How do you make an alien alien enough without making them too alien? SFR author Jael Wye has some thoughts on that topic in our second guest post.
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You’re Not From Around Here, Are You?
By Jael Wye
Aliens are tricky. Whether they’re the smokin’ hot kind bent on ravishing Earth women, or the repulsive slimy kind trying to infect the galaxy, they test the limits of an author’s imagination. How does the human mind conjure up a character alien in the full sense of the word, a being biologically, socially, and psychologically other?
Science fiction writers usually use one of two methods of dealing with their aliens. There’s what I like to call the Prosthetic Forehead method, and there’s the Sociobiology 101 method.
The Prosthetic Forehead Method
The usual problem with aliens gets an added twist in science fiction romance. Too much world building may put the development of the romantic relationship at risk, so in order to keep the focus on the protagonists, an author can choose to base her universe on template already familiar to her audience.
For example, take Linnea Sinclair, one of my favorite science fiction romance authors. In her books such as Games of Command and Gabriel’s Ghost, she uses the science fiction conventions of popular television shows like Farscape and Star Trek as a kind of shorthand to establish the world her characters move in.
Other authors use other easily recognizable models for their futuristic worlds, like European feudal societies, or the American Old West. Even Star Trek itself was based on the culture of the U.S. Navy. However, alien characters that follow these established conventions rarely achieve otherness. They might seem unearthly on the surface, with blue skin, or pointy ears, or no vowels in their names, but they are easily understood nonetheless. We know what to expect from these aliens, because we’ve seen similar ones before, and that’s fine. We’re reading for the adventure and the romance, and if the alien landscape doesn’t provide any profound insights into humanity’s place in the universe, well, it’s not meant to. It’s meant to be an exotic-looking backdrop for our heroes.
The Sociobiology 101 Method
Contrast this approach with that of the great Ursula K. LeGuin, whose books, such as The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, have been widely praised for their profound insights into humanity’s place in the universe. LeGuin’s background in anthropology allows her to construct complex alien societies that raise important social and moral questions for the reader.
But anthropology is far from the only scientific discipline that goes into creating “serious” aliens. In order to plausibly depict the social structures, technology, and physiology that the inhabitants of a different planet might evolve, an author has to put real study into physics and biology as well. It’s a lot of work, but infusing the imagination with a strong dose of the hard and soft sciences insures that a character isn’t just another 21st century American in alien drag.
However, it’s important to note that many science fiction authors like LeGuin who put a lot of effort into creating unique and plausible aliens couldn’t make it as romance writers. Their characters are simply too alien to identify with or fall in love with. (At least for most readers. When it comes to hentai fans, all bets are off.)
Bringing Balance to the Force
So which approach to creating aliens should a science fiction romance author take? Personally, I don’t see why it can’t be a little of both. In my newest book, Game Of The Red King, my hero Max and heroine Sita are both descendants of humans who colonized Mars. They are a blend of human and alien, of the familiar and the foreign. Because they grew up on a planet with low gravity and a thin, carbon dioxide atmosphere, their bodies are different from any human born on Earth. Their society, composed of people of every ethnicity and based on a highly refined economy and technology, has evolved away from the Earth societies that first generated it. Max and Sita are no longer Earthers, but Martians.
And yet, they are still recognizably human. Their emotions, instincts, and desires are the same ones we have here and now. Their appearance also falls within the normal human range (if you consider sexy supermodels normal.) Though they are alien, that doesn’t keep the reader from identifying with them and their romance.
And romance, one of the most most fundamental of human experiences, is what my books are all about. I love to speculate about the possibilities we face in the future and out there in space, but in the end I think I’m really speculating about human nature. LeGuin recently said that the characteristic gesture of science fiction is to give the reader a new place from which to look at the old world, and she’s right. For all our scientific theories or flights of fancy, when write about aliens, ultimately we are writing about ourselves.
So tell me, what is your favorite flavor of alien?
More by Jael Wye
Game Of The Red King
On a ship sailing to undreamed shores…
Martian doctor Sita Chandra left her rich and powerful lover Max Ross years ago to protect their child from his enemies, never thinking she’d see him again. But now she and Max are stuck together on a space ship traveling from Earth back home to Mars, and the passion between them is as hot as ever before–and just as dangerous.
Max has never forgotten Sita, or forgiven her for breaking his heart. Now that the beautiful, infuriating woman is back in his life, he can’t lose her and his family again. But the shadows that darkened their past together may yet destroy their future.
When a madman targets Max for a diabolical experiment, threatening the lives of everyone on the ship, It will take all the skill and all the heart Sita and Max possess to survive his deadly game.
Jael Wye grew up on the American Great Plains, went to school in the Midwest, and now lives in beautiful New England with her family and her enormous collection of houseplants. For more of Jael’s unique blend of futurism and fairy tale, don’t miss her ongoing series Once Upon A Red World.