Aliens are cool aren’t they? I certainly think so, but then I am biased. Ever since I read the Pride of Chanur by C J Cherryh I’ve been hooked on books about other races in a sci-fi setting. Even my taste in fantasy leans toward stories with sentient beings other than humans in them. I guess it’s a stretch to call them aliens though. Still, trolls, elves, ogres, even Mercedes Lackey’s companions could all be seen as alien from a certain point of view.
The problem for authors who want to have aliens in their stories is that their readers are all human. Because they are, we can’t make the aliens too incomprehensible (too alien in other words) as we need our readers to identify with them. It’s hard to empathise with a jelly fish, even if it did arrive in a spaceship. So certain attributes of our aliens need to be human-like, well, human enough to make them understandable any way. Things like emotion. Still, that does leave the author with a lot of scope to make his aliens interesting. We can make them look as different as we like, act in alien ways, have alien needs and desires. As long as we remember to make them enough like us so that the reader can put himself in the alien’s shoes… err flippers?
When I wrote What Price honour I knew from the beginning that I wanted two different alien races involved. Later in the series more might be added or not, depending on how well received the books are, but book one and two definitely needed aliens. By the way, my books are all available now in the Kindle Lending Library for free. To learn how to get them free, here is the Amazon how to page.
So aliens, yes I wanted aliens in my Merkiaari Wars series, but the focus was always meant to be upon the human soldiers. That didn’t mean I could get away with not fleshing out my non humans. Far from it. In Hard Duty for example, a significant percentage of the story is shown from the Shan perspective. Although the book is primarily meant to be about the Survey ship ASN Canada and its crew, I could not tell the story of first contact without having at least a couple of Shan point of view characters. Not and have the story be interesting at least. So I chose two that I think are special in their own ways. One male and one female. One a ship’s commander, and one a civilian scientist, but both are very different from the human characters–very alien in their bodies, minds, and in their mannerisms. I think they are likeable, and I hope my readers can identify with them as their world is slowly destroyed around them.
But having decided I wanted aliens, how did I choose the kind of aliens I wanted? Well that just seemed to happen. I know, not very informative right? That’s just how it went though. Before I knew it, the Shan had formed in my mind as very Lynx-like in form. I think its the tufted ears that drew me first. The picture below is one I found when I was researching fast predators, and I think the faces are perfect. If you’re wondering, Shima is the third from the left, while Tei’Varyk is the second from the left
Hell no. They have evolved into what they are from fast predators. They remember their past and honour their ancestors. They remain very true to their nature as hunters.
Knowing that, I tried to make them comfortable on two or four feet, and able to switch between the two naturally. It IS natural to them to run on four feet, but walk on two. Perfectly normal for them to hunt as their ancestors did, yet fly around in spacecraft and use technology. I wanted my readers to feel the rightness of them, and not try to cram them into a more human-seeming mould. One of the areas they are most unlike humans is their link to the harmonies. This extra sense or gift sets the Shan completely apart.