1. Aliens should be alien
If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, you can call it Rakumph all you want, it’s still an effing duck. Giving creatures fancy names and changing their color doesn’t make them alien. If you’re on an alien planet that has purple skies, three moons and something else than oxygen floating around, you can bet your dog’s chewbone all creatures will be completely different than on Earth. Different chemistry > different environment > different evolution of life. Don’t strap a funny costume on a donkey and call it a fearsome Sharzahkrath. That’s just lazy worldbuilding.
2. Aliens aren’t humans in rubber costumes
Humanoids? Really? You think the whole universe is populated by humans with wrinkly foreheads or an extra tit? Come on! Hollywood resorted to humanoid aliens because it’s cheaper to stuff an actor into a costume than to build a whole alien from scratch. As a fiction writer, you’re not limited by a production budget. Go wild! Go freakishly inhumanly outrageously alien and stun the wits out of your readers.
3. Aliens have their own history
Maybe they never had a war on their planet; maybe they’ve always viewed both (or all three?) sexes equally; maybe they make art out of living creatures and eat their elder in annual festive rituals. Alien creatures will have alien–as in unfamiliar–societies and hence a very different history. They might have evolved from fungi and still reproduce through spores, each female spawning 10,000 young every three and a half cycles, who knows, but this would greatly effect their entire history, don’t you think?
4. If they were smart enough to fly to Earth, they probably know your butthole is not the most interesting part of your body
Aliens that come all this way to abduct people and stick probes up their bums must be retarded. We’d be invaded by morons who got kicked out of their own society for shaming their ancestors. Why in the name of Planet Shmurp would they go there? To learn the secrets of our race?
5. Aliens that are naturally telepathic won’t even grasp the concept of language
Humans have developed language because there was no other direct way to communicate. If an alien race is naturally telepathic, they will never have developed language. That has huge implications! No language means no words to describe things, no symbols to represent experiences, and no written signs either. They would be absolutely unable to grasp the concept of language, let alone learn it. Your human characters will never be able to communicate with such aliens in any simple way, because even if the telepaths could to tap into your thoughts, they won’t understand them. We think in words, we think in describable concepts, we think in relations that make sense in our language-dominated sense of reality. An alien that has never felt the need to name a thing, simply won’t understand us.
6. Aliens that can’t hold a tool won’t invent space ships
Space faring slugs? Highly technological fish-like creatures? How the hell did they come up with buttons if they don’t have hands? How would they have felt the need for tools if they have no possibility to grasp them? How did they weld metal or shape a console if they can’t even hold a screwdriver? Think a bit about this one before you put such nonsense on paper.
7. If they have the weapons, you’ll be the one to adapt
If the aliens are the ones with the bomb, they won’t have any need to adapt to human society or adopt our language. Why should they break a sweat if they can shove the barrel up your nose and make you do it their way?
8. Aliens with a different body chemistry won’t eat human food
All humans have the same body chemistry (we eat carbon-based foods, digest them with our stomach’s chloric acids and assimilate the resulting amino acids into our bloodstream, fueling our cells), and still we have our individual preferences of foods. If your aliens have evolved on a planet where carbon is not the dominant element, if as a result they are not carbon based and don’t consume carbon based foods, they will never be able to eat our foods. And even if they are carbon based, they will probably hate human food. Maybe it takes like dog crackers dipped in month-old gravy to them and has them retching for a week.
9. Aliens and humans cannot procreate
Humans and chimps share over 98% genetic similarity and still cannot make little furry babies with 4 opposable thumbs. For real: 98% genetic freakin similarity! How much genetic material will humans have in common with beings that have evolved on different planets? Oh, I know, I know! Pick me, pick me! The answer is — zilch.
10. Aliens are subject to the same laws of physics as we are
Unless you’re writing about converging dimensions, which would make it fantasy not science-fiction in my opinion—but that’s an entirely different debate (read: stay tuned for more)—your alien races will be subject to the same basic universal laws of physics as we are, like gravity, electricity, the laws of movement and so on. If you throw an alien down the well, he we fall down not float upwards. If you ram a fist into his face, he will budge (unless he weighs ten tons, in which case you’d better get the fuck out of there fast).
11. If they built it for their own needs, you probably can’t use it
Using alien technology straight away in an intuitive manner is more fictional than even fiction allows. If your hero gets aboard an alien vessel, or gets his hands on an alien device, he probably won’t be able to operate it just like that. Different creatures have different needs; and different mentalities create different solutions to those needs. You need a tutorial just to use some of the human stuff from foreign cultures, let alone alien machinery.
12. If they desperately need resources, they won’t waste the little they have on us
Say these aliens have flown all the way to Earth to tap into our oil reserves because their lamps back at home are running out. Whatever resource they might need, it’s present in abundance (or its alternative) on uninhabited planets and asteroids, where they only need to drill a bit and they’re saved. If they waste the little they have to engage in lengthy negotiations or wars to fight us petty bipeds over the shit we have, somebody better replace their leader, he’s a total smeghead.
13. If they don’t look human, they probably have a different definition of beauty
Ah, the mighty alien delegacy comes marching into town to demand complete surrender, and our starry-eyed, silken-haired, ample-bossomed heroine smiles at the alien leader and he’s all lovey-dovey in a blink? Thunk. Book hits wall at mach 4.
This blog post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2012