1. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    How do I make my aliens more 'alien'?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by JadeX, Nov 9, 2015.

    Let me be clear with my requirements first, as they are vital to my story:
    1. They are a humanoid race; they have two legs, two arms, two eyes, and their bodies are slightly larger than the average human.
    2. They occupy the Earth and have for the past 50 years, thus it's required that they be able to learn and speak human languages, English included. So this limits some creative ability, at least in the mouth area.
    3. They do not have any significant military history. When they came to Earth, they actually adopted the use of human firearms because they didn't have any weapons that were comparable. (They've since built their own, albeit based upon human designs)
    4. They are capable of individual thought, and feel all the same basic emotions humans can.
    5. I know what their skin tone is like, it ranges from tan/copper to light brown/sepia.
    6. They can perceive colours in an identical fashion to humans.

    Ways they differ from humans:
    - Their hands have 3 fingers with 4 joints (knuckles), and a central thumb that can swivel 360 degrees on a ball joint located on their palm. Unlike humans, whose hands are a mirror image of each other, these aliens have no difference between their left and right hands.
    - Their eyes are a bit larger than human eyes, egg-shaped. While humans have recessed eye sockets, these aliens do not. Their face is even with their forehead.

    Areas I'm not sure about:
    - Foot structure
    - Leg structure; all I know is they are able to sit in the same chairs as humans, although that doesn't necessarily say much
    - Hair - humans only have hair because we're mammals, so I don't know if the aliens should or not. I'd prefer they have some sort of head covering/growth, however (or at least some of them).
    - How females differ from males in physical appearance
    - Females' role in society
    - Clothing; what would their clothes look like? I really have no idea. (One idea I had is perhaps scarf-like garments of varying colour and/or size to show social status, but I don't know what to think about that)
    - Teeth - do they have them, or something else?
    - Ears - do they have them, or something else?
    - Basically anything I haven't mentioned

    So far, they've been relatively human-like, which isn't a bad thing, but I'd like to know how I can better highlight the differences and make them seem more like aliens and not just strange-looking humans.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your description is almost all physical--the only mention of society is females' role in society. What about the rest of society?

    - It sounds like one of your assumptions, though unstated, is that there are distinct males and females. That's not necessarily mandatory.

    - Do the females gestate children? Or is there something like eggs? If it's eggs, do the females tend the eggs or do the males? If it's eggs, are the eggs fertilized in the female's body or out of it?

    - What's the social equivalent of our nuclear family? Male/female/children? Male/many-females/children? Female/many-males/children? Many-females/many-males/children? Any of the above, but the children are raised centrally and there is no concept of "parent"? Every adult lives separately, occasionally a male and a female get together and produce a child, but they don't form a family unit? Siblings live together but occasionally a female goes off to get fertilized? There are no homes at all; people just go to mass shelters, grab a clean garment, get some sleep, and go trudging off the next day?

    - That last item would mean that there are almost no individually owned possessions. How are possessions handled? Is there a concept of individual ownership? Of personal possessions? Of land? Of other aliens? Is there slavery?

    - What is the economy like? Are there jobs and bosses? Is there a king who confers favor and food and shelter? Who has authority over who? How does authority tend to be conferred--based on sex? Age? Clan? Wealth? Psychic power? The ability to dance a really good jig?
     
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  3. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    Those are some interesting points I'll put some more thought into. As far as the nuclear family goes, all I know is that there is a much higher rate of twin birth than there is in humans; while human twins tend to be a biological accident, my aliens have about a 50/50 chance of producing twins.

    I had considered maybe having them be a single-sex race with no distinct males or females. I suppose I could still go that route...

    I know they don't lay eggs externally like reptiles. They give live birth, but that still leaves many possibilities.

    Earth isn't the only planet they occupy. They rule a few other inhabited worlds, although most of them assimilated peacefully. They can adapt to different cultures and societies to an extent, the end result being a half-and-half blend of their culture and the culture of the original inhabitants. For example, one planet they occupy is inhabited by a low-tech agriculture-based species that is peaceful and accepted assimilation, and in return their culture is interfered with as little as possible, only enough to ensure order; the government treats them well. On Earth, however, where assimilation was met with violent resistance, the government has an authoritarian stranglehold that in many ways reflects the worst of humanity. So it's not all the same across the board, they treat different peoples differently depending on how they see them/believe they deserve.
     
