Friday, September 9, 2011

Open Friday: Non-Humanoid Aliens

Much as I love Star Wars and Star Trek (which celebrated the 45th anniversary of its first airing yesterday). I have to admit that I've grown completely tired of humanoid aliens. I understand why, in the old days, they were a necessary evil, but, nowadays, there's usually little justification for them. And in literature? They were never needed. I'm much happier with alien beings that don't look as if they could just be a guy in a suit.

So, my question is: what are your favorite non-humanoid aliens? By "non-humanoid," I mean beings that don't look anything remotely like a human being. Adding another head or extra limbs or whatever does not count. I'm talking aliens like Star Trek's Horta, Traveller's Hivers, or Ringworld's Puppeteers. By my definition of "non-humanoid," something like the Hutts from Star Wars would not count, since they're basically just big humanoids with tails instead of legs.

99 comments:

  1. I don't know that I agree with the notion that humanoid aliens are a technical limitation at all! In television & film-- any visual medium-- there is a strong argument to be made for them, as they allow actual actors to play the roles, with faces & body language & eyes & all that. In games, there is the sheer fact that...well, it is a lot easier to build a dude with a wrinkly forehead & a +2 to strength than it is to build something truly inhuman. It is a genre convention, is my point, I guess. Not an issue of justification any more than the sound of lasers in space is there because Space Opera writers don't know the science better.

    Anyhow, my favorite? I'm a big fan of Gene Wolfe's shapeshifting Abos in "The Fifth Head of Cerberus."

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  2. The Dralasites of Star Frontiers (though I encountered them as a conversion in Dragon) blew my mind when I was 13.

    The Colour Out of Space did that x10 a few years later.

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  3. Fading Sun's Nizdharim (sp?): psychic space-molluscs still fighting an ancient war and funding it by selling weird biotech devices to the foolish land-dwellers.

    IIRC they were an expy of/homage to the Travellers Digest Group's abortive "Return of the Primordials" project.

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  4. They're not aliens, but I did like the idea of "uplifted" dolphins, as seen in Larry Niven's Known Space books, or the Uplift universe by David Brin.

    I'd have to vote for the Vang, though. They're ultra-parasites that take over the nervous systems and re-engineer the metabolisms of their host creatures.

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  5. Star Control's the Ur-Quan and the Orz.

    Scratch that, just the Orz. They were freakin' awesome. Not only are they non-humanoid-appearing, their thought processes are so alien that the universal translators couldn't fully translate what they were saying.

    Star Control 3 makes them these sinister bad guys in league with otherworldly forces. While I like how their voices were done in SC3, I prefer their original, chirpy, (only) slightly sinister and completely inscrutable nature in SC2.

    Plus, their ships were so much fun to play. Time to *dance*! GO! GO!

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  6. Lovecraft - Cthulhu. The "primordial ones"/"elder things". The Fungi from Yuggoth. The Great Race of Yith.

    Niven's puppeteers you've mentioned (also his "others" and trinocs--the methane-breathers). Maybe van Vogt's "Black Destroyer" (but even that's just a glorified displacer beast)?

    Now that I think of it, there are fairly few good non-humanoid aliens in science fiction literature. Niven's Kzinti, Vance's Dirdir, Pnume, Chasch, all humanoid or humanoid-ish.

    I think the explanation is mostly that authors want their readers to be able to relate to their aliens as sentient beings on SOME level. It's difficult to imagine human beings having any sort of interaction with totally bizarre betentacled aliens, energy creatures, or other bizarre forms.

    On the other hand, there's a school of thought that posits that many alien species, if they evolved under similar conditions to those on Earth, would tend to approximate the human form through parallel development (bilateral symmetry, bipedal form to free a set or sets of limbs for manipulation of tools, etc.). Perhaps those creatures "out there" that we'd be capable of communicating with would be more like us than not.

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  7. I'm in the same boat James. I've been working on non-humanoid aliens for X-Plorers. The problem is then you're basing it off of animals or plants, or a combination therof.

    But then to players eye's roll when you try and describe something no one's seen before or can relate to? Imagine trying to describe the big monster on the ice planet from the recent Star Trek movie to someone who's never seen it. If it's too hard to draw a mental picture you risk losing your audience.

