Following on from a couple of my previous blogs I thought I’d share some thoughts about populating your Galaxy with weird and wonderful alien races and some considerations to take into account when you do.
Now, the only limit to what you can create is your imagination but, so much has been done already that it can seem impossible to have an original idea (this is a theme that I may keep repeating throughout my blogs, it’s not meant to dishearten you but give you pause for thought). Creating a race is really no different from creating a character, first you need a look, then you need a personality, a motivation and, finally, those little traits that set them apart. As I’ve said, there’s a lot out there, from the Vulcans and Klingons and Borg of the Star Trek franchise to the Hutts, Mandaloreans and Wookies of the Star Wars universe. Add things like the Yautja (Predator) or the Xenomorph from the Aliens films and there’s a wealth if inspirational material to work with.
Of course, these are all biological entities, they have a physical form and material needs no matter how high concept or base and primitive. So you have to ask yourself, where do they come from? What are the conditions of their world? What’s the gravity like, what’s the atmosphere make-up what is their society like? I mean we, humans, are carbon-based life forms as is everything on our planet. Our blood contains Hemoglobin, an iron based compound to transport oxygen that makes our blood red but, some invertebrates have what’s called Hemocyanin which is a copper based compound that performs the same task and makes their blood blue. Some fans/scientists have theorised that the Xenomorph is actually a silicone based organism which might explain the molecular acid that runs through its ‘veins’. As another consideration, most life on Earth has evolved a kind of physical symmetry (with some exceptions) but that doesn’t have to be true of all your aliens. Likewise we have evolved with vision as our primary sense but that doesn’t have to be the case. Look at the extra senses of Sharks, Crocodillians and Snakes for examples. So that’s the kind of fun you can have with physiology.
I was at a Sci-fi panel and one of the topics that came was ‘why is the atmosphere/ gravity on every planet in science fiction earth equivalent?’ Is it something that gets overlooked? Is it avoided to keep things simple? Whatever the reasons there are some good examples of planets that break the mold out there and a number of ‘hard’ science fiction properties that embrace, rather than avoid the issue. It might seem like little more than set dressing to some but the audience is becoming more selective, more aware of these kinds of things so, to keep up, it’s advisable to at least try or, to offer a good reason why it’s not applicable.
Another subject that has made occasional appearances in the genre is the idea of energy-based or gaseous races. These can be more difficult to use (beyond random space encounters) because you have to identify their motivation. What does an energy based being value, what in a galaxy whose majority population are physical actually want? Certainly there are such beings like the Watcher from the Marvel universe or the Q from Star Trek. They’re represented as having physical form but, with their god-like powers there is little that other species can offer them besides a momentary distraction from their eons long life-span.
So, by playing around with physiology and physics, atmosphere and ecology you can populate your setting but, to truly bring your sentient species to life you’ll want to give some thought to their society, their politics and traditions to inform their way of life and how they behave and perceive the other species around them. What do they value, what do they hate, what do they love? It doesn’t have to be a dissertation on a theoretical social structure but it ought to keep you on track with your characters.
There are very few limitations when it comes to creating new races in Sci-fi or Fantasy, sometimes those races don’t even have to be relatable by human standards, sometimes it’s better if they aren’t. But, for those characters that you want your audience to get behind, to root for, there should be identifiable motives and redeeming, or redeemable traits.
So, in conclusion, you don’t need a doctorate to write alien races but it should encourage some interesting considerations in the doing.