More Untapped Aliens

Yesterday’s alien question ferreted out some great references and some amusing stuff too. Apparently this is a real spider…

Male peacock spiderOverall, it seems like spiders have inspired a lot more alien races in computer gams and RPGs than on the tabletop in miniature form (though there some rare exceptions). Interesting.

Having spent some time surfing along the links you’ve shared, I have a couple of follow up questions for you.

  1. Which real world creature do you think has been most unfairly neglected when it comes to inspiring weird alien lifeforms? Horseshoe crabs? Ocelots? Starfish? Squirrels?
  2. What’s the most alien alien you know, in any fictional background? For this question, try sticking to physical creatures. Energy beings and nanite clouds are always going to be at the weird end of the scale, but don’t really work as models or artwork.

I’ve already come up with a couple of ideas for unusual aliens that I’ve never seen before by asking myself these questions. See if they inspire you too.

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32 Responses to More Untapped Aliens

  1. Stu says:

    Something like a star-faced mole perhaps?
    I would say the most alien is ‘the alien’ from alien.
    Weird egg-host-infant-warrior cycle. Acid Blood. Big teeth, but actually primarily an ambush attacker not a straight-up fighter.
    Telepathic too (at least the queen could order them)

  2. The first weird alien that comes to my mind is the weird Jupiter inhabiting aliens in wheelers with 5 genders, there are way to many variations of plague/tyranids/strain etc (though my favourite is the amnion from Steven donaldsons gap series) the puzzlers in Alister Reynolds books qualify as weird but not suitable for a game being planet wide alge. But one that I think competes with the class alien is the grendels in legacy of heroes by larry Niven were the spawn are male fish which are good eating and the females are the adult males only now with legs and the ability to turbocharge and a temper to boot.

  3. Teemu Hemminki says:

    Most negleted: I don’t think I’ve seen platypus as basis for fictional race. Those creatures are weird and their mismatch style could be used to create some other weird alien races.

    Weirdest I’ve seen: “I wanna be your lover” music video from La Bionda had some weird cyborgish creatures. Good inspiration for your 80’s Sci-Fi game ;)?

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Do you mean the lion-headed, two-tailed, flying robot thing? I was more distracted by the almost Space Marines, and wondering whether GW had sent them a Cease & Desist letter 😉

      • Teemu Hemminki says:

        Would they dare to Sue anything that is actually older than Adeptus Astartes? Maybe they would do what King did with Candy Crush saga and buy complete rights to “Captain Brink of the Space Marines” story and then C&D everyone to death?

        Did you btw ever address the whole “Spot the Space Marine” thing in your blog?

  4. Willem-Jan (Hephesto) says:

    I’ve always hoped to see somebody do something interesting with a true fish alien race without going into Cthulhu territory. There are a few games out there that have fish / water bound critters in the fluff, but I have yet to see something on the tabletop that could be described as being aquatic (save for a few Star Wars Quaren minis). Could lead to some fascinating models, especially when using clear, plastic helmets or components like Mantic’s Martians or Bombshell Minis GDF faction.

    Regular mammals seem to be a generally overlooked group on the whole, robots, insects, humanoids with wrinkly foreheads and reptiles are leading the charge in most franchises. Not an odd thing as you want something people will identify with of course. Still I for one wouldn’t mind seeing something like Stardrive’s samurai scifi bears of the Kulrathi or the cybernetically enslaved owl people of the Cordrazine on the tabletop 😉

    The most ‘alien’ alien is quite tricky, a lot of cool stuff in my opinion is very often down to either an extremely powerful, brutal and stunning visual design (alien, predator, krogan etc.) or eventually deeply human characters (stuff like DS9’s Dukat/Cardassians or Babylon 5’s G’Kar/Narn, Stargate’s Goa’uld and Wraith). It’s quite rare to find truly ‘alien’ aliens out there, which would indeed be tough to write and sell. Probably works better for horror-related movies and such. Some things that came to mind:

    – Mass Effect’s Geth – effectively a race of robot servants that bloodily broke free of their creators with each robot being a platform inhabited by programs that essentially vote / calculate on every decision. Led to some very visually stunning designs and a fascinating racial background.

