Tag Archives: aliens

Book Review: “Aliens and Alien Societies”

21 Mar

I just finished reading Stanley Schmidt’s book Aliens and Alien Societies: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Extraterrestrial Life Forms,  published by Writer’s Digest Books in 1995.

While the book is older, the basic concepts are valid. I wondered at first about the soundness of his overviews in the areas of biochemistry and astronomy. Then I read his chapter on language. Since my personal background is in linguistics (a master’s degree from USC), I felt competent to judge the accuracy and breadth of that overview. “Alien Language” is probably as good an introduction to the problems of human-alien communication as one can do in 15 pages. While I wish Schmidt had referenced Suzette Hayden Elgin’s Native Tongue trilogy or included examples from some of the very strangely structured Australian aboriginal and Amerindian languages, I have to give him kudos for covering the basics a sci-fi writer would need to know to not totally butcher the language issue.

I also give Schmidt bonus points for explaining why a “universal translator” is an impossibility in first contact situations.

One of my favorite features of this book is Schmidt’s use of published short stories and novels as examples to prove various points he makes. Since the book was published almost 20 years ago, many of the short stories are now available online for free, and I enjoy reading them. Here is a link to one of my favorites, “Microbe” by Joan Slonczewski: http://www.davidmswitzer.com/slonczewski/microbe2.html

In the final chapter, “A Xenologist’s Bookshelf,” Schmidt lists references that may prove helpful to aspiring science fiction writers. I will check out one that should help me calculate the “goldilocks” zone for planets circling different star types because I’m not sure I did it right for my current work-in-progress.

Because of the book’s age and the fact that the science is 20 years out of date, I don’t think I would pay the $15 Amazon suggests for a hard copy or the $10 for an e-book. I found my copy at McKay’s used bookstore for $2, and consider it a deal. If you could find this book used or at a library, I recommend picking it up, as it is definitely worth reading.


The Imperials, a species overview

20 Nov


The Imperial’s home planet, First Egg, is the second planet in the system from the sun, 125 million km out. It has a 23-hour day and a 278-day year. It is moonless.

The dominant life form is insect-like in organization: matriarchal like ants or bees. Their lower six legs are hinged like crickets, or grasshoppers. They lay eggs. Their biology is more similar to that of lizards than to that of insects. [Note: Imperials are aliens, so any Earth analogy will be at best approximate.]     The empire/feudal state that they stagnated in for thousands of years was a natural result of their biology.

Their civilization is called the Imperium, so its citizens are called Imperials in translation. They believe deeply in honor — honor through battle and through pushing back frontiers (physical, science, knowledge, art). Imperials are given a one syllable name at hatching. A second syllable is granted when they morph from nymph to plebe. At sexual maturity, adults begin producing pheromones. Each individual’s pheromone has a distinctive overlay, like a fingerprint. Adults are given new names based on the images suggested by their pheromone overlay.

They can regulate body temperature to a certain degree because they possess three sets of lungs and three hearts. Thus, they can hold and warm air. Warmth helps digestion, so they often wear warming vests to help with digestion when working, fighting, or traveling. They are predators, but also omnivores (like humans and ants). They have no nudity taboos.

Imperials have electrical sense receptors in their triple-hinged mouths. In water or on land, an Imperial will stretch his/her/zher mouth wide and “sample” the water/air for electrical impulses. The pheromone receptors are mixed in with the electro-receptors (in an arrangement similar to the rods and cones in human eyes).

Imperials pass through three life stages: nymph, plebe, and adult. They have three genders: male, female, and neuter.

Males are hampered somewhat by their genetics. They are often overcome by a killing rage when queen, eggs, or nymphs are threatened. Traditionally they were foot soldiers, bodyguards, and caregivers for the young, hurt, sick, and aged. As a part of caring for the young, they held most of the teaching positions. Historically, males were not believed to be as intelligent as females and so were not given positions of higher responsibility.

Females require interruptible careers for egg laying. They aren’t particularly nurturing, leaving the caring of the young to the males. They manage the males, the neuters, the young, and lesser females through strength of pheromone (which grows stronger with age and rise in status). They manage aggressive study in spurts. Immersion education is best for adult females. Lesser status females are soldiers (especially ranking soldiers), ranchers, miners, hunters and gatherers, and small group or crew leaders. Females do not do well on female-only teams because competition for status becomes a problem. In feudal times, the alpha females spent all their time and resources fighting with each other and acquiring territory [much as did the leaders of feudal China on Earth].

About 15% of eggs lack a certain hormone-induced protein. These hatch into neuters. Neuters tend to become lawyers, doctors, priests, and other professionals that require clear logic and years of study.

Modern Imperials are no longer limited by the hormonal surges of their genders, and the old stereotypes were set aside during the war against the Pack.

Imperials worship the Winged One, also known as the First One. They know they used to have functional wings (now vestigial and often docked) but believe they lost them in the Fall (similar to Adam/Eve/Garden of Eden). They worship by drumming and dance. They pour out water offerings and burn incense.

Imperials who experiment with Earth cuisine prefer foods like gefilte fish, 100-year-old tofu, kimchi: foods that are sweet and sour, pickled, and/or highly spiced. Imperials enjoy the titillation of pop-rocks or Mentos with Pepsi on their oral electro-receptors (an Imperial’s description of the sensation is similar to that of people who describe champagne bubbles as tickling their noses).

One of the watershed events in their racial history is when the Pack, the dominant species on Winter, the third planet from the sun, invaded First Egg and began to wipe out the Imperials. The Imperials had to set aside their feudal competitions and cooperate. The war for survival lasted five or six generations, giving the habit of planet-wide cooperation time to take root.

In modern galactic society, Imperials serve many roles. They are known for honesty and integrity and meticulous contracts. The best legal experts are Imperials, and often the best judges. Most sentient beings would rather purchase expensive goods such as spaceships and specialty electronics from Imperial sellers, knowing their reputation for integrity, than from any other race. Imperials are one of twelve races with Elder status and a top-level membership in the Galactic Federation.


~This article is a summation of a much longer article in the Galactic Library.

Galactic Politeness Policy

1 Nov

Excerpted from a more extensive article in the Galactic Library, First Level:


Galactic Policy Regarding Alien Racial Referencing

Galactic politeness standards dictate that references to alien cultures proceed as follows:

(1)         Race A refers to Race B by the name Race B refers to itself, if Race A is physically able to do so;

(2)        Race A refers to Race B by the translation into Race A’s language of the name Race B uses to refer to itself;

(3)        If, as is common, Race B uses a variant of the words “people,” “tribe,” or “clan,” then Race A may come up with a non-derogatory, descriptive name for Race B, which Race B has the right to veto if they find it insulting.

  1. Once Race B has approved a name suggested by Race A, Race A will use that name and only that name to refer to Race B in all governmental, educational, scientific, and commercial communications.

(4)        Use of non-approved names by Race A governments, educational institutions, research centers, and businesses is sufficient grounds for Race B to bring suit for offense in a district Galactic Propriety Court.