One of the fun things about science fiction is the aliens. I don’t necessarily mean the BEMs (bug-eyed monsters) although they are fun, too. I mean the truly unique critters who are dreamed up by the best writers. Maybe humanoid with many human qualities, maybe so different and bizarre that we quiver in either joy or horror when the words flow into pictures in our minds. We all know the stereotypes: giant insectoids (with bug eyes, of course), huge headed humanoids (often green), octopoid creatures (or give them, six, ten, one hundred tentacles), slimy things with lots of teeth. The really good aliens stand out. Some make you smile, like Niven’s Pierson’s Puppeteers, or Star Trek’s Tribbles. Some make you shudder: My first reading of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds was at a too tender age and gave me nightmares for weeks. Niven, Pournelle, and Barnes created the Grendel in The Legacy of Heorot, as terrifying a beast as humans ever encountered on a far planet (Yes, I am a big Niven fan). The best are inventive and believable. It doesn’t matter what forms they take, so long as the reader reacts the way the author intends.
So, what about my own fictional aliens? In my earlier post, I spoke of accurately building my science fiction based on what is currently known about science, then extrapolating that to the future. My fictional universe of The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service (my recently published novel) is our universe pushed one thousand-plus years into the future. I don’t play fast and loose with the basic rules of biology and chemistry when creating either my aliens or the diseases that affect them, but the fun part of writing is the creation of those beings and their disorders.
I follow some very carefully laid rules in that regard. I don’t think this is really a spoiler to tell you that in the Galactic Circle universe, all life in our galaxy has descended from some original “seeding” of common precursors of life (that’s not a unique concept in sci-fi). DNA, RNA, and proteins are the codes for and the building blocks of all my aliens and their afflictions. To be sure, evolution has taken life on different worlds in very different directions, however, most of my aliens are quite recognizable: lizardmen, dragons, giant cats, sentient plants, werewolves (not the horror movie kind), insectoids.
Hey, why would you want to read this if my aliens cover ancient territory with nothing new? A fair question. First, there is a lot more than just aliens in the story. The bad guys are very human, the aliens often more appealing. More to the point of this blog, it is not so much what the aliens are as how they are impacted by their own diseases and by my human characters. Much of the fun of the book is following Dr. Cy Berger (a veterinarian) and his attempts to diagnose and treat bizarre diseases in strange beings—usually at risk to life and limb—his, of course. Because biology in my extended galaxy is based on what we know now, a human character trained as a veterinarian is able to apply his knowledge and technology to a host of alien species with results that are sometimes surprising, sometimes humorous, sometimes discouraging (to him), but, hopefully, always entertaining. I have not created a Pierson’s Puppeteer or a Grendel, but my aliens are created so that they are biologically believable, and I hope that the reader finds them plausible and enjoyable to imagine.