    – The Yithians in Lovecraft’s Shadow out of time are definitely something special as well, both visually and culturally. The Elder Things or Fungi of Yogoth are also quite nice in this regard.

    – Scifi infected/undead with an unclear motivation beyond the usual slasher approach, so stuff like Deadzone’s Plague, Dead Space’s Markers/Necromorphs or even Sedition Wars’ Strain. Though at this point we’re moving into the whole viral / esoteric-thing, so probably not the best examples of an actual species. Though these are all in essence just an excuse to have scifi zombies, it’s also a nice tool to create a deeper background for a universe. Or just a clinically cold protagonist, like the Virus in…uhm, well Virus.

    – Always rather enjoyed the Genestealer / Genestealer Cult’s feeler-role in the locust swarm that is a Tyranid Swarm. They’re effectively an unwitting parasite that forces a prey to come out into the open to get swallowed hole, taking the parasite with it in the process..

    – A fire upon the deep’s Tines, where each ‘individual’ consists of a group of 4-8 members connected with a single ultrasonic mindwave. Members that die can be replaced, evolving the individual.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Yay! “Humanoids with wrinkly foreheads” 🙂

      Fish aliens are tricky without being underwater, though there’s no reason why this should be impossible. DeepWars uses exactly this setting, and they have some great fishy models.

      Or, you could turn that on its head and have the fishy aliens wandering around the air with suits full of water 🙂

      • Willem-Jan (Hephesto) says:

        Thinking of trying some count as conversions for Counterblast using just that idea, walking fish bowls for the win. Now to find a way to not make them look like they escaped from Ratchet & Clank 😉

        DeepWars is amazing, really need to get back to painting up my remaining models. At this point I think I have a copy of everything in the Antimatter Games range (save for the temple). Great games as well, which goes for most of the Song of Blades and Heroes adapatations out there. Galleys & Galleons for example is a great way to get use out of my poor, virtually unused Dreadfleet set 😉

  5. Matt Price says:

    Insectoid is certainly a creepy way to go, and also probably likely to strike a note with us humans, as we are so often freaked out by ’em. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa and did come across a few huge bugs that still haunt me!

    Whip scorpions and tailless whip scorpions used to hang out in my latrine. Yeeesh, those things truly are the stuff of nightmares.

    Insects that exhibit behaviors to take over other bugs like those parasitic wasp that take over their host, get it to do their bidding, and ultimate eat them (or have their offspring eat them). Really awesome awful stuff!

    Though the classic “Alien” (Ridley Scott’s flick) has been done quite a bit – they got it right: the horrible parasitic element really pushed that one over the edge and firmly into our popular culture subconsciousness!

  6. Grzegorz Gacek says:

    1) I’d say… humans 🙂 Most anthropomorphic aliens are quite schematic. Klingons are warriors, Vulcans are rational, Predators are hunters – each represent only a handful of traits from our various cultures (present and gone). I can think of no alien race that is really believable (from this point of view). (This assumes races described in substantial detail)

    2) I’d say that the most ‘alien’ aliens are those that we can’t understand. Very interesting examples can be found in the works of Stanisław Lem who was quite interested in the problems of the human-alien contact (highly pessimistic about its success) and described many highly ‘alien’ aliens. The most prominent are the living ocean from “Solaris” and inhabitants of the planets Eden (“Eden”) and Quinta (“Fiasco”). Many satirical examples can be found in “The Star Diaries” or “Cyberiad”.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      An excellent answer to (1), and very true. Most fictional races are very narrow stereotypes. That works when you compare them to some real world view of races by outsiders, though only on the most superficial level. Novels tend to be better than games in this regard, with the space and incentive for exploring some subtlety and depth. Sometimes.

      I remember Soviet SF as often being hard going, though I’ll admit to it being some years since I read any. It can be great, but out of the top five novels I ever read and had the least idea what they were about, four are probably Soviet SF. Someone once told me that SF was one of the few outlets for authors to get away with social comment in the Soviet Union (without getting a free holiday to Siberia), so perhaps that explains it. There are some gems lurking among them though.

