Si-fi aliens and the lack of creativity.

I’ve been playing Stellaris for a bit and it pushed me to realize that a lot of alien races that we see in movies, or read about in si-fi books are rather… Boring?
The thing is, in Stellaris you can create a lot of custom alien races, populate the galaxy with them and then either pick one to play, or spectate and see who comes out on top, it has similarities to Spore I guess. But you start to think about a lot of nuances when making an alien race, especially when you know a little bit about zoology and that only a few certain shapes of skull make it possible to speak language the way humans do. But what if there are other methods of communication rather than audial that could be developed by advanced alien races, (telepathy possibly, but it’s just the top of an isberg), think about all other senses that creatures posess and can use to communicate.

Then there are cultural, religious and political characteristic of every alien society that make them even more distinct from humans. A lot of these social aspects can be combined the way we rarely see on earth, or if we do see something, it never develops to the point of advanced society.

With vast majority of si-fi aliens I can’t see anything except… Well, reskinned humans, they are either democratic, imperialist, or tribals, they have the simmilar format of language. Their good or evilness is defined by whever they’re friendly, or hostile towards humans (Sometimes in reverse), rather than by specific aspects of their culture. The hive-mind races are always either evil, or primitive and act like locust, a lot of the time they are insectoids too.

So, I know how to spice things up and show the amount of creativity aliens require to be more distinct. But the question is: would anyone care for more creative aliens? People don’t think they would be able to relate with a sentient mushroom character unless it looks llike something from a cute chibi anime. I believe that’s an issue here.

But that bias most viewers have can present a lot of opportunities to experiment on the said viewers, like representing a race that looks disgusting and make viewers feel disturbed about it, but then show that this view is injust and the race itself is quite friendly and peaceful. But hey, that takes some guts to try and pull-off well.

Tell me if you seen something like that in any series, or movies I don’t know about.

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grah, woblota!

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I think the biggest issue is the age old question of how to reliably communicate certain things like new forms of communication or senses without resorting to exposition dumps. In regard to such things as their system of government and behavior, well most writers are Human obviously, and until we encounter a well and truly Alien race, we just won’t have any idea what else could be there, and as such looking to human examples and figuring out new way to twist it around is the best we can do.

As far as their relations to humans dictating if they’re the protagonist or antagonist, again, most writers are human, and unless they’re doing a dime a dozen story about the evils of colonialism (ex: Avatar), its more common than not for the story to be from the perspective of a human. Not to mention there are budgetary concerns to that. As for hive minds being depicted as evil, well one need look no further than our obsessive love with freedom and free-will and choice and all that hippie stuff.

As for the whole threatening looking creature actually being a sweetheart and the pretty or more human looking creature being a complete monster; that is hardly new in any medium or genre. Also people not sympathizing with non human entities? Call me crazy but from what I’ve seen over the years people can and will sympathize with or grow attached to anything. Heck, I’ve heard that the company who makes roombas gives people the choice to have their current roomba repaired as opposed to replaced because people come to care for the self-propelling vacuum like it’s a pet. Sympathy and or relating to a character is most definitely NOT dependent on something being humanoid, want proof? look no further than the following real life video: video example (yes I know you asked for fictional examples but my point still stands)

Plus not to mention sometimes people just enjoy the old cliched versions of these tropes and themes.

Apologizes if this is a bit off the rails from the original purposes of your post by the way, I have way to much free time on my hands.

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The movie Arrival is basically an answer to all these. Super good, highly recommend even if it is a bit slow.

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You can introduce a very advanced translation tool in a story, using either magic, or technology and voa-la, your characters can communicate. You can always toss that tool away if you wanna create more difficulty for characters, or show that they know each-other so well that they no longer need devices for translation.

Cmon, use your imagination, you’re forgetting about animals. human cultures and societies too have more different political systems to play around with. Sometimes society/political system calls itself one thing, but in reality it’s complitely opposite, you can tie the social regime to the way species were evolving to make it more fitting for them.

I think it’s more of an imagination issue. Nowdays, I kinda don’t see the purpose of having humans in a si-fi as an important race at all… I wouldn’t normally watch a movie with many different aliens to appreciate humans in it. Unless it’s once again for viewers to relate to, but story wise it’s just following the same route again and again.
I think it really hurts movies like Alien, or Predator for example. Just make the Xenomorph, or Yautja be the main protagonists, do something interesting with the main stars, who cares about humans…

It’s Ironic though, hive-mind can also be pacifistic in nature, or only care about certain goal.

