Tag Archives: Fiction

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.

Future Fluff: Mighty Bruticus & Its Unhallowed Moons

English: Extrasolar planet Upsilon Andromedae ...
English: Extrasolar planet Upsilon Andromedae d lies in the habitable zone and if sufficiently large moons of Upsilon Andromedae d exist, they may be able to support liquid water, as the image shows. On the horizon of this hypothetical moon can be seen Upsilon Andromedae d, possibly a class II planet (Sudarsky classification): since it is too warm to form ammonia clouds this ones are made up of water vapor, white in colour instead of the caracteristic yellow-reddish clouds of Jupiter and Saturn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Far back in the legends of the Kai’Siri people, originating in an ancient war fought before Second Age of Consolidation, lies the planet Bruticus, its Terran name, a gigantic world with extreme gravity and home to a diminutive but hardy intelligent species.

The Kai’Siri, or course, forbid the naming of this world in their own language, such is its reputation.

Bruticus is an interdicted world in a forbidden area of what was part of the First Exarchate, as the Kai’Siri had never been able to fully conquer the natives, and this fact sat poorly with them.

It’s partly for religious reasons that Kai’Siri were originally driven to conquer, from the dictum to spread the Kai’Siri culture across the stars.

Kai’Siri religion is odd. It is not an evangelical faith; only ethnic Kai’Siri may be members of it, usually inculcated in childhood with some adult conversions.

Worship is mostly directed to familial gods, not national or regional gods, but the central core of the faith binds the Kai’Siri as a people and in the past drove its militarization.

“Spread the culture, but the faith belongs to us alone.”

Bruticus handed the Kai’Siri perhaps their worst defeat in a war lasting almost a hundred years, when the natives made use of the planet’s strong gravity and multiple large moons, routing the humans of Sirug and resulting in the death by suicide of all of the defeated army, too shamed to return home and live with their defeat.

The Second Exarchate has scant records of the war, given the destruction of the Second Age of Consolidation and its attendant wars. So Bruticus remains isolated by time, location, and oddly enough for a rationalist culture like the Kai’Siri, a hint of superstitious dread, the inhabitants shrouded in mystery.

It is only with the development of Kurtz-Dunar technology for riding gravity wells in the Second Exarchate that contact between natives and Kai’Siri has become possible again.

But what of fact?

Bruticus is a super-Terran world, more rocky than gaseous, though with a thick atmosphere rich in hydrogen, methane, and ammonia fairly far from its star but warm enough to allow for life using complex hydrocarbons and reductive metabolisms using respiration of hydrogen.

Bruticans, who call themselves Phlaathaq, are much like large Terran sand-fleas in shape and built low to the ground to avoid dangerous short-distance falls in the strong gravity well.

Bruticus has a slightly ovoid shape because of its spin, with stronger gravity near the poles and lighter at the equator, about 12 Terran gravities on average.

Phlaathaq have a clever sort of biotechnology at their disposal, using stock from native organisms bred to specific functions, and often engineered to purpose using other organisms bred for that function.

Case in point are the ballistic dendromorphs, tentacled, ambulatory, tree-like mollusk analogs whose central body cavities are largely filled with a biochemical solid rocket propellant based on the combustion of chlorine and hydrogen. These serve as a means of travel off of Bruticus, and produce enough thrust to reach an impressive escape velocity and in less than three days reach the outermost of the five moons.

Think of something that looks like a cross between the recent Orion system spacecraft, an outsized California redwood, and a Lovecraftian Dark Young.

Other organisms, symbiotes, can cling to and serve as payload attachments to the dendromorphs, whether as explosive warheads, piloted capsules with life-support and acceleration couches, and there are organisms attached to these to serve as bio-avionic systems for the dendromorphs in flight.

Such launches are limited to the equatorial regions where gravity is lightest, and the dendromorphs are optimized for the climate there, even being resistant to the floods of the ammonia seas in the cold season and frequent massive storms of the warmer season when the oceans evaporate.

The effectiveness of this biology-based approach to technology in warfare has earned the planet-moons system of Bruticus an evil reputation among those familiar with Kai’Siri lore, but as more information comes to light and peaceful contact becomes possible, more of this massive world’s secrets will be laid bare, in future installments of this post, and in fiction.

A Tale in 13 Words | The Fractal

FD_M1When I play with fractals, I often wonder what I’ll see when zooming deep within a figure, or surface for 3D images, especially with custom presets. This quasi-fiction piece, the format borrowed from that of my friend S.A. Barton, tries to reflect that sense of wonder…

Journeying deep into Mandelbrot’s Seahorse Valley, there were beheld strange and marvelous arabesques.

Flash Fiction: Young Festerling

It happened again. But this night was different. I had that dream again, just like I did the night of my 13th birthday a month ago.

It was that…thing again, a big, slimy, wormy-looking monster hovering over my bed, and me not being able to move or scream, just looking it in the — eyes? — before I woke up sweaty and cold that first night.

It was squealing, sighing, tittering, making awful slurping noises, and weird smells, one after the other, waving ropy arms around like it was trying to tell me something, being real quiet so no one would hear it but me.

