Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Best Aliens in Science Fiction

"Name your Choice of Best Alien in Science Fiction," was the question John DeNardo over at SF Signal posed me and several other SF authors such as Tobias S. Buckell, Louise Marley, Dean Wesley Smith, Jay Lake, to name a few.

"Aliens are a classic trope dating back to the earliest days of science fiction," John said.

In a previous post of mine entitled "Dream and Perceptions: the stuff of Science Fiction"I discussed what I felt science fiction did well: it makes commentary on humanity through our interaction with" the other ".

Have you ever done that? Looked craned backward or while driving through a familiar scene to gain a different perspective? And just felt different for a moment? Like you'd entered a different dimension and briefly glimpsed "the other "?

What is it like to meet "the other?

I firmly believe that we ultimately define ourselves through our experience and our approach of the unfamiliar. A new relationship. A stranger in town. A different culture. To alien encounter ...

How do we react? Is it with fear? Wonder? Curiosity? A mixture of these?

This is why the genre of science fiction so vividly and deeply and satisfyingly explores our humanity. By describing "the other" science fiction writers describe "us". Who we are and where we might go. It is, after All, through our own eyes that the other is viewed and described. The very best science fiction does this impeccably.
Anyway, back to John's question, here are some favorite aliens of other authors (go to the SF Signal post to see why they chose the way they did):

Dean Wesley Smith's all time favorite alien what Gary Shockley's Goonga. David D. Levine chose Larry Niven's Nessus among several others. Marianne de Pierres picked Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood series, Giger's Alien, And, I'm happy to say, Zhaan, the alien from Delvian Farscape. Jeffrey A. Carver chose the Horta, from Classic Trek, hands down. How can you not love an alien made of silicon? Gini Koch liked Starman Brenda Cooper and Larry Niven's likes all of aliens. Jay Lake's favorite alien is C.J. Cherryh's Atevi, from the Foreigner series and found Ursula K. Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness aliens in most convincing. Sarah A. Hoyt thinks aliens are the absolute best in Frederick Brown's Martians Go Home. Sandra McDonald's choice were the aliens in Stephen Spielberg's classic Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

Here are my choices and why:

The most memorable aliens for me have been those that served to illuminate our history and our very humanity, Whether they played the archetype of simple antagonist or misunderstood as "commentator" on human prejudice, insecurities, greed, heroism, compassion and honor. I can think of several aliens who have provided excellent examples of this: the Martians in Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still, The aliens in Alien"And the" prawns "of Peter Jackson's District 9 Each provided a platform for the exploration and exposition of human's strengths and weaknesses. How we handle "the other" is a very compelling and illuminating topic. One worth revisiting.

Two of my favorite aliens span the gamut: Spock in Star Trek and the 'self-aware " planet in Stanislaw Lem's Solaris. Before you laugh me off the universe, hear me out. Both provide excellent commentary on the human condition and what it means to be human (the prime focus of science fiction). Although Spock is very human-like in appearance, he behaves quite differently in culture, physiology and philosophy. This makes him a less intimidating commentator on humanity's strengths and foibles. The audience identifies with Spock and feels compassion for him while acknowledging that he is different and accepts his commentary.

Solaris, on the other hand, is the epitome of the "other", a force and entity unrecognizable and unfathomable. Lem's existentialist portrayal of "the other" - and of humanity - serves as excellent commentary on what is important to us and our identity. Unlike the familiar human-like figure of Spock, Solaris accomplishes this through arcane manipulation of our dreams and yearnings. We never understand its motivations or intelligence, yet we are drawn to its force and reflective mirror of our souls. It is its very incomprehensibility that attracts us, as to an abstract artwork, and challenges our very identities.

Author Brian Ott tells us that "it is a profound mistake to interpret the genre [of science fiction] literally. He reminds us that it is not what the aliens are but what they represent that matters. Science fiction is both" the great modern literature of metaphor "and" pre-eminently the modern literature not of physics but of metaphysics, "adds Peter Nicholls, Australian scholar and critic.

So, go check out the SF Signal site and then come back and tell me some of your choices and why.

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit www.ninamunteanu.me. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for more about her writing.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

An excellent post that provides a good debate. We all have our favourites, those who have made a significant contribution, be it one film or in a series. Personally I find the Klingon history of honour etc fascinating.

Nina Munteanu said...

Yes, given your history of interaction and your staff, I can see that you would, Jean-Luc! :)

Apart from that, the whole idea of honor and how the Klingons treat it is a fascinating one, and certainly helps us examine our own version of honor and what it means.

Great choice!

Unknown said...

I think my favourite aliens in SF are the cheiri in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover worlds.

Especially in the World Wreckers novel. It gives a closeup look at them that is better than the rest of her books. I like them because they are so complex and still sympathetic characters to the readers. What I mean by that is that although they are very alien, you can still empathize with them. Not because they are human, but because they are rich and real.

Cool thing to think about though.


SciFiDrive said...

The memorable movie alien for me is H.R. Giger designed Alien in "Alien" a unique creature to appear in scifi films for quite a while.

Nina Munteanu said...

Ah yes.... I remember when I first saw that movie... Giger's creations were incredible... from the first alien (the victim) to the actual ones they encounter and the organic ship.