Kinda true, but I think there could be more to it than that. You see, it’s not about just showing one species as monster and another as angel, it’s more about showing-off specific aspects that will turn viewers-off at first, but then showing them from another perspective that contradicts the first impression… I just thought of a good example, but I think it’s kinda too gross to discuss it here. But the point of conflict needs to be something controversial specifically for humans and fictional human characters, something (most) humans are disguasted of on biological level.

Alright, you might’ve actually convinced me here, nowdays people indeed can relate to the weirdest stuff. But I still hear that kinda excuse from time to time, maybe there is more to it. Maybe it’s just a commercial excuse used to not introduce anything new, or maybe it’s writers’ excuse for not trying to be creative, but I can almost forsee someone bring it up, so I decided to adress it rightaway.

Well, it just encourages the stagnation of art, watching the same thing over and over again, making the same thing, it’s really bad for the media as a whole. A writer doesn’t need to do much at that point, just flip around the assets. Not something I would enjoy after seeing enough of old stuff.
It’s interesting that old plots sometimes have a few more creative/innovative moments than modern adaptations that try to repeat them.

I’m glad you responded, it’s enjoyable to see walls of text in responce when most people wouldn’t bother as much.

@TheMOCingbird Thank you, I’ll check it out.

EDITED FOR DOUBLE POST - Spiderus Prime

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Main issue with that is that many of those diverse systems still bear enough common threads with more well known systems that, unless the focus of your story is to mainly expose your audience to that variation of the system and highlight what exactly makes it a separate entity, explaining how they’re different wouldn’t serve much point except for world building which, from what I’ve observed over the years, can be kind of grating for people at times.

Well humans evolved as generalist, omnivorous, warm savannah dwelling hairless(compared to our cousins) apes, and yet there are many aspects of many human cultures which obviously run a bit counter to that, such as for example the many people who call the various cold, rough mountains of Europe or Asia their home.

I think your just being a bit unfair hear, and also keep in mind that part of the purpose of a familiar human more often than not is to provide a justifiable in universe reason for characters to give exposition around a culture or species. And while yes there are stories which lack humans but still feature a central character who you could replace with a human and nothing would change. Heck, there are some works where the human characters are just treated as another part of the world as a whole. Not to mention, even if something is objectively different from humans, it in our nature to apply human traits to them.

Well if your talking about the original film in each franchise, the point of both were to be less about exploring some extraterrestrial and more people surviving against hostile, unknown lifeform, basically the original Alien and Predator films were both sci-fi slasher films. Now Dark Horse did publish comics from the perspective of both species, but the ones from the perspective of Xenomorphs can ultimately be boiled down to “serve queen, find hosts, spread speceis” because Xenomorphs are animals, clever animals, but still animals. Yautja on the other hand are pretty bog standard honor bound hunter architypes, the kind which you could insert into a non sci-fi setting and they’d still fit in quite fine.

Well to be fair there’s usually some evolutionarily ingrained reason for such disgust. Though my saying that does run counter to a counterargument I made earlier soooo.

Maybe, but at the same time if you try to be to different it can cause the work to veer right off into a direction which might just isolate those more enthusiastic fans of a genre. Also, all works are derivative of something, even if something seems new or original on the surface, one needs only be savvy about certain tropes to recognize what genres or works may have influenced the “new” thing.

That… is literally all there is to any form of storytelling. Just shuffling and twisting tropes in a way to give your work a more unique feel compared to your contemporaries and influences. After all, tropes are tools, just because the tool is being used the way the manufacturer intended doesn’t mean its wrong.

And yet many works which sparked some of the overplayed tropes we see in a lot of current media were no doubt viewed as unique and different when they first arrived to mainstream audiences, then those tropes get used again and again until people turn to the tropes of older works looking for something “new” that they can use to make their own work stand out, and so the cycle repeats.

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Non-conventional aliens are more common than you give credit for, it’s just that they’re hardly if ever in mainstream stuff like Avatar or Star Wars or Doctor Who or Star Trek or what have you. Arrival was a good recommendation, and District 9 might be up your alley as well.

The hardest part about coming up with a genuinely alien species and culture and whatnot is that, well… we only have what’s on this planet to go with. It’s definitely not impossible to come up with something we would consider genuinely alien, but it’s definitely a heck of a lot harder than just doing “human reskins” again. I do honestly think audiences would be down with more original or creative aliens, but it’s a matter of getting studios to go for an original idea, which is basically the last thing any studio other than like A24 wants at the moment.