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  8. Frickin HIVERS.

    http://traveller.wikia.com/wiki/Hiver

    Also -- there are a whole bunch of truly awesome not at all humanoid aliens in a hopelessly obscure old SF RPG supplement, _Spacefarer's Guide to Alien Races._ I could pick several dozen non-humanoid aliens out of that.

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  9. Ever play the game Ascendancy by the logic factory? Most of the alien's in that are great and I don't think really any of them are humanoid.

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  10. Got to be the Tines from Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep. Mini-hive mind dog packs that communicate thought via sound? Awesome.

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  11. Tines! http://www.tor.com/stories/2011/06/children-of-the-sky-excerpt

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  12. Firstly, I agree with T-Boy, the Orz are *Spicy Fun*! *Jumping Peppers*!

    I really liked the 'tines' of _A_Fire_Upon_the_Deep_ by Vernor Vinge. Looking like packs of smallish dogs, they're a race of creatures that only sustain full conscious thought in groups of 3-5. They're also extremely hampered by the lack of any gripping appendages besides their mouths.

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  13. Ok, so I'm clearly part of a group mind here...

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  14. We just had a big debate over the lack of non-humanoid, non-Star Trekish or non-Star Warian aliens in the wargaming miniatures markets, specifically for 15mm.

    Everybody wants them, but its a real gamble for a manufacturer if he gets no interest on a 'miss'. In the RPG market, its certainly a more approachable issue. But overall, I think everyone at this point would applaud non humanoid aliens. Although wrapping your head around a silica based instead of carbon based llife form may take a bit for some to wrap their heads around.

    Check out Expedition by Barlowe for inspriation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expedition_(book)

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  15. Favorites - how about the ancient and intelligent Martian mountains of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land? Psychic pacifists who nevertheless decide to destroy Earth for the danger it poses to the galaxy.

    Then there are the Space Dragons and Intelligent cats of Cordwainer Smith. If you haven't read any of his works, do yourself a favour and get some, but they might be hard to track down.

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  16. The traversers in Hothouse by Brian Aldiss, which I read recently, are awesome. Colossal plants that have evolved spider-like characteristics and traverse webs between the Earth and a locked Moon, soaking up solar rays. They are only barely sentient, though.

    In line with what Dhowarth discussed above, in a large enough area of the galaxy/universe, with a planet of similar climate to Earth, convergent evolution might produce some aliens that are similar in shape to human. Think whales and whale sharks.

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  17. The Affront - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affront#Affront
    From Iain M. Banks Excession book.

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  18. Again from Traveller - Whispers of the Outcast Sky, how they were originally illustrated in Challenge not GURPS. Then there was the race of intelligent worms from T4. Much of what T4 did was bad but the idea behind some of them could be salvaged.

    Ogri from Doctor Who - just love the idea that Stonehenge could have bloodthirsty silicon lifeforms capable of surviving hundreds of years. That has seeped into many Call of Cthulhu game.

    AGRA from 2300AD proving that the Ascended do play dice with the universe and cause us to go mad.

    Gibberlin' Mouther - or that creature that was from C1. This is how I pictured Shoggoth.

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  19. Lovecraft's Mi-Go and the Old Ones.

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  20. Pretty limited knowledge in this department, but two aliens come to my mind from the Star Wars films. The first is the Sarlacc, that mighty-mouth of Return of the Jedi. The second was that giant worm in the asteroid in Empire Strikes Back. I liked those because they got my mind to thinkun'. How does a giant worm in an asteroid survive? What does it eat? How often can it eat? And the Sarlacc, digesting over a 1000 years? What does that mean, outside of sounding pretty darn unpleasant? It also gave me the feeling I had in the first three movies that time in that galaxy might not be what time was in ours (something the prequels pretty much dashed). So that's my two cents, obvious as they are.

