Thursday, July 12, 2018

Extraterrestrials in literature

Extraterrestrials can only appear in two types of literary works: in essays, or in novels, and in the latter only in the genre of science fiction. If an extraterrestrial appears in any novel, the novel automatically becomes science fiction.
Science fiction literature shows very many types of extraterrestrials:
  • Fully humanoid, such as the red men in the Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who are so humanoid that they are even fertile when mating with terrestrials, as shown by the two sons of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, despite the fact that Martian women are oviparous (!!!) To this group also belong the aliens of The People series by Zenna Henderson, who are only different from us by their mental abilities, and those of Perelandra by C.S.Lewis, also titled Voyage to Venus.
  • Partially humanoid, such as those in Star Ways by Poul Anderson, whose women are also capable of falling in love with terrestrials. This novel develops a typical Anderson argument: extraterrestrials who differ culturally from us in their ecological view of the world, but who are fated to be defeated when confronting terrestrials, who are much more active and aggressive than they are.
  • Distantly humanoid, for instance, with a reptilian appearance, but with mental abilities that allow them to adopt a fully human apparent aspect, as in the Poul Anderson story The Queen of Air and Darkness.
  • Very different from us, completely unrelated to our appearance, such as in The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, whose Martians look like octopuses.
  • Intelligent planetary entities not composed of individuals, as in Solaris by Stanislas Lem or The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle. In the first case, the intelligent entity is a planetary ocean provided with extraordinary mental powers. In the second, it is an extra-planetary intelligence that has emerged in a cloud of gas and dust moving through the galaxy that visits our solar system. In this group we could also classify the protoplasmic extraterrestrial of The searcher by James H. Schmitz, made of trillions of interconnected little cells, capable of dividing into several independent entities and of any organic substance, including human beings. Perhaps these extraterrestrials are the most terrifying.
  • An intelligent ecology, as in Balanced Ecology by James H. Schmitz, where intelligence is not ascribed to a specific species of living beings, but to all of them acting together. When the terrestrials arrive, some of them (those who adapt) are incorporated while others (those who do not adapt) are eliminated.
H.G. Wells
Apart from their appearance, science fiction aliens can belong to three different groups:
  • Those who have friendly intentions towards us, such as those of the film 2001, a space odyssey, who don’t even appear in the film, but are supposed to help us to move on to a next stage of evolution, where man will stop being man and will become a new type of higher being. This is one of the favorite topics of Arthur C. Clarke, who also used it in Childhood's end. To this group also belong the extraterrestrials in the Uplift series by David Brin.
  • Those who are our enemies or come to seize us or our planet, as in the H.G. Wells novel, the Alien series of films, or the intelligent plant in Who goes there, a short story by John W. Campbell that was the basis for a famous horror movie, The thing from another world or simply The thing, several versions of which have been made. On a more humorous level, we can mention To serve man by Damon Knight, whose aliens come to Earth to serve man, in the culinary sense of the term. This story was adapted to one of the best-known chapters of the famous fantasy series, The Twilight Zone.
  • Those who are indifferent to us, as in Balanced ecology, mentioned above.
Thousands of examples could be offered from each of these groups. I have just mentioned here a few of those I like most, and of those I like least (guess which is which). Obviously, any other readers can make their own list.
To finish, two examples of my own ETs:

  • In my sci-fi novel Under an Orange Sky, some rather atypical Martian ETs appear, who in principle have good intentions towards us. What is not clear is that we have good intentions towards them.
  • In my science-fiction novel The History of the Earth-9 Colony (see right column) there are, not one, but two species of ETs. But this novel, in addition to science fiction, has an allegorical intention that, of course, I won’t disclose here.
The same post in Spanish
Thematic thread on Life in other Worlds: Preceding Next
Thematic Thread on Literature and Cinema: Previous Next
Manuel Alfonseca
Happy summer holidays. See you by mid-August

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