I know this is in the movie topic, but if you don’t mind me advertising some prose as well… :wink:

Peter Watts has put his science-y Ph.D to great use writing hard science fiction. Everything I’ve read of his is grounded in real science, which has bred far more creative output than it has restricted it. If you want some recommendations: the novels Blindsight and its sequel Echopraxia do amazing work with a “first contact” scenario and the aliens therein, and the short stories The Island and Giants are just simply genuinely inventive with their alien encounters.

Although, that’s genuinely a lot of reading to do, and I understand if you just don’t have the time or interest for it. In which case, if you want a brief, extremely spoilery rundown:

Blindsight: The easiest way to explain the aliens are that they’re massive, white blood cell starfish. They exist in an interstellar rat’s nest of extreme magnetism and radiation, and no oxygen or water, etc. Crucially though, they have no concept of self-awareness. Us, with our consciousness, are an affront to their very existence.
Echopraxia: 3D printed matter, on the molecular scale. There’s a blueprint, but it only builds itself one layer of molecules at a time, the previous layer informing how the next should be built (I swear that’s better explained in context). Both books also do the best take on vampires I’ve ever seen. They’re extinct carnivorous Pleistocene hominids that hunted Neanderthals and homo sapiens and other contemporaneous species. They’re pure predators with a brain designed to hunt the smartest creatures. They’re practically supercomputers compared to us. So of course we’d go and genetically resurrect them.
The Island: It’s a cell, only on the scale of light years. iirc, stars are essentially the brain/nucleus/mouth of it. Of course, you’d assume such an entity would have no conception of predators, fighting, what it means to be hostile, etc. And you’d be depressingly wrong.
Giants: Living plasma. Plasma that’s alive. Which sounds ridiculous… except that it’s based on a discovery nearly two decades old now. I mean, if you want to be technical about it, it’s only mimicking life rather than being alive, but I think it’s still absolutely fascinating.

Anyways, thank you for letting me gush about Peter Watts’ stuff for a little bit. :stuck_out_tongue:

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this is why more people should check out Runaway to the Stars project by Jay Eaton.

edit: stupid brain of mine it remembered wrong name

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So you wouldn’t want to have social and cultural aspects of aliens to be highlighted as much as possible to make these differences story-relevant and give plot conflicts more versatile prespective and nuances?
On the other hand If you have aliens in a story, but don’t have any specific qualities of their race relevant to the story it results in them just being human reskins, so exactly what I talked about earlier.
It’s about using as many tools you have at the disposal to make story unique, rather than going for a specific direction of “mainly expose” of those differences to the audience.
In other words, it’s all about wether the goal is creative or not.

You can have exposition with protagonists of any species and like you said before audience will still be able to relate.
It doesn’t change the fact that humans are exterimely overused and most of the times they stay as central figures throughout the story, which leads to tropes. A creative writer either has to get rid of them complitely, or give them much less presence and influence on a story.

That’s an indication that a writer wasn’t creative enough and specific aspects of those characters that should make them different from humans are missed, or irrelevant to the plot. With bionicle for example you can’t replace neither toa, nor matoran with humans as you have specific abilites, transformations and purpose linked to these species in worldbuilding.

I think genres by themselves do more harm then good, they restrict directions of a story quite a lot. What If I want a portion of my story to take place in bronze age, while other portion plays out in futuristic setting/space. What if I want a slice of life episode, then a horror episode, then a comedy episode in my series. What if general direction of my story is complex enough to not fall into tropes of specific genres.
Genres are created artificially for the most part, it’s fairly easy to break them down and have a free roam with ideas if you really want to.

I think that a fanbase being isolated is a very good sign, it means you did succeed at making something unique that goes agains the general flow of a genre. The audience will always have controversial opinions and bionicle specifically is an example of attracting a lot of people who care less about the mainstream lego, while also having those who can enjoy both.
There is no point in babysitting a fanbase to see what influence your art has on it (Unless it’s spesifically your goal to experiment as see what sells best, or if you enjoy watching controversy), because there will always be conflicts and conradicting opinions. But only you know what is best for your story and only you have the vision for it, you just need to constantly challange yourself to strive for greater complexity and therefore creativity. So that your vision can stay YOURS.

