Thursday, 19 May 2016

Aliens

How many fictional aliens really look alien? Anderson and Niven have devised some non-humanoid aliens. See here.

The "Bird Folk," in Gregory Benford's and Larry Niven's Bowl Of Heaven have:

a head (big and narrow);
a nose (long) between two eyes (large);
legs (two?);
a beak-like mouth;
arms (two, spindly and long) ending in hands (complicated);
feathers;
necks (long).

They carry and finger objects, visibly talk to one another and display body language. The human explorers call them "Bird Folk" because of their appearance.

I question whether eyes, nose and mouth have to be distributed on a head in ways that would be instantly recognizable by human beings especially after crossing an interstellar distance, also that arms and legs have to be two of each. See here.

14 comments:

  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I'm puzzled over how you seem to "oppose" the idea that non human intelligent races can be "humanoid," if we define that to mean beings with one head with eyes, mouth, and some kind of "nose," and two legs and two arms (with a myriad of differences in detail, both external and internal). My view is that evolution on many planets would tend to favor intelligents races forelimbs evolving into arms and hands, and the head on top of a torso would make it easier for looking around. And for a species to have more than four limbs does not always seem likely to be practical!

    We do see non humanoid aliens in some of the works of Anderson and Niven. Such as the Ythrians and centauroid, dragon like beings of Woden in the former.

    Sean

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    1. Sean,
      There is a case to be made:
      2 eyes for binocular vision;
      eyes high on the body to see further;
      brain near sense organs so that impulses have less far to travel;
      brain protected by bone;
      nose above mouth to smell food before it is eaten;
      forelimbs freed for manipulation;
      2 legs for locomotion.
      Paul.

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    2. Kaor, Paul!

      Exactly! The humanoid form quite simply seems so PRACTICAL. Mind, I don't expect all non humans to have humanoid bodies. Think of the Merseian spy Rax, whom we see in A CIRCUS OF HELLS. Very definitely non humanoid!

      Sean

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  2. Paul:
    Hal Clement (actual name Harry Clement Stubbs) wrote excellent hard science fiction and gave us some very alien-looking aliens. Barlennan of *Mission of Gravity*, who looks like a fifteen-inch centipede, is a prime example. Their motivations, though, tend to be mostly comprehensible to us, no matter how weird their body chemistry or physical shape. It's intriguing to think of Barlennan and Nick van Rijn, both skilled merchant adventurers, trying to out-bargain each other....

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    Replies
    1. David,
      Thanks. Comprehensible motivations in completely alien bodies and environments don't make sense.
      Paul.

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    2. Paul:
      I have to disagree. "Comprehensible" doesn't mean "just like us" -- it means something we can (maybe with some effort) come to understand. And Clement does a superb job of portraying an environment where alien minds can nonetheless develop motivations that're within our comprehension.

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  3. David,
    Maybe with some effort, yes. I should have said "easily comprehensible."
    It sounds as though Barlennan is quite like van Rijn!
    Paul.

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    1. Kaor, Paul!

      I agree with David here. However alien in minds and bodies a non human race might be, I can still imagine those being motives and drives comprehensible to us humans. And I'm pretty sure Poul Anderson thought the same, as this bit from Chapter I of A CIRCUS OF HELLS, about the Merseians, indicates: "It wasn't the differences between and men that caused trouble, Flandry knew. It was the similarities--in planets of origin and thus in planets desired; in the energy of warm-blooded animals, the instincts of ancestors who hunted, the legacies of pride and war--"

      Sean

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    2. Paul:
      "Quite like" might be pushing it a bit. Barlennan's a resourceful and clever sea captain, daring enough to take his vessel on LONG voyages in hope of profit, mentally flexible enough to bargain with beings of strange nature (the humans visiting his world, AND some of his own species who've developed in regions where vastly different gravitation led to vastly different cultural acclimatization), and charismatic enough that his crew will follow him into the not-previously-known areas where "here abide monsters."

      There's less of playful humor in his portrayal, though. Nothing like van Rijn's malapropisms (which I'm convinced are largely deliberate, to obscure Old Nick's devious brilliance).

      Still, I DO think they'd soon learn to respect one another's intelligence and cunning.

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    3. David,
      Van Rijn's malapropisms are deliberate? Probably. He is devious enough for that.
      Paul.

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    4. Hi, David and Paul!

      I agree Old Nick's amusing malapropisms has to be considered at least in part deliberate. But it's also possible that Anglic was not his birth language, but was learned after his childhood. That too would account for some of his mangling of what would become the Emperor's Anglic!

      Sean

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    5. Paul and Sean:
      I certainly grant that he's likely not a native Anglic speaker. But he's had decades to pick up the language, and he STILL mangles it. Even though he learns a Diomedean language, completely unrelated to ANY human tongue, in only a few months, and learns it well enough to make eloquent speeches (granted, he was translating and adapting other people's eloquent speeches, but still). The level of brainpower THAT demonstrates is inconsistent with someone who just can't wrap his head around Anglic.

      It may have been entirely accidental at the very first, but I do believe that at some point van Rijn consciously decided it was good to have people underestimate his intelligence, and trained himself to continued malapropism to the point that he now does it reflexively.

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    6. Hi, David!

      I agree, Old Nick was far too intelligent not to be able to speak perfectly correct, cultured Anglic if he had so wished. It had to be a DELIBERATELY acquired habit after so many years of (mis)using Anglic.

      And some of Nicholas van Rijn's malapropisms contained very shrewd points!

      Sean

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