Alien Characters

Posted: February 20, 2012 in Conventions, Reading, Writing

So in my writing about Boskone 49 yesterday, even with all those words I threw down, there was still stuff I wanted to elaborate on. So I’m doing it. All about the aliens.

One of the most important things I got from the panel on Creating Alien Characters was the importance of avoiding Star Trek aliens. I love Trek. I was raised on TNG. It happens. But the aliens are all bipedal humanoids which is practical for filming television but not so much in realistic speculation.

But you can’t talk about what has been done wrong without giving a counter example of what has been done right.

So I’m gonna throw down the three examples that leaped into my head during the panel on aliens that are truly alien.

The first one got nominated for a Nebula today. (check out all the noms in all the categories) Embassytown by China Mieville. The aliens, Ariekei, communicate with more than one mouth. That’s a fundamental part of how they speak and can’t understand human unless they are genetically engineered twins. There’s a part of me that wants to pontificate about it, but the levels of communication are a fundamental part of the story and I don’t want to screw that up for someone who might just now be checking it out. Also setting themselves apart with communication are the Drapsk of Julie Czerneda‘s Trade Pact Trilogy books two and three. They communicate with smells and waving around fuzzy antennae around. Their society is organic but completely unique.

The best example I can give you, frankly surprised the hell out of me that it is available for purchase. Hailing from the dark days of 1980, easily before I was born, is Dragon’s Egg by Robert L. Forward. I think I read this book when I was 12 or 13, a copy that was my parents. I didn’t really read kids books, just theirs. The Cheela are little aliens half a millimeter high because they live on the surface of a neutron star. This is definitely hard SF. Helps when written by an actual astrophysicist. The book details the evolution of the entire race and how the gravity and such effect all of this.

So yeah. I wanted to share some examples of a counterpoint and show off some aliens done well. And I did. Eighteen years since I started reading my parents books because Lord of the Rings was more interesting than kids books, so I’ve read a lot. Out of all those years these aliens are the ones that jump into my noggin as the best nonhumans. I’ve remembered the cheela for fifteen years since I actually read the book. That’s how cool the little guys are.

Enjoy the examples. I did when I read them. I’m going to go use the rest of my words on my new short story. Have at it.

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