When the narrative pace and focus change often throughout the story and it flows between different genres that can ultimately give story more potential and tension, because it’s more unpredictable. Idially writer should strive to outsmart the viewer and surprise them. That is how entertainment was created, if no one introduces a new vision, no one will appreciate that vision.

Now that statement is degrading and quite wrong. Don’t compare art to manufacturing, they are the opposite in esscence. Manufacturing/corporate view is about making as much money as possible through any means allowed, if a writer only cares about money they don’t make art, complitely different goal. Manufacturing is about streamlining for profit… Is storytellting about streamlining to you?
A lot of greedy, or lazy writers can say that nothing is unique too, it’s their excuse for not even trying.

Combining a lot of ideas and making each of them rellevant will create unique story as a whole, it’s the matter of how far you’re willing to go, how many layers are you willing to create. Same with mocs, same with music and painting, except storytelling has far more creative value than either of them.

Except the next bloom of new ideas never happened, vast majority of writers (Especially in mainstream) still heavily depend on tropes invented in 20th centuary and re-use them regularly and oftentimes minldessly. Which is why i think it’s a great idea to complitely dump those tropes as too old to be useful.

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Yes, I seen District 9, liked the direction it went, buuut it’s still fairly vague with nuances about aliens themselves and their society, it rather focuses on integration with humans, so it’s not exactly what I’m looking for.

Well, it’s supposed to be hard, because a lot of obvious directions for si-fi stories have been discovered.

I wouldn’t blame just the studios actually, because some of them did try to experiment a bit around 2000-2015 and most of the time there was no commercial success, so studios decided to milk peoples’ nostalgia instead, as a much more reliable way of getting money. If a company continuously loses profit it will go bankrupt and die… so having a steady income is the point of any company’s existance.
It’s a question of supply and demand, if people would stop going to adaptations and remakes of old stuff and demand more original products, studios would comply, just gotta vote with their wallets instead of words.

I’m very intrigued honestly. The approach of building ideas on realism is obviously not that easy and requires studying of the subject. But it can indeed pay-off with much more creativity, because nature is far more interesting when you try and look outside of a biased human perception by using abstract thinking and knowlege. Whatever crazy and unique ideas may be introduced in such story, they can always be shown as logical and reasonable by linking them to real science.
Though it’s still requires a writer to have an overall creative goal to bring these ideas to full potential.

Thank you for responding, this is a very good suggestion, something I actually hoped for.

What you described does sound fascinating and unique, I’m curious to see how it was done and if it will make me inspired even more.

Checkmate Sargos

I know about Daleks, it’s kinda embarassing to bring them up… I remember seing them in the top 10 worst aliens somewhere on yt.

So you saw some rando make a top 10 worst aliens video on youtube, and you took it as gospel?

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There’s nothing interesting about them sadly to change my opinion.

Oh yeah? Why’s that?

Standard evil aliens driven by destruction? I think it was something along those lines in the show.

Are they really standard if they were the ones to set it?. But there can also be a lot of depth and nuance to dalek stories. The Dalek ideology is inherently self destructive, so time and time again face the delima of maintaining their dalek identity versus the survival of the dalek race. Thoer obsession with the purity of dalek genetics also drives them into conflicts with factions of other daleks. Ie: Imperial vs Renegade, Death Squad versus Drone, Daleks vs Humanized Daleks. I’d also like to mention that daleks can have individual characterization. Some smarter, some stupider, some cleverer, some more defiant, and some more opertunistic. IE: Cult of Skaro, Dalek Prime Strategist, Dalek Emporers, the Dalek Executioner, the Dalek Scientist, and the Dalek Time Squad Commander. Daleks are unquestionably evil, yet they still possess an extensive lore about them and thoer motivations, and even a few stories told from their perspective. IE: Daleks!

Well, something similar can be said about Orks in wh 40k, with characterization, different clans, some shorts being told from their perspective e.t.c. so seen all that before.

All I’m saying is that you’re approaching this from a very narrow viewpoint of it having to be exactly what you want or it’s not creative. If it bothers you this badly, then be the change you want to see in the world.

Funny, I thought it’s you approaching this from a very narrow point of view by thinking that Daleks are a pinnacle of how you make an interesting alien race and that everyone should appreciate them because they’ve been around for a while, are you not?
I don’t think you get how creativity works buddy, there are too many people like that sadly, so we still have star wars and daleks dominating si-fi decades later, isn’t that sad?