Or “The Rubber Forehead”. I use the “default race” classification when the race is meant to stand in for humans – for instance, in several of my stories, there’s some race which is less alien than others, and the protagonist is from that race. It’s easier to describe the world from the point of view of someone who perceives it in a human way or who has human-esque concerns (though it’s also fun to write from an alien or fantasy-esque perspective).

This race becomes the Rubber Forehead when it’s meant to be alien but doesn’t have anything except for a ridge on its nose or a dab of makeup on its temples to distinguish it from the norm.


ChristaCarol said...

Interesting stuff, M. I've yet to delve into SF writing, but I know where to come when I do ;)

Marian said...

Hey Christa,

Oh, these apply to fantasy races as well. For instance, I'd say the dwarves in the Dark Sun campaign are in the middle of the scale because they can't successfully interbreed with humans (offspring are sterile).

Why should SF have all the fun when it comes to other races? :)

colbymarshall said...

I enjoyed this one...I've never heard of these!

writtenwyrdd said...

Nice distinctions. I actually haven't read teh same books you have, because I didn't recognize most of the races you mentioned. Love the new Dalek pic though. Less plungerlike appendage!

Marian said...

"I actually haven't read teh same books you have, because I didn't recognize most of the races you mentioned."

Now that I come to think of it, many of the SF examples I picked are from books published some time ago - Ender's Game, Cage a Man, Solaris, The Black Cloud, Trillions and The Pnume.

Still, those are the classics. :)

writtenwyrdd said...

I've been reading sf since the early 70s and I have only read Ender's Game of that list. There are a lot of sf books out there, lol.