Hi everyone. Today (while I’m at Disney World ), Greta van der Rol is here to present a guest post on aliens in science fiction. Without further do:
Have you ever noticed how often ‘Aliens’ (especially in the movies or the TV) are humanoid? They usually have two arms, two legs and one head, two eyes and they speak with a mouth. Or maybe four arms or legs just for variety. Check out Star Trek sometime. And what’s more, in Star Trek they can actually mate with humans and produce hybrid beings like Spock. Or so we are led to believe. Yes, okay it’s not always like that. But cast a glance at the Cantina scene in Star Wars IV (The first one, ‘A New Hope’), or even the new arrival, the being in the new movie Avatar.
What’s wrong with that, you ask? Well, in a way, nothing. After all, we’re not talking intelligence here, we’re talking technology. Sure, you can have all sorts of aliens inhabiting other worlds. Look in a pond on mother Earth, or in the ocean trenches or in the deepest caves. Life abounds in all sorts of conditions. But not much of it uses technology. Take dolphins; acknowledged to be very, very smart with abilities (like echo location) we can only dream about. But I can’t see your average dolphin building a spaceship. To do that, it seems you need first the desire and secondly the digits to make it happen.
Enter the opposable thumb. Oh, and some brains. And suddenly all those humanoid aliens become a little more understandable. You need things like fingers to build machines. So smart lizards would fit the bill. Very common, your lizard-like alien – especially if it’s a baddy.
Okay, so there might be other ways of building technology that we quite literally cannot imagine. That’s not much use to a writer, is it? So let’s accept that our aliens will have to have some way of getting around (we call them ‘legs’ in our part of the universe) and some means of manipulating material (fingers, hands). But there are other issues. Astronomers have found a number of ‘earth-like’ planets in the galaxy. That means lots of liquid water, a reasonable temperature range. Just one small catch, though; they tend to be much, much larger than Earth. Can you imagine the effect of gravity on a planet that size? I reckon we’d have trouble walking. Unless we can invent some sort of anti-gravity suit.
And what about the air? What if there’s too much oxygen? Or not enough? Earth’s atmosphere hasn’t been the way it is now for most of its existence. Indeed, even now, we need breathing apparatus if we go above a certain altitude on our own planet, or to go down into the water which occupies two thirds of its surface. So it’s pretty hard to imagine all those aliens in the cantina scene all comfortably breathing Tatooine’s air. Yes, I know some of them wore respirators or some such. But not very many.
Really, when you start looking at the difficulties, the solution used by more and more SF writers makes a stack of sense. Bioengineered planets, terra-formed to suit humans. You’ll find them in Elizabeth Moon’s books and Jack McDevitt’s books among others.
I must say also that I find it difficult to imagine why the inter-stellar inhabitants of a planet like (say) Jupiter would ever want to come to Earth and do more than take a passing look. Always assuming, of course, the amorphous blobs living in Jovian storms subject to enormous gravity would bother to build a space ship. So they get here from their star system and then what? Wouldn’t they be more likely to eye off Jupiter? Now this assumption puts paid to a lot of space wars. Why bother, after all?
Which is why the Ptorix (aliens in my book ‘The Iron Admiral’) evolved on a world similar to ours and live on worlds similar to ours. We are cosmic rivals trying to share a galaxy.
The Ptorix don’t look humanoid, but they do have tentacles. They have two mouths, one for eating which looks rather like an insect’s proboscis, and another for speaking. They have three eyes set on top of a conical ‘head’ which enable them to see most of the way around them and they see different light spectra to us.
Here’s a brief description of them from “The Iron Admiral : Conspiracy”.
‘They followed the crowd into the cavernous main hall. Most of the passengers were Humans, probably getting out while they could. Just like us. Sean headed toward the flight schedule displayed in the middle of the main hall while Allysha waited, arms folded, foot tapping on inlaid tiles, eyes flicking around the hall. The building glittered around her, all curved walls and ornate embellishment, busy with people and luggage. A Ptorix voice rose above the echoing din and she started, nerves jangling. No. The two conical forms approaching her had pale blue fur and wore elaborately decorated, green robes. High caste business people, she’d guess. The writhing tentacles at the ends of each of four arms betrayed tension, nervousness maybe, but not alarm. They passed her, appearing to glide in their floor-length costumes.
Hard to believe that the sight of a Ptorix would frighten her. Then again, she would never have imagined the violent demonstrations, crowds of Ptorix brandishing placards saying ‘Humans Out’ rampaging through the streets, attacking human businesses, looting, even assaulting passers by. She shuddered at the memory.’
Oh, by the way, there is NO possibility of a half-human, half-Ptorix. There is no tab A for slot B and even if there were, the chromosomes and other bits simply wouldn’t match. Sorry about that.
Greta wishes she was born a thousand years or so in the future, where space ships zip around the Galaxy and people have adventures on exotic worlds. Well, if you can’t be there, why not write about it? And slap in a healthy dollop of romance, too? She lives not far from the sea in Queensland, Australia. When she’s not writing she enjoys photography, cooking and the beach. Greta is a member of the Queensland Writer’s Centre (QWC) and Romance Writers of Australia (RWA)
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