Gods of Terra | Aliens in Fiction: How Not to Design Them

As a science fiction fan who’s written fiction of my own, and this blog and elsewhere, I like to design my own aliens. Recently I got a comment on an older post of mine, and since I don’t normally respond to comments on posts more than two weeks old, I thought I’d instead respond here.

Here’s the comment:

I searched this topic to try to find a site that would tell me not what to do as I write my first alien contact book.
I have never been on this site before, and don’t know if replying is possible, but if so, can you reply and tell me what not to do? Or someone, anyone. I’m trying to create an interesting diverse alien culture for my already created human hybrid race to interact with positively, but with some difficulties. My main character is a language communication expert.

So, what not to do when designing aliens (plausible, however fictional)? Here are some quick tips:

  • Don’t succumb to humans-in-funny-suits syndrome: Aliens in looks should be aliens in mentality. At the very least, especially with obvious nonhumans, give them some sort of outstanding but plausible psychological or cultural distinctions from other species that will not only set them apart, but make them memorable to the readers of whatever fiction you’re writing. Remember: aliens will have evolved in a different set of selective pressures than humans, and this will be true of variant humans as well. This fact will shape their minds and societies as it shapes their bodies. Build them accordingly, but try to avoid stereotyping them (My, I wonder whose first mate and engineer that Wookie is?). This hold even if the aliens have a hive-mind, as there will probably be a functional division of labor in the species.
  • Unless for historical or other good reasons, like prior contact with humans in the setting, avoid having the aliens automatically know human languages. I highly recommend inventing the alien’s own language, at least a few useful phrases at start. It’s not only a good exercise, but fun as well. I’m currently designing the language of my own alien humans, the Kai’Siri, and it’s a blast!
  • Don’t give them too much in the way of  weird powers. Not only is this bad from a role-playing perspective, as it unbalances the species in play and relegates them to mostly non-player character status, and without limits it’s boring to readers. the alien tech should not be too rubber-sciencey and not over-explained — Remember: A good explanation is better than no explanation, but none at all is better than a contrived and implausible explanation. The Holtzman effect in Dune is a good example of a rubber-science plot device that was not over-explained nor implausibly so.
  • Aside from weird powers, avoid an otherwise implausible biology for your species, unless you are writing Weird Tale fiction where impossible Things That Must Not Be Named™ have good reason to exist in the story (It’s horror, after all.). Even in Lovecraft’s own fiction, like At The Mountains of Madness, the Old Ones were given reasonably plausible (using the known science of the time) traits and were relatively well thought out. They did, after all, make it into Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials! [an update] Also bear in mind that most alien species will not be able to breed with humans unless human variants themselves, and even that will be iffy with extreme deviations from the norm.

Conclusion: These are a few key things to bear in mind in creating aliens, and their use ought to take some of the headache out of the process. I hope this answers your questions, and if not, I can always write follow-up posts on this, one of my favorite topics.

Fractals of the Week | An Eldritch of Textures

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 13.38.40

adab. Welp, I’ve here a couple of images via newly reconditioned presets, and I’ve noticed a trend: a tendency, increasing over time, to generate images with a sort of ‘grain’ to them, a more pronounced texture that makes a few (like the second of this pair) look a little like textiles, or a sort of bark-like or scaly look as with the first image. I’ve been mostly taking it easy this Thanksgiving week, and here are the results. Feel free to double-click for the full-sized images. I’m placing these in the public domain. May you all have a brilliant weekend.



All JPEG, PNG & GIF images in this post are original works by the author, created via a variety of apps and unless otherwise stated are copyright 2015 by Troy Loy. I hereby permit the free, noncommercial use of these images, as long as proper credit is given for them.

The Call’s Gnuz & Lynx Roundup | 2015.11.23

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 19.50.30

This week has been one of great change. With the world galvanizing itself to action after the brutal terror attacks of last week by Daesh and others, and my own country shamed by the racists and bigots with their fear and hatred of brown people and other religions, the future grows darker, at least in those things we can see crossing the threshold from future to present and then onward to tragic history.

Pity that, as one person put it “Prediction is a forgotten art.” But maybe that’s all for the better. The uncertainty of it all may be discomforting, but it keep things interesting.

Those who brought this on and those who, reacting out of primal, mindless fear, perpetuate this cycle of hatred and misery are, I believe, on the wrong side of history, and engaged in a lost cause. They pit themselves against the very best humanity is capable of, and they will lose, the fear-mongers and those they cynically manipulate alike. They will lose unilaterally, or they will lose because we all will lose.

But I’m optimistic, hopeful for a positive outcome while recognizing that the way to it is likely to be harrowing and dangerous. This could be the pivotal moment for our species, and perhaps things will get worse before getting better. But I’m confident that they will get better. It’s been said that if we as a species don’t annihilate ourselves in the next 200 years, our future will be bright.


The future looks dark only a short distance from now, but further out it is shrouded in mist, hopefully brightly lit by the end of the next century. We may become extinct, or we may survive and go on to reach for the stars.

I’ll wager on the latter outcome, but cautiously.


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Mean Teddies

A teddybear protects its human, in battle with the monsters under the bed. Brilliant stuff.