I think about aliens a lot. Not little green men, but the realistic existence of life on other planets – and not necessarily the intelligent kind. It’s gotten to the point where I’ll say to my boyfriend Chris, “You know what I was thinking?” and he’ll say, “Was it something about aliens?”
I’m pretty sure Chris knows everything, by the way. I’ve never gone to him with a science question that he didn’t have some type of insight on. The following thoughts about aliens have his input weaved through them:
What if aliens don’t look like anything we’ve ever seen before? How do we describe that? What if they have a texture that’s not furry or hairy or slimy or sandy but… other? Strange colors we’ve never seen?
This is actually what I think about when I think about aliens that are ‘different from anything we’ve ever seen’.
To take it further, what if their organs aren’t anything like ours? Aliens that don’t speak or see things visually, but communicate in a whole other way, unlike anything on earth? Is it possible that earth creatures have really tapped out the market on sensory input? What if the way our ecology developed, no creature here, from microbe to mammal, ever had to develop this extra organ? Maybe our physiology is inherently incompatible with it.
What if they see things like this?
Most land-walking creatures on earth have legs. Let’s take mammals for example; typically there are four legs, right? What could a ‘normal’ number of legs be like on another planet? What about three? What if instead of pairs everything is done in triples over there?
Methane-Based environments. Scientists recently proved that, as we breathe oxygen, a species could develop that breathes only methane. Can you imagine a planet of animals breathing methane and farting out oxygen? Our species would constantly be teasing each other about smelling bad, lol.
Alien Socialization. When you think about it, animals here have a lot of inherent social protocols. Consider eye contact in the wild, for example. Or snarling, or biting.
In alien societies, they might not have this social sensitivity that we have. The concept of shame or embarrassment or ‘feeling bad’ about something might be completely absent. We cringe in embarrassment sometimes; what if they do something else for different situations? Can you imagine explaining laughter to a species that has no concept of it?
What about genders? Here we typically have two; male and female, down to our insects, right? Males fertilize the eggs of the females, and the females give birth. But what if alien species are more like seahorses, with the males birthing the babies? Or what if their phalluses don’t deposit seeds, but instead suck them up? What if there are no phalluses at all?
What if a couple merge and become a single consciousness, then divide into four separate consciousnesses, like cells? What if it takes three aliens of three different genders to come together and reproduce? What if there are entirely new concepts of characteristics attributed to genders? For example, we have masculinity and femininity, but what if alien genders don’t fit neatly into the categories we’re used to?
Intelligence is not mandatory. It was really shocking to me to realize that just because a planet develops life, does not mean it will eventually develop intelligent life. As far as we know humans are the only species on earth to get to our level of self-awareness. What if we find planet after planet of moderately intelligent creatures, say on the level of cows, but no species that matches us intelligence-wise? I’ve always believed there are other species out there, but for the first time it occurred to me that we might truly be alone in terms of intelligence.
These are purple space cows. They are moderately intelligent.
On the other hand, what if we find a planet with two intelligent species, one slightly more than the other? Does the secondary species become the ‘companions’ of the more intelligent species, kind of like humans and dogs? I’d really like to write a story about that, from the perspective of the secondary species. Would they be aware that they are less capable mentally? Would they be abused, or treasured?
These aliens are friends. After millennia of the highly intelligent orange ones abusing the crap out of the less intelligent pink ones.
Underwater societies are doomed. It occurred to me the other day, and I verified with Chris… even if a super intelligent species develops on a water planet, there’s no way that they could ever have the technology to contact us. They could never even make devices to allow themselves to get on land or survive out of water; there’s no way to produce enough heat to make the machinery necessary. So maybe there’s a super intelligent race out there of fish-people, and unless we find them they’ll never be able to find us.
This alien wishes he could breathe out of the water.
Recently I’ve been working on a new story idea to tinker with when I’m not working on Nameless, and it involves a species that used to be human(ish) but was turned into something else. Still humanoid, but completely different looking. My main character struggles with her identity, trying to decide if she wants to be human, or this other species she has lived as for her whole life. It’s brought the topic of humanity to the forefront of my mind, which ties in to all of these alien thoughts.
You know how in Star Trek the crews would encounter all these different types of species, but for the most part they were mainly humans with some extra stage makeup? Objectively we understand that it’s just easier to make humanoid aliens instead of having to invent completely new types of creatures each time, but something that always puzzled me is how often alien species wanted to ‘understand’ humans, or feel what it was like to be human.
Was this vanity on the part of the show’s creators? Because I’m not entirely convinced that humans are soooo great that all other alien species would want to be like us. Now that I’m older I can recognize that Star Trek dealt with some pretty cool themes, some of which explored what it means to be moral, ‘human’ beings in a time when technology and world views are rapidly changing. But working on this book has brought back that wonderment of what being ‘human’ actually means.
We have a pretty amazing planet here. The diversity and beauty is staggering. And our biological makeup allows us to do so many miraculous things. Consider the Little Mermaid, on whose story my new project is partially (very partially!) based off of. Ariel is confined to one environment, and one society. She longs for the freedom to traverse and interact with the rest of the world. As humans those options are biologically open to us. We have the capability of building machines that take us to the bottom of ocean and to outer space itself. We’ve developed opposable thumbs that made the creation of all this technology possible.
We’re a pretty lucky species if you think about it.
Do you ever think about aliens? If so, share your thoughts!