  4. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your description sounds like Greys.

    Given convergent evolution, I think it is a reasonable assumption that on an alien, but earth-like, planet, evolution would find similar solutions for survival. It is possible this may result in humanoids, it would be an unlikely confluence of circumstances that brought them to the top of the heap, but not beyond the realms of possibility. There are certain common physical characteristics seen on earth, a few examples:
    • Two eyes, allowing depth perception, but not so many eyes that they require excessive brain capacity.
    • Ears that take advantage of the vibration of particles in the air.
    • A broadly similar physiological/ skeletal structure.
    Most societal and personal attributes are as a result of evolution. For example:
    • False positives i.e. the early human who runs from the wind in the grass, thinking it is a tiger, is more likely to survive than the human who does not run from the tiger in the grass, thinking it is the wind. This is extrapolated out to superstition, religion, mistaking a cloud for a flying saucer, outlandish conspiracy theories.
    • Reciprocal relationships are necessary for survival in social animals and are the basis of morals, societal structures and so on.
    • Competition is inherent in ensuring the survival of your offspring over others and carries over to every aspect of modern life.
    So I think it is a reasonable assumption that alien societal structure or individual motivations may be human-like.

    I would then explore the differences. Off the top of my head: Three fingers would mean that the entire mathematical structure would rely upon the following counting system 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6; 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16; 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26... and so on. Large eyes suggest a darker world, and earth light levels might be unbearable for them without protection.

    But as @ChickenFreak said, I think you need to go beyond physical characteristics and explore their history and the peculiarities of their society (even if the fundamental triggers might be similar to human's, it can have very different results).
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2015
  5. I.A. By the Barn
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    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    Well, I do biology so the only thing I say is what was their planet like? Think about the conditions there, if they are around now and have only been on Earth for fifty years they would have adapted to live on their own planet and have all the adaptions for there.
    I also adore history, so think about what life used to be like, say, 200 years ago on their planet. Past religion that has clung on to every inch of life still effects us today, some laws hark back to the time when religion was the running thread through society. Laws on relationships and marriage in USA and Europe come from christian ideals. Most of our holidays are religious, except for the one or two that are historical. If you go to India, it is the same but with Hindu and Sikh, middle east, Islam. Asia's religion is different as it moved away from deities and more towards ideas and elders very early in it history. Still these ideals make up society and laws, both social and political. A great documentary I once watched on the BBC said that religion was thought to have came from honouring the dead and the animals and land that we lived off, fertile land slowly becoming anthromorphised to become goddesses of fertility.
    But then again I'm no expert.
     
  6. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @JadeX I found this article a few years ago, TV Tropes - SoYouWantTo/DesignAnAlienMind , and I have had an amazing time using one particular trick for making inhuman characters seem less human: re-arrange Maslow's Hierarchy.

    Would you like me to share my specific applications of this article?

    [NITPICK] @Chinspinner Actually, they would count 0,1,2,3,4,5 ; 10,11,12,13,14,15 ; 20,21,22,23,24,25 ; ... :p [/NITPICK]
     
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  7. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    You'd be partially right; I do know that their home planet is slightly darker than Earth. However, they can see on Earth just fine, although their vision at night is superior to humans, and their vision in the day is the same amount inferior.

    One of the planets they colonised was a barren, uninhabited rock comparable to Mars (except it has an average daytime temperature somewhere around the all-time record high on Earth). This planet had a brighter sun, and so its inhabitants evolved a bony ridge above their eyes to shield them, and their eyes became more almond-shaped than egg-shaped. This "subspecies", almost, fairs the best on Earth and occupy areas such as the Gobi Desert in Asia, the southwest [former] US, and Northern Africa, where Earth's capital is located (Khartoum).

    Really good points! Thanks!

    Ooh, I can tell you about that! Their home planet is an arid, barren, desert-like planet. It is home to only about 2,000 species (unlike Earth which has who-the-#@&%-knows-how-many). It has no plate tectonics, there is more land than there is water - while Earth has large islands for continents, their planet is more like a ball with a few watery holes in it. They amount more to large lakes, seas at most, but no oceans. There are some forests. The surface is flecked with large amounts of minerals such as gold, iron, copper, and many other minerals that we have on Earth and some that we don't. Because of this they developed as a mining civilization, focusing on technological advancement to apply uses to all these materials. The two main fields of work in their civilization are mining and scientific research (somebody has to design/build the spaceships, after all). They construct most of their buildings of steel and other comparable metal-like materials, with glass made from the abundant amounts of sand.