      • Grzegorz Gacek says:

        Please, don’t call any Lem works “Soviet SF”, there are enough Polish people in the UK to make such statements dangerous for your health 😉 Lem quickly saw the real nature of communism and while his works do show influence of the time and place he had to live (e.g. censorship) there is no way to classify them as “Soviet” (which I understand either as written by people living in Soviet Union or works written as communist propaganda). I’d recommend you to familiarize with his novels, as they are really worth it (e.g. Lem was probably first to come out with a concept of virtual reality). Most of them are not a casual read, though 🙂

        Getting back to 1) defining races by stereotype is probably the only sane thing to do. Throughout his books Tolkien described elves in much detail yet for almost everyone except die-hard fans it is enough to say that elves are simply “humans, only wiser, more kind and prettier, who live in the woods, are good at magic and shoot bows well”. 🙂 Besides, the more detail you give the more difficult it is to uphold logical consistency and make the race believable…

        • Quirkworthy says:

          Apologies. I use “Soviet” to mean of that era (state censorship, etc) within the countries of the Soviet sphere (including Poland even though it might not have chosen to be) rather than things written from a specific political viewpoint. Culturally he’s from there even if he doesn’t want to be. I have read most of his early works, though not recently. Like you say, not what you’d call casual reads 🙂

          I don’t agree with your last statement. If you wanted to be simplistic you could refer to all of any race as the same as all the others. However, ants aside, that lacks credibility. Adding detail to individuals doesn’t make it harder to remain consistent. The English are generally described as a nation of tea drinkers. How would having a non-tea drinking English character make it harder to make things believable or to maintain an overall consistency?

          Or perhaps you mean that the more detail you include the harder it is to remember what you’ve said. That is true, but hardly a good reason not to try. Taking the easiest route is seldom the path to top quality results.

          For my money, it’s the detail that adds richness and credibility to a fictional creation, whether that’s an individual or a whole culture. Building all these details into a believable patchwork is the job of those who create fictions, for whatever purpose, and like anything worth doing isn’t as easy as it looks 🙂

  7. Philip Waldron says:

    Now there is every possibility that you have a motive in this line of research. please do not consider Insecticidal, as spinney legs in plastic gives me the fears of breakage, whereas sliders especially with large bulbous trunks and heads are so much easier to handle.

  8. I forgot about the entire ecology of proxima (Stephen Baxter) everything from the plants to the (assumed devolved sapient ) builders consist of stems of photo synthesising material plants have flatter ones, kites (flying creatiures) even flatter, the builders themselves are tri pedal creatures which dance for communication. And breeding seems to be a game of mechano where stems are arranged and life begins.

  9. Sycorax says:

    In answer to 1) molluscs and crustaceans. Snails, slugs, crayfish, cuttlefish and the like. Most are creepy as hell in reality and alien enough as real creatures, so combining that with sentience and advanced technology is terrifying.

    And 2) the Weaver from Perdido Street Station.
    Weavers are gigantic spider-like beings, who exist in multiple dimensions at once. They are able to see, traverse across, and manipulate the fabric of space-time, as easily as a normal spider interacts with its own web. They are unpredictable and dangerous to most mortal races, as their ways are completely incomprehensible. For example, the Weaver in Perdido Street Station has a penchant for, among other things, scissors and removing peoples’ ears. Weavers speak in poetic torrents, never ever pausing, only slipping in and out of audibility. Their conscious and subconscious are one, and their thoughts are entirely emotional and dream-like, and always voiced – a Weaver’s mind thinks only in external monologue.
    They are utterly obsessed with the beauty of what they call ‘the web’ – visible strings of fate, that they tend and nurture like children, and will do whatever it takes to ensure that beauty. Be it cutting off ears, or something else totally random to our perspective.

  10. Bobalot says:

    John Scalzi does some great alien aliens my personal favourites are the Obin from the second book in the Old Man War series onwards that are described as being an unholy combination between a giraffe and a spider (8 legs, giant neck, like to climb walls and such) really creepy but for me the most interesting thing was that these aliens had been uplifted from a herd animal by another race (the Consu) and as such were intelligent but had no self awareness or contiousness leading to a very curious and unified society which was sort of hive mind like but not.

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