Science fiction presents some unique and interesting challenges to any writer.
One, which I recently have to spent a lot of time working through, is the concept of alien life.
Life as we know it is incredibly diverse and yet it is limited to a common genetic heritage, and a single planet’s environment. That launching point paired with a little imagination can allow us to produce extreme life forms.
So lets start with what I consider the first degree of separation. Aliens based upon Earth animals:
…The sky was the darkest red I had ever seen, very nearly black. Millions of tightly clustered stars glittered around me like scattered diamonds. The sound of claws scratching across a glassy surface chased me down the narrow chasm. It was execution by exile. No one survived the Elize Tracks. But it was still not a severe enough penalty for the traitor and blasphemer, so they had denied me even the simple comfort of clothes or shoes.
I ran across sharp rocks, leaving behind slivers of skin and bloody footprints. The shards dug into my skin but the pain was just a distraction, the real threat ghosted along on silent paws. The Felinyes with their thick cushioning fur were closing in, their hisses, and growls echoing between the black obsidian peaks. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a form hurtling towards me and dove to the ground. The rocks tore crevices into my flesh, but the nearly five hundred kilograms of cat sailed over me. Claws grazed my back leaving long narrow furrows. The ache lingered, but I sprang to my feet, blood leaking out of hundreds of tiny wounds. The Felinye whirled around cautiously. Its bright orange eyes glinting with reflected light. Muscles tensed, I watched it walk towards me, a bundle of potential energy in motion.
I never even heard the second cat until its weight crushed me to the jagged shards, jaws snapping sharply together at the back of my neck…(Excerpt from Silver Strife)
This alien is based upon the Siberian Tiger, and is very familiar to a reader because of its strong resemblance to that creature. Writing about this type of alien is very similar to describing any other animal, and the only challenge is to distinguish them physically and environmentally from their Earth equivalent.
You might note the alien mountains, and of course the alien sky! This helps to keep the tiger like creature firmly in the world of the alien!
The second degree of separation is intelligent, non-humanoid, aliens.
Her purple tinged emerald scales glittered beautifully under the full solar spectrum lighting on their bridge, and she moved with the sinuous grace of a serpent. The golden collar around her neck adorned with the symbols of her clan, alongside her rank brought me literally to my knees, and lowered my eyes. My hand shot out to tug Duncan down with me. He complied slowly, his reluctance written in the tension in his muscles.
“You honor us, Exalted One.” I said the words firmly in Antisian without meeting her gaze. She was a Battle Leader, the Antisian equivalent of a General, but she was also a clan leader’s heir, a royal. One day she would join the twelve matriarchs who led the Antisian Empire. Aliens were killed for the impertinence of looking at an Antisian of her rank. Let alone speaking to her. That she had chosen to face us directly was scandalous, and worrying.
“Stand up.” She ordered abruptly and my heart nearly stopped in my chest. Duncan followed the order immediately, clearly happy to get off his knees, but I froze in place. Earth Common, she had spoken in Earth Common, no Antisian spoke another language except the slavers, and they were the lowest of the low. A royal would never allow herself to learn another language, let alone speak it. I kept blinking up at her trying to figure out when my world had turned upside down.
She snickered, as I met her eyes, and climbed reluctantly to my feet. The disturbing reptilian hissing sound chilled my blood, coming from between her scaled lips, and past her forked tongue.
“You honor us too much, Princess.” I choked out the words in common.
Duncan shot me a quick curious glance at the form of address, but he did not know enough about Antisian culture to realize how mad this all was.
“Do you accept our surrender…ah…Princess?” He asked.
She glanced at Duncan briefly, and then returned her eyes to me.
“Perhaps.” She replied softly while watching me in a very disturbing fashion, like I was a nice fat rabbit, and she had not eaten all week.(Excerpt from Dark Silver-Coming Soon)
This alien is reptilian in nature but not similar to any creature on Earth. With this type of species, you have to consider the cultural aspects of a complex society as well as physical appearance. Language, moral codes, and societal rules are also necessary.
You can note the different environment on board a space ship…since reptiles get their body warmth from the sun they would require additional spectrum to survive in space or they would be restricted in their motion and always clinging to heaters. Also, in most reptilian species the females are larger, often by a substantial amount, so a matriarchal society was most logical from this perspective. Finally in this circumstance we are dealing with two different alien societies at once. The Antisian and the Immortal…because this particular alien is also a member of my Immortal energy based species, but in mortal form. So she is both Antisian, and the more extreme example that is next!
The final level is a truly unknown type, a variety of alien life with no familiar form, gender, or basis in a real species.
I drifted among the others, moving along each in turn with a light mental caress of greeting followed by flickers of recognition. Mental whispers and images of my namesake, my identity, Quicksilver. A flash of liquid metal; changing, flowing, unable to stay still.
The thoughts of my brethren were chaotic, confused, some incensed while others were merely curious as they looked down at the surface. None of us had seen the impact of a massive advancing civilization, and many found it repugnant.
My projected query was more image than word, the fading light of a bright but distant star as the sun rose over a primordial world. The thought brought my friend and lover to my side. That cherished presence glowed and shifted as it brushed against me, blending and meshing.
Our Joining was a closeness so intense that we ceased to exist as two beings and became one. The deep mating bond allowed us to share our thoughts, and our feelings, as we mixed the substance of ourselves. Our two lives blended into one whole, every event, thought, and perception since last we parted was shared in exquisite and exacting detail. Just as we had shared all that happened from that first instant when all Immortals formed in the chaotic birth pangs of the universe.(Excerpt from Slivers of Silver)
These creatures are energy based, formless, genderless, and communicate on a purely psychic level. Names are more image than word, and they move around the universe at will. Energy based creatures do not comply with any of the physical laws of the universe because of their very nature. They also have devised a means of transversing both time and space via a wormhole type phenomena. Which they call…the Void.
At this level all the standard rules no longer apply, even the basic rules of the English language fail because they are based around our reality.
Physical contact is lacking as are physical senses…to compensate I used the term “feel” and “sense” a great deal.
In addition, the lack of gender presented a huge issue. I refused to use the word “it” to refer to my creatures (because it indicates a non-living object) so I was forced to use their names more than I might otherwise, and I also used plural forms because of the blended nature of their society. Envision a swarm of intelligent, and Immortal energy bees…
But the end result was a very interesting and unique take on life, on deep space, and on moral and social questions.
If your people could not die…what would be the ultimate fear. If they could be in any space or time they chose, how would they view physically limited creatures.
And finally…if they could BE constrained and take mortal form….how would that change them!