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  21. A lot of my favorites have already been mentioned. I'll add a few that come to mind:

    The Memer and Saret symbiotes (from GURPS Aliens)

    Nunclees (from T4's Aliens Archive)

    Cetans (from the ongoing online novel Star's Reach)

    Mi-go, the fungi from Yuggoth

    Jophur (from the Uplift universe)

    Cthorrans

    The Monolith Builders (from 2001: A Space Odyssey)

    Ahoggyá

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  22. I'll second the Affronters. I also liked the Pattern Jugglers, in Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space trilogy; distributed biological intelligences that occupy whole planetary ocean systems.

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  23. I can't remember the book unfortunately (I think it was called Footfall), but the aliens looked like baby elephants with complex multi-fingered trunks instead of hands. Not the most imaginative idea, but wierd enough to have stuck with me all these years.

    And of course, most Lovecraftian oddities.

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  24. I've always had a deep fondness for the Hivers.

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  25. So, are the Goa'uld out just because they use human hosts? And Replicators probably don't count as species...

    Vorlons (B5). Most definitely Vorlons.

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  26. I wonder-- would alien machine intelligences like Fred Saberhagen's "Berserkers" count?

    Oh, and how could I forget George R.R. Martin's "Sandkings"? That's got to be high up on the list. They're awesome wee beasties.

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  27. The Cluster Lizards from Lexx.

    Axos from the Doctor Who serial, The Claws of Axos.

    The Martians from the H.G. Wells novel, War of the Worlds.

    Various aliens invented by H.P. Lovecraft.

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  28. I have to hop on the "Tines" bandwagon.

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  29. The Thing.

    The Mi-Go.

    Shoggoths.

    The Colour out of Space.

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  30. My favorite non-humanoid that comes immediately to mind are the Knnn of CJ Cherryh's "Chanur" novels. Here's their Wikipedia entry:

    "Knnn, the third methane breathing species, multi-legged tangles of wiry black hair, are the most technologically advanced in the Compact. Unlike other known species, they can maneuver in hyperspace and carry other ships with them. Only tc'a can communicate with them (or claim they can); the knnn are incomprehensible and therefore deemed dangerous by the other species, not to be provoked. They trade by snatching whatever they want and leaving whatever they deem sufficient as payment behind; it is an improvement over their prior habit of just taking trader ships apart."

    They'd be great wild-card NPCs in a science-fiction game.

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  31. I'm fond of living starships: the Leviathans in Farscape, Overlords in Starcraft, and especially Gomtuu in the ST:TNG episode "Tin Man." I liked the idea that such a ship could form a self-sufficient ecosystem with its crew and operate indefinitely.

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  32. Niven's Puppeteers. Not only non-humanoid, but a wonderfully alien mindset.

    The Mi-Go. The make the list for being the closest Lovecraft got to hard SF.

    Traveller's Githsanko, intelligent octopi-like critters that make great zero-G workers and troops.

    Also from Traveller, the gas-giant dwelling Jgd-ll-jagd.

    Pilot and Moya from Farscape, the Shadows from Babylon 5.

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  33. The Pilots from Farscape. Actually, quite a few aliens in Farscape qualify, thanks to the Jim Henson productions.

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  34. It may be more fantasy than science-fiction, but many of the creatures from The Dark Crystal influenced my games in other genres.

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  35. The Buggers (and the Piggies) from Card's Ender Saga.

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  36. The G'woth from Larry Niven's Ringworld prequel trilogy. They live in the liquid ocean below the ice crust of their planet and appear to communicate and increase their mental power by joining one or more appendages with other G'wo. They looks similar to starfish, and their hides can change color, possibly with their mood. Fantastic ability to learn!

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  37. Another vote for Babylon 5's Vorlon!

    .... Yyyyyyyeeeeeesssssss......

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  38. Stanislaw Lem's Solaris is a planet-encompassing sea that is actually a single organism, intelligent but with a mind so incredibly alien as to render attempts at communication futile.

    I once read a short story - can't remember the name - centring around an alien referred to as "The Goblin", which was actually a probe constructed by the inhabitants of a universe that was a sort of inverted image of our own - incredibly high energy and mostly ultra-dense matter, as opposed to our universe which is mostly nothingness. From their perspective, the probe was so low-energy that it barely existed at all, but in our universe it was a blinding white light that disintegrated people with its eager attempts to communicate.

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  39. The Medusan, from the original Star Trek. They solved that problem all together - if you looked at a Medusan, you lost your mind.

