In case you’re new to Medium Cool, BGinCHI is here once a week to offer a thread on culture, mainly film & books, with some TV thrown in.
In this week’s Medium Cool, it’s time we talked about aliens.
I’m reading Avi Loeb’s terrific book about ‘Oumuamua, and it has me thinking about how aliens are imagined in films, books, and other art forms. Films probably have the most purchase on our imaginations, as they give us visual representations of what aliens might look like (copiously in Star Wars, Star Trek, and the Marvel Universe films, and specifically in ET and Arrival, for example).
Aliens can be good, bad, and horrific (in the Alien films, for ex.). What are some of the most memorable alien encounters in films, books, and TV, and why?
Here’s Loeb’s book. It’s a terrific quick read, though I’d prefer even more technical stuff than he includes.
One of the best I’ve encountered is Mote in God’s Eye.
Chacal Charles Calthrop
In terms of serious works about aliens, I don’t think anyone will ever do better than Stanislaw Lem in Solaris. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solaris_(1972_film)
(warning: making my point requires a SPOILER)
The sentient alien ocean, trying to communicate with the humans, takes the form of the human they most closely communicated with, only to discover that in fact we do not ever truly communicate with each other.
Star Man and They Live. Star Man still resonates due to Jeff Bridges terrific performance, as well as Karen Allen’s. And They Live, well John Carpenter and Roddy Piper, what more do you want?
ETA: Brother From Another Planet. Joe Morton burned through the screen.
Old Dan and Little Ann
I remember walking out of ET when I was about 7 and asking my mom why everyone laughed when the brother said, Uranus.
hells littlest angel
No one imagined aliens quite so alien as those of Stanislaw Lem. My favorite of his novels is His Master’s Voice, in which researchers try to figure out the significance of an intercepted artificial radio signal.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop: I think Lem hated the film, IIRC, but it’s amazing.
I still think Star Trek has the most realistic alien encounter scenario.
An old science fiction movie, “Invaders from Mars,” scared the stuffing out of me when I was a kid.
Love the genre, from Alien to Terminator.
Don’t have much use for Jesus aliens, like Starman.
Mork and My Favorite Martian were always fun.
I thought that ET was kind of sappy, but understand the appeal.
I enjoy some of the Trek episodes, especially on The Next Generation, where we are the aliens and we see the impact on other cultures. There was one episode about First Contact where a relatively advanced society did not want to join us in traveling the stars. I could see this happening here if we got an invitation from an advanced culture. Some would see Earth as where we belong.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop: Hey, I just wrote this, along similar lines:
I’m a huge fan of Stanislaw Lem, mainly his comic work (Star Diaries and The Cyberiad), but also the recurring theme in other novels and shorter pieces (Solaris, Fiasco, etc.), that when we meet aliens we may find that we have nothing in common with them at all, not even enough for basic communication.
@Phylllis: Been meaning to go back to Star Man.
@Archon: Like this?
I enjoyed the Red Lectroids in Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, especially Christopher Lloyd as John Bigbooté (“It’s Big-Boo-TAY, not Big-BOOTY!!!”)
@BGinCHI: Me too. I rewatched True Grit this weekend, and was reminded again of how Jeff Bridges can just disappear into a role.
@RSA: This is what I liked about Arrival: the work to learn how to communicate, especially the technical aspect of it.
@Salty Sam: Laugh now, monkey boy.
@Phylllis: Even when he just plays a relatively normal guy (Thunderbolt & Lightfoot, Cutter’s Way) he’s still terrific.
Buckaroo Banzai is always a hoot.
ALIEN. Perfect killing machine.
@BGinCHI: or his character in Heaven’s Gate, just solid.
Yes! There were huge implications for us that made it an exciting movie, but any communication at all would have been an amazing accomplishment by itself.
The chest-burster scene from the original Alien.
Need I explain why?
Alien Nation and District 9 both depicted extraterrestrials as an immigrant underclass. an unusual take. The Alien Nation TV show explored this more thoroughly than the movie could, and deserved more than the one season it got.
A Ghost to Most
I’ll have to give the remake a try. My life long hatred of Marion Morrison never allowed me to enjoy the original, even though it is set where we intend to move.
“I never saw John Wayne on the sands of Iwo Jima.” George A
I like the way John Scalzi writes alien characters. Android’s Dream is great this way. As well as the alien interactions in the Old Man’s War series.
They Live for the sheer novelty of it, and cynicism. Arrival, i enjoyed mostly as a low key interest in linguistics and seeing how it communications were built among aliens that are truly alien to us was absolutely intriguing. ET out of sheer nostalgia, and if i’m going for the horror/thriller angle? Predator and Predator 2, every time. Robert Rodriguez did a good turn in the franchise with Predators as well.
@Scott P.: Agree about The Mote in God’s Eye. Great story.
There’s also Robert Forward’s Dragon’s Egg — which (acc’ to Amazon) turns out to be the first of three, which I didn’t know. Dragon’s Egg has a really cool meshing of wildly imaginative aliens with plausible-enough-for-fiction science.
And: The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God, by Mary Doria Russell. I kiddingly call these books “Jesuits in space” — and that’s not inaccurate as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. (I’m an atheist, militantly ex-Catholic, and I loved these books.)
Saying anything at all about the aliens would be a huge spoiler, so I won’t.
@Amir Khalid: Really, really liked District 9.
Whoever came up with the “idea” for M.A.C. and Me should be flogged to death with a feather duster.
@Amir Khalid: I was really young when Alien Nation and its tv show were out. But i watched ’em again as a teen later on, and i enjoyed the heck out of them. District 9 definitely was a modern take of it, especially using South Africa as a setting set it apart. As a child of an immigrant (my mom) i totally got quite a bit of those themes, not just the also heavily implied racial ones as well.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop:
@RSA: Some of us are very intent on finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, when we can’t even communicate with many of the intelligent life forms on this planet that clearly communicate with each other (whales, dolphins, octopuses, etc