    Well, I know they aren't religious. They see it as stupid and outlawed it (effectively eradicating it) upon their takeover of Earth, partially due to the violence that seems to come with it. (really, look at the middle east - it would be like that regardless, it has been since the dawn of time, so it was the only way they could create any semblance of order on this planet; no offense to any religious folk)

    They developed mostly united as a species. It wasn't until after they were capable of aviation and swift travel (on-par with present day humans) that they even had their first violent conflict. By then, they were capable of delivering bombs via aircraft and missile. As there were no military targets to attack, civilian centers were the targets. Because of this, wars were short-lived (their longest was about 6 weeks*) and very infrequent (perhaps only once or twice a century*, average). When war did happen, nobody was removed from it, and so the population became almost entirely anti-war, since everybody was well aware of the savage brutality of it. (they hadn't left their solar system at this point, which like ours, did not contain other life)

    It wasn't until they became capable of interstellar travel that they were introduced to the concept of full-fledged "warfare" after encountering hostile species in space. Even still, the popular opinion remained anti-war. Eventually, they did have a very long, bloody war against another race at some point, in which they suffered many casualties, which turned a small sect of the populace toward more war-like tendencies. See my response to @Chinspinner above; the planet I mentioned contains this sect I am talking about, and is where most of their conscripts come from due to certain adaptations to their planet's rough environment that makes them more suitable as "soldiers". Keep in mind however, that they did not ever develop or know the concept of a ground-based infantry army like we are familiar with until their arrival on Earth. When they came to Earth they used human firearms (for defending government positions and law enforcement) because they didn't have any comparable weapons (most of their weaponry were long-range "stand-off" arms such as missiles, rockets, drones, artillery, but no close-range personal weapons like guns). Their infantry units are very new, having been created only in the past 30-40 years* to quell revolutionary tendencies on Earth. They have never used ground troops anywhere else and as such their units are mostly trained for defensive uses. Offensively, they still tend to rely on the long-range arms they've traditionally used.

    (*earth measurements)
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
  8. I.A. By the Barn
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    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    Right about your planet. It must be a very old planet to have no plate tectonics. There is nothing wrong with an old planet until you consider this, if you have no plate tectonics the core of the planet would have cooled leading to the stripping if the planet's atmosphere. I takes a very long time for the core to cool down so you can't really say, well that's why they went else where because from the rate of development described above, the time from their emergence as a species to space travel would be no near enough for the core to cool down. It's a bit hard to explain but a long time for biology is a short time for space.
    ________________________________________________________________________________
    (Time planet has been around)
    _______
    (Time life has been around)
    .
    (Time your dominant species has been around)

    The water would be long gone by the time the atmosphere had gone and any life trying to evolve would die because of the near vacuum on the planet. You simply have to have plate tectonics for life on a planet. If you now carry on all other aspects of the planet sound fine. Life (as we know it) requires water so cities and villages would has either popped up by these giant puddles or in the forests where there must be some water at least in rain or there would be no forest. If anyone decided to live out in the arid environment, they would be nocturnal and live underground for coolness. Domesticated species for transport would either run fast or have a strong stamina to get places and like camels, have water storage.
     
  9. JadeX
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    JadeX Active Member

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    Did not know that about plate tectonics. I was thinking there wouldn't be any simply because their planet is more solid than Earth is. Yes, they do still exist on their home planet. Plate tectonics is not one of the things I would have thought would be essential for life.
    Could it be that there is plate tectonics, but not anywhere nearly as violent as we have it on Earth? We have city-levelling earthquakes on a semi-regular basis, but could they perhaps have only small quakes, most of which they may not even feel? Part of my plot involves an earthquake that causes debilitating disruption to the government functions in the area (on Earth I'm talking about) and figured I could maximize the effects if they weren't too familiar with earthquakes, and thus not construct their buildings to particularly safeguard against them.
     
  10. I.A. By the Barn
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    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    Well if all their settlements (on the home planet) are not near mountains or any unseen fault lines, they would not feel anything or just small tremors. Then they would be unfamiliar with earthquakes.
     