But tonight was different.

I never told anyone, though, since one time I understood what it was saying to me…

…and I’m not afraid of it anymore. It told me what to do. So this night, I got up and obeyed it, and sent my family to heaven. Just like the monster said to. They’ll be so much happier.

The big, wormy monster rewarded me…gave me a present. It’s on my shoulder now, and I’ll keep it a secret, just between us, a sign of love…

…I can’t let people know about my new tentacle.

Future Fluff: Suthidruu Afterlife: The Truth behind the Mythology

The Suthidruu, my twistedly compassionate genocidal monastics, are given to exterminating all life in whole galaxies, one planet-buster or nova-trigger at a time. Their motivation is the belief that they are sending their victims to paradise, offering salvation, on its face a murderous delusion.

But what if they are at least partly right? What if there’s a grain of truth to it all, however warped?

What if they are sending their victims to paradise, just not to the one they actually believe in in some other dimension of reality?

In some far corner of the universe lies a red dwarf star. Enclosing that star in layers, like an onion for ogres, or a parfait for talking donkeys…

…there is a massive structure, a collection of solar collectors and computing elements…a Matrioshka brain. Within its vast network of circuits lies a virtual universe.

It is a relic of the bygone days of the Nine Who are One. It is here that paradise lies, in this massive universe-within-machine. Here, all of the destroyed species are uploaded by mind-ripper technology and here they exist as data-patterns.

In the Suthidruu’s infamous Last Rites ceremony, the neural patterns of every species on a world capable of perceiving and reacting to its environment are destructively copied. Brains and nervous systems are turned to soup, and the data uploaded to the Matrioshka brain. They reside as digital shades unaware of their predicament and existing in this virtual world for as long as the ‘brain can draw power from its star.

The mind-ripper is effectively black-box technology to the Worms, considered to be holy relics of mysterious construction.

There is no downloading to a new body, or return to an old one for the copied data-pattern. They’re stuck there, to await the company of the Suthidruu far in the future of the universe.

That’s when the Pious Worms have finally fulfilled their duty and destroyed themselves in a final mass-uploading. Only then will they know the truth behind the myth, when the patchwork nature of Paradise is revealed, its less-than-optimal simulation of the hereafter obvious in the universe’s dying days as the star powering it cools to a lightless cinder.

Future Fluff | The Maelstrom: Hyperspace Travel in Gods of Terra

The discovery that often propels a species into the community of civilizations known as the Local Galaxy is the discovery of Kurtz-Dunar field technology, and through it, access to the turbulent levels of hyperspace known as the Maelstrom — and to the stars in a reasonable amount of time — with some risk.

More a state of being than a place per se, the Maelstrom exists in the higher dimensions of 11-dimensional space-time, and so is a common means of transport through those dimensions, bypassing Einsteinian space using artificial wormholes opened and kept open through the Kurtz-Dunar field generated by a starship and its protective screens.

The radiation pressure within these wormholes is intense, enough to buffet a starship in transit, called starfold translation, and it builds up a residue of hyperspace matter particles that can result in damage to the ship and crew if within the Maelstrom for too long. This is also affected by the size of the starship and so the power needed for its drive-field, with larger vessels needing stronger drive-fields and so building up more residual particles. A ship must exit the Maelstrom before the buildup of residue reaches a critical point, and allow the residue to dissipate in Einsteinian space-time before resuming translation.

Theoretically, higher states of hyperspace may be accessed, but this is a technological feat out of reach for the known civilizations, even for the Kai’Siri and the ancient Mokthraga. The Broogh Flow, partly for historical reasons and partly because of the practical limits imposed on the size of starships accessing the Maelstrom, does not use hyperspace travel, and instead relies on sublight plasma drives allowing travel at speeds roughly 10% that of light at most.

These suspected higher regions of hyperspace might be less dangerous than the Lower Maelstrom, and may impose fewer or different limitations on ships travelling through them. The Suthidruu are thought to be one such species with access to them, the Tathladi are another, both of which have use of the mind-boggling technology of the long dead Grand Civilization of the Nine.

Those same regions of hyperspace, useful though they may be, require access to energy sources beyond the current means of the Local Galaxy, and so remain out of reach — so far.

Maelstrom travel has narcotizing and hallucinogenic effects in most species, and so the drive must be controlled by automated systems while in translation as the crew is asleep, delirious, or unconscious. Forced wakefulness in the Maelstrom often results in temporary psychosis, and permanent psychosis or dementia resulting from neurological damage in long-term exposure.

The Mirus’ starship, the Emulael Enza, is navigated by his hypershard when in translation, his mind locked in a dream-state that often allows sensory access to the higher dimensions of space-time and powerful insights not available to his waking state. It is often a time of nightmares, sometimes resulting in screaming fits as he suddenly wakes when translation is complete.

This is a powerful means of travel, despite the limitations on the size of a ship and the safety of the crew, and it is the key to the stars. With it, a civilization can make its mark on the universe, or bring about its early demise courtesy of rival civilizations it may encounter. It’s up to them.