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  40. The Knnn from CJCherryh's Chanur novels. Completely non-oxy non-humanoid aliens who almost no one, even other methane-breathers, can understand.

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  41. Blancmanges.

    Sure, they can win Wimbledon. But only after turning the entire population of any planet into Scotsmen ... which we all know make the best starship engineers! Fair trade off.

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  42. ...and here I was thinking Blancmange was just a techno-pop 80s band from Britain.

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  43. I agree a lot of what others have said, but I think the Iain Banks' Dwellers from the Algebraists deserve a mention, definitely the Ahoggya and Ssu from Tekumel and the Moties from Niven and Pournelle's Mote in God's Eye.

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  44. Heinlein's Star Beast. A xenophobic star faring race at the edge of human space which look like small brontosauruses {the book predates the switch to apatosaurus}. They don't grow arms until maturity and grow bigger rather than fatter when they over eat. And they can eat just about anything from scrap iron to grizzly bears. They also speak in piping little girl voices.

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  45. "The Festival", from Charlie Stross, are an inscrutable collection of beings that had evolved past the technological singularity and caravanned around the galaxy dropping cornucopia machines on unsuspecting civilizations. The weird "Critics" are then sent out to observe and judge the creations of these civilizations that were hard-birthed into the post-singularity. Then the Festival moves on for greener pastures, leaving a wake of chaos in its path.

    I also like Aineko, a massively intelligent AI that uses the form of a cat to better manipulate the humans around it.

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  46. The Moties from "A Mote in God's Eye." While they are vaguely humanoid, there are enough differences to qualify them for this sweep, I think.

    The k'kree from Traveller. I used to think they were ridiculous, but over the years I've come to really appreciate their better qualities.

    The llellewylolly, the vaguely spiderlike race from the Traveller adventure "Safari Ship."

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  47. @Grendelwulf: Yes! "He wasnae so much a man as ... a blancmange!"

    Also, the biogs and the alien "living axe" drawn by Massimo Belardinelli in the 2000AD version of Dan Dare.
    http://img171.imageshack.us/img171/7514/dandare01.jpg

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  48. Iain Banks' Affront.

    And, of course, his Minds and drones.

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  49. I don’t know about favorites. (I guess I tend to prefer humanoid—or human—aliens.) First things that came to mind—besides the HPL and Orson Scott Card entities already mentioned—were the “wheel men” and a cylindrical lensman from Doc Smith.

    Doctor Who had a human that had become just a square of skin, a face, and a brain in a jar. Human but not humanoid.

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  50. Named it in one, James. I love the Horta so much that I have played an extremely excitable Horta bartender in several Star Trek RPs.

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  51. Most of my favourites have already been mentioned, but I can't believe no one's said the Bugs from Starship Troopers. Especially in the movie.

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  52. I always liked the tyranids from Warhammer 40K, which are xenomorphs akin to the Alien(s) from the movies of the same names. The hivemind mentality among several distinct races of mostly mindless creatures bent on consuming the universe just sounds fun.

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  53. This is going to absolutely destroy my credentials as an SF fan, but the aliens in early Piers Anthony, especially the Slash and Polarans from the Cluster series and the Manta. Mainly because he considered how the various shape would change how a race would think/philosophy. And they were decidedly alien.

    In an effort to restore some seeming of reputation, second up would have to be the various non-DBDG species in the Sector General series by James White. Especially the Kelgians, Hudlar, and Tralthans. When you have to construct a classification system to keep your alien species sorted, you know you have to deal with a lot of aliens. There was one indie UK RPG [name escapes me] that lifted it wholesale to define the aliens you encountered in their game and it worked well.

    Some of Stephen Baxters aliens in the Xeelee series, where he had the philosophy that and pattern that could self-replicate could qualify as alive, so some of his aliens were vortices in a high temperature environment (Conway's game of Life taken to the extreme).

    If I was going to run Cosmic Patrol I'd probably borrow all the aliens from the new FFG version of Cosmic Encounter to inhabit the universe. I wonder how long it would take the players to realize. And speaking of which, honourable mention to the aliens of Spaceship Zero (probably the first published Cthulhoid space game).

    And, my favourite Dr Who alien - Alpha Centauri (Curse of Peladon, Monster of Peladon) - closely followed by the Daleks, of course. Actually the cheap production values of the original Dr Who meant that they were capable of portraying a lot more completely non-humanoid aliens than if they had the flashy CGI of the new series doing it. Probably the Uncanny Valley effect.

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  54. The Deodand from Vance's Dying Earth. There's not much written about them in the stories but they always stood out.

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  55. Apparently at one point the Bible describes angels as looking like two wheels, one within the other, both rimmed with eyes.

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  56. Nonhumanoid alien? Gotta go with the flumph!

    The Hooloovoo from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (a hyperintelligent shade of the color blue) was an inspired bit of silliness.

    The alien from the short story Arena was a lot more outre than the Gorn in the Star Trek episode based on the story (and I'm not one to knock the lizard-people).

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  57. Solaris from the Stanislaw Lem book of the same name and Mogo (created by Alan Moore) from DC Comics' Green Lantern series.

    Cut out the middle man. Planet as alien.

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  58. @anarchist:

    "Apparently at one point the Bible describes angels as looking like two wheels, one within the other, both rimmed with eyes."

    The Book of Ezekiel. "Ezekiel's Wheels" have also been "theorized" to be UFOs. James often talks about the blending of science fiction and fantasy in early D&D, so this would be easy to work into a game either as aliens or their ships.

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  59. SF author Michael Flynn's book The January Dancer has the most bizarre non-humanoid race I've ever read about.

    The basic premise is that a salvage crew led by a man named January uncover a treasure trove of artifacts from a pre-human civilization on a distant world. One such artifact is a strange stone that seems to change shape as you look at it. It comes to be known as The Dancer, and the book is a series of initially non-related plot threads that all tie together quite nicely by the climax, where we are introduced to the last member of the ancient race to which the Dancer belonged.

    Great read, I don't want to reveal what the alien looks like because it will ruin the book. HIGHLY recommended, as is his first novel, The Wreck of the River of Stars.

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  60. Hard to vote against Daleks...any alien that can be frightening with a plunger for a hand should count for something.

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  61. David Brin came up with a passel of great aliens in the Uplift books: the Tandu, the Jophur (someone else mentioned those guys), the urs, the Hoon, the g'Kek, the Gubru.

    I also have to second Reverence Pavane about James White's aliens.

    .......
    This is going to absolutely destroy my credentials as an SF fan, but the aliens in early Piers Anthony

    I like early Piers Anthony. Very pulpy, but imaginative. Then he succumbed to the mad dash for money that are the Xanth books.

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  62. Asimov's aliens in the second (and titular) part of "The Gods Themselves" are a standout for me.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_gods_themselves

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  63. And yes, everything Lovecraft did catastrophically changed my views of what aliens had to be like.

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  64. Some of the usual suspects: Daleks, Dralasites, Elder Things (aka Old Ones from AtMoM), Hivers, Jophur, Mi-Go, Nunclees, The Thing, Vorlons.

    The Traders from GURPS Aliens, if only for the idea that a hyperdimensional entity could be a playable character.

    The Pentapods from 2300 AD: five-limbed amphibious drones for vast underwater intelligences.

    Idirans from Ian Banks's Consider Phlebas, tripodal and nearly indestructible ... although they might be too humanoid, given they only have two arms (the third limb specialized into a sound-producing organ).

    Space Gamer ran a contest for nonhuman races, and the winner was in issue #40, a tripodal race called the Mittsuashi that moved by spinning. I'm less keen on the whole Japanese motif, but their physical structure stuck with me.

    While I have to give props to the Color Out Of Space, Solaris, and other aliens-as-plot-device, aliens as characters interest me more.

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  65. @crowking: Deodands are explicity humanoid, though, except for the eyes and skin.

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  66. There was a fun insectoid alien in Babylon 5, but the puppet was too expensive to use outside of a few episodes. Oh well.

    I'd have to go with the Daleks though. Lovecraftian Nazi blobs riding about in personal tanks; it's difficult to top that, although I'm also fond of their grandparents, Wells' Martians.

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  67. Like Squeeck, I'm thinking Babylon 5 - but the Shadows, whether the semi-arachnid things themselves or their living starships with human telepaths as flight control computers...

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  68. Jarts, from Greg Bear's Eon. To be honest can't remember now if the things I have in mind are Bear's originals or my own adaptation of them, but they were kinda insecty, kinda Lovecraftian, and grew metal legs.

    If you demand aliens that aren't humans, insects, cephalopods or "pure thought"... the field shrinks dramatically. Although many of Lovecraft's, and Douglas Adams' Hooloovoo, are still in the running.

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  69. Babylon 5's Shadows. And Eclipse Phase's Factors. Lovecraft is really a great source for truly alien races.

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  70. Oh... and I forgot to mention Wild Talents' Builders and the Fish. Also cool non-humanoid races.

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  71. I like the "continuous creation" races in Pratchett's pastiche "Strata". "The Wheelers were silicon hemispheres, propelling themselves on three natural
    wheels."; "a Palaeotech -- dead, at least by human terms [...] It was a thin-walled tube half a million miles long."; "ChThones, who spun
    giant stars out of galactic matter, and the RIME, who produced hydrogen as part of
    their biological processes..."

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  72. Not science fiction, but the first thing in any of the recent monster manuals is the Aboleth, an evil psychic squid with they're own subterranean ocean society.

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  73. So many out there...
    Not that I dislike humanoid aliens as such, mind you, but I'd choose Hivers and Horta.

    And Daleks, of course. Must be that plunger ;-)

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  74. I liked the Cheela, from Robert Forward's Hard Sci-Fi Book "Dragons Egg" An alien lifeform that lived on the surface of a nuetron star. They were about the size of a seasame seed, saw in the ultra-violet to X-ray range of light, and loved sex, which they called "flowing". They were as smart as humans, but lived a million times faster than us. Their lifespan was about 40 minutes in our time. A great book, even if the human characters are little flat. Once I read that book....I never saw aliens the same again.

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  75. To really describe a non-humanoid non-anthropomorphized alien the author has to be good enough to conceptualize truly alien. That is why most Elves are portrayed slender humans with pointy years who routinely live for centuries. Now consider a human being who lived to the Biblical 500-700 years, what impact would remainign in your prime for that long have on your emotional, cultural or intellectual development, not to mention accumulation of wealth and power over a 500 year career. That is why I run a humans only campaign, and Elven is just as alien as other humanoid races.

    With regards to the atempts to describe truly incomprehensible races, there is, of course, Stanislaw Lem Solaris, and Strugatskii brothers' Travelers' Extinct alien race that left its artefacts for the space faring humanity to discover (with the late 1960's they were probbaly the first), in 1972 they wrote a Roadside Picnic novel, about a UFO landing that dumped its trash on Earth and contaminated the planet with its organisms and artefacts. They did an awesome job describing samples of alien technology (based on the earthly effects of advanced physcial chemistry and nuclear physics still not widely known). Somebody, I don't remember who, described a an alien race of beings based on crystaline structure. These things (very much like silicone 10 foot space amoebas) live off the solar radiation and extinguish stars. hey are able to costruct larger structures, which able to fight off the aliens UFOs trying to defend thesir Suns from premature extinction. Story was told from a point of view of an eartling who was kidnapped by the aliens fighting these things.

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  76. There was a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode with some kind of telepathic mineral (or maybe crystal?) organism that referred to its human captors as "ugly bags of mostly water". I always liked that one.

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  77. -Octavia Butler's Oankali are very interesting: 3 sexes, one of which acts as a genetic engineer between males and females. So many cool features of these things. Ability to mate with almost anything in the universe. A mass of tendrils that end in needle sharp, syringe-like points.

    -Cygnostikoi from Michael Bishop's "A Little Knowledge"/"Catacomb Years." Big wooden-icon looking heads atop telescoping robotic spindly limbs. Covered in vinegar-scented strips of skin-like patches they tear off and eat. Two big yellow eyes with two pupils each. Eat apples and cats while on earth.

    -Dune's Guild Steersman, esp. as David Lynch imagines them. Totally bizzare.

    -Almost every race in M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel setting: SSu, Mnor, Yazai, Tinaliya, Ahoggya, Hokun, Hluss, Pe Choi. Too many to even really try to list. Hands down one of the best and richest settings ever for non-humanoid intelligent species.

    -Janck Vance's Pnume. Their rasping mantis-like mouth parts, their mysterious and secretive subterranean existence. And his insect-stowaway Nissifer in Cugel's Saga that disguised itself as human. Something creepy about a human exterior hiding a totally alien creature inside...

    -Agreed on Daleks, almost anything Wayne Barlowe has anything to do with (including Arkus from the obscure 80's Powerlords toy series,,) and Lovecraft in general.

    - The creature from "The Thing" either John Carpenter's version or the original John W. Campbell short story "Who Goes There?"

    Great thread!! Easy to get carried away.....

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  78. I think I'm waiting for the martian War Tripods to drag their legs across the surface like Octopus as they move - not balance on two legs while they lift the third in the air.

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  79. I was particularly struck by Philip Pullman's sapients, as featured in 'The Amber Spyglass': "elephantine creatures who call themselves mulefa and use large seedpods attached to their feet as wheels".

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  80. Elder things, Mi-Go, Great Race of Yith and Insects from Shaggai are my favorite non-humanoid aliens.

    I'd love to run a game of X-Plorers where PC's meet with elder things somewhere in vast dark reaches of space.

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  81. -Dune's Guild Steersman, esp. as David Lynch imagines them. Totally bizzare.

    Except... they're human.

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  82. The "Grey Aliens" of modern UFO myth. They are anthropomorphic, but only vaguely so.
    Actually a lot of UFO occupants are decidedly weird - especially back in the 50s and 60s. Look up the Flatwoods Monster.
    These are not supposed to be fictional, but as Jacques Valees or Jung would have it, they derive more from the mass mind or from some disincarnate intelligence than from some space faring civilization.

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  83. "alien" as a concept in general is boring. its just anthropomorphized beings. which leans toward the "we humans invented a god that resembles us, as we invented aliens that resemble us or other creatures we are aware of."

    or we militarize them the same way as western cultures militarize, etc... aliens usually just become veneers of some concept we are already aware of. dressing it up with aesthetic masks is supposedly creating a dynamic, new, "science" based way of dealing with them. "oh sure, they all created spaceships and lazer guns. weeee." for juvenile fun, it works. for any real discussion, its boring.

    if anything, Lovecraft's inability to particularly describe his creations seems to be the best so far at creating the idea of an "alien" that is of massive, hyper, cosmic scale. now that's something legit and philosophically interesting.

    offer me something more radical and the alien question becomes more legit.

    aliens in the traditional anthropomorphized sense have the opportunity to be interesting in an animistic sense. it might teach us that others/non-humans are legit actors in histories.

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  84. I know I'm late to the party, but probably Vorlons or Puppeteers. The idea of Nessus having a sexy woman's voice freaks me out.

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  85. Also this: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/TheyMade.shtml

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  86. I think Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle come up with fantastic aliens, particularly because they all so well worked out, each come with an alien psychology. like the Fithp (quadruped elephants with multiple trunks) who have a strong herd mentality, the fatalistic Moties, Sesile Grogs (telepathic creatures that physically devolved into fat stumps with no prehensile limbs.

    I also like Larry Nivens humanoid aliens in ringworld - where you get Hominids evolving to fill every ecological niche, I find this particularly awesome because of extint hominid species on earth like Neanderthals and homoflorensis (trolls and hobbits if ever there were)

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  87. My favorites (Hivers and Puppeteers) have already been mentioned, but another fave of mine that hasn't, I'm surprised to say, is:

    Bandersnatch (Niven)
    Intelligent telepathic white slugs the size of whales with a tapered neck ending in a walrus-esque moustache.

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  88. @ huth: Except... they're human.

    Yes, but not humanoid...

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  89. I particularly like the Muuh and the To'ul'h from Orion's Arm. The former are strange vaguely (And I emphasize vaguely) crab-like creatures from a world similar to Titan, while the To'ul'h are strange gliding creatures from a world with conditions part way between Venus and Earth.

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