  11. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    If I can jump in here--the reason plate tectonics are important (someone correct me if I'm wrong) is because, here on Earth, it's believed they are related to the convectional "dynamo" effect in the mantle which keeps our planet's core molten. All that liquid iron sloshing around inside is what gives Earth a decent magnetic field, and the magnetic field is what keeps us from being cooked by radiation. As @I.A. By the Barn points out, it also keeps the solar wind from stripping our atmosphere--it's theorized that this is what happened to Mars, btw, its core cooled off and its magnetic field collapsed, and now its atmosphere is down to about 1% the density of Earth's.

    Of course, all of this is just based on what we know about our own solar system. You mentioned your aliens come from a world with less (visible? or full-spectrum?) sunlight. Maybe their homeworld orbits a dimmer sort of star--a red dwarf, maybe--that doesn't give off as much radiation, so they don't need as strong a magnetic field? Or maybe they evolved on a moon of a gas giant, which protects them with its magnetic field?

    Just throwing ideas out, but I guess my point is that you can imagine a lot of alternate arrangements. Although the problem of radiation does need to be addressed somehow, and of course if you make their homeworld one way in order to deal with that, it might have repercussions in other areas...
     
  12. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is all correct regarding plate tectonics. If you are in the goldilock's zone of a red dwarf you will probably be tidally locked which makes higher forms of life unlikely, unless limited to the ring between the light and dark sides (which would be interesting in itself). Although tidal heating would also make this unlikely.

    Red Dwarves are also unstable, meaning huge fluctuations in climate.

    I think the best bet is to have an earth-like star (something like Tau Ceti, which is only 11 ly away); with an earth-like planet- with a molten core, plate tectonics, a magnetic field, a moon or moons for stability and so on.
     
  13. Michael Pless
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    Michael Pless Active Member

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    I find your ideas interesting. From what I can gather, you seem to be going about this in an orderly, and efficient fashion, rather than just launching into the story with only the vaguest of plans and ideas, fabricating things on the fly.

    I query a couple of things though:

    Firstly, the hands - how a thumb that can move around as you describe might work in terms of muscles and ligaments. I'm unsure it could be possible. Secondly, the eyes, which you say are egg-shaped: I'm unsure if you mean the eyeball itself or the appearance of the eye. I tend to think that an eye (for a humanoid) needs to be spherical to give an appropriate image for the brain to process. I have an image of your eyes kind of like a surprised cartoon character, which isn't working for me: if the eyes are not recessed, aren't these very sensitive organs more prone to damage, and what of muscles to move them around? Thirdly, you say the aleiens are a bit larger than humans - taller, broader, or both?

    Sexual dimorphism will be important to the story: you need to decide if the females are physically smaller than the males or the same size? And as ChickenFreak pointed out, you need to decide their role in the alien society, and whether their biology imparts or encourages particular roles: are they, like lionesses, hunters/providers? Or are so much smaller than the males that they cannot (historically, at least) hunt effectively? The alien biochemistry is likely to be similar to humans, and it's probably worthwhile to consider keeping to this, although you can put small differences in, like electrolyte needs, or such. Humans need metals in their bodies other than iron, because the biochemical reactions demand them. What of reproductive cycle, and social mores regarding this? Stages of development, as the females and males age?

    Reading Footfall years ago, Larry Niven et al, touched on alien society and whether it had religion, superstition, forms of entertainment, social structure, taboos, etc. I don't think you need to write an alien love song, or create alien musical instruments though. But would their concept of 'beauty' be similar to ours?

    Looking at terrestrial creatures, the teeth are a function of their diet, more or less: venomous creatures have modified teeth to inject prey; humans have teeth that grind, and teeth that cut, a function of their omnivorous diet which I read somewhere is a major contributor to our ascension; dogs have teeth that grab, and cut. Sharks just bite and cut, swallowing whole.

    Being able to detect sound and also funnel sound into the sensory organ is relatively important as a survival mechanism, I think. S o I'd give them ears of some description.

    Clothing will be determined in part by the society, but also physical characteristics: terrestrial clothing can be as simple as a folded rectangle or square of cloth, or more elaborate garments like evening gowns; formal male clothing in western society has been largely unchanged for a long time:trousers, shirt, suit jacket, tie.

    I wouldn't change the leg shape too much, because that might also alter the aliens' ability to use a chair (comfortably).
     

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