01 April, 2012

A To Z Challenge: A is for Aliens

Welcome to the first day of the A to Z Challenge! As I said in this post, throughout April I will be blogging 14 writing topics and 12 flash fiction stories. Today is the first day of April's writing topic theme: The Concepts, Ins and Outs, Building Blocks, and All Around Cool Stuff of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

And what better way to start out than with aliens?

A is for Aliens

Aliens come in all shapes and sizes.

For the longest time, they were little grey humanoids with big bug-eyes who, apparently, had no concept of the need for clothing. Then we graduated to spidery-shaped things, bulbous-headed monsters, creepy octopus land animal things, and humanoids with green skin who can't get enough of starship captains.

And, seriously, aliens have to be one of the best parts of experiencing science fiction. Or so these guys would have you believe:

But forming them for your story is not always as cut and dried as it may seem. Putting a weird head on an otherwise humanoid body is, well...not always realistic. (I'm looking at you, George Lucas.)

You have to make your aliens truly alien. Even if they are humanoid for some good reason, chances are that they don't dress in similar clothing, have the same entertainment, or get the same pleasure out of a really sweet car as we do.


Because they're not human. Realistically, an alien race probably wouldn't think, process, or be anything like us.

Imagine if a cat suddenly spoke our language. We might attach human personalities to them all day long ('cause it's cute to think of them as tiny humanoid people with tiny human-like concerns) but I'll bet you anything that an explanation of the world from that cat's mouth would be entirely foreign to us.
As a writer, it's your job to make your aliens foreign to humanity. To do that, you have to be willing to really dig in and build their world around them. Do they see colors? How do they eat? Are they animalistic in nature? Do they even think thoughts?
Remember, though, that it won't be your aliens that will read your story but humans. So, the Catch 22 here is that as alien as you make your aliens, in the end they still have to be...well, human.

What is your favorite alien or alien concept? Why?


  1. Hello! Stopping by from the A-Z Challenge. My favorite aliens are from John Scalzi's works. In his Old Man's War series, he gives us a really adorable-looking deer-like creature who actually try to farm and eat humans on several occasions. They're humans' worst enemies. He also has several other really interesting alien species in those books. I think they're worth looking into.


    1. Hi KT! Thanks for stopping in!

      I have not read that series - I'll have to add it to my check-out list.

  2. I'm more of a fantasy girl than science fiction, but it will be interesting to read what you have to say about both sides of the genres. I think my only exposure to alien-y reading is Ford Prefect in the Hitchhiker's Guide. :)

    In Which We Start Anew

    1. I think I may lean towards fantasy a little more than science fiction in my writing but in watching and reading, I can't say that either has the top hand.

      Ford Prefect was awesome.

  3. I like the more humanoid aliens - like Dr. Spock, perhaps because he's just more relatable. The kind that have animal heads or bodies always kind of turned me off.

    It's neat to imagine how an alien race would think differently from ours. Taking into account things like the climate of their planet, the order of their society, their mindset... It's all very fascinating.

    I like the little girls giggling in the second photo. ;)

    1. I tend to like the more humanoid aliens, as well. Probably because they are relatable.

      I liked the little girls, too. The fact that they aren't scared but think it's funny is adorable. Little geek-girls in training!

  4. I got pretty pumped about A being for aliens. Probably because I woke up to my boyfriend watching Independence Day this morning (and I'm one of the few that had never seen it!).

    My favorite alien concept would have to be the word 'Grok' from Stranger in a Strange Land by Heinlein.

    "Grok means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed—to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science—and it means as little to us (because of our Earthling assumptions) as color means to a blind man."

    I think it is a great example about how foreign aliens really should be. Heinlein says that the term is translated to earth terms as "water". It's funny to go from "complete understanding" to "water".

    In my youth group we use the term grokking at camp when we exchange a drink of water with everyone and then essentially have heart to hearts with everyone present.

    1. Nice! I'm glad it went with your morning. ;)

      Wow. Heinlein never ceases to amaze me with his explanations and worlds.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I think there are some things in common with how life forms develop that seem like the laws ought to be the same on another planet. One of my grad school classes talked about order and symmetry. Creature forms, except the very simplest, tend to by symmetrical--head, body, arms or legs. There is some logic that would predict alien forms might also be like that. Though it is conceivable someting that forms more like plants advances past that--becomes more moveable and thinking, yeah? I've always sort of thought though, the first alien life form we encounter, we won't quite be able to perceive--that they will somehow be on a different plane or something--Know the movie Contact? like that--that the contact is entirely communication because our perceptions aren't prepared to see them.

    1. Those are actually some good thoughts. Life does seem to follow some set similarities. Though, with all the strangeness in space, I wouldn't be surprised by rock aliens or slime monsters.

  6. The dress and physical appearance of the alien may not in many circumstances be what most defines it from the human race. Most movies (and even comic books) show their alien races as evil drones in uniform bodysuits with ray guns living under the absolute authority of a single leader; This is different from the earth where the planet is split into different bodies of land which are then separated into even smaller countries which are then ruled by different people. I have never seen an alien planet follow this style of government.

    Another notable fact is that humanoid aliens work best for alien/human romances(I mean, have you ever known a girl who had a crush on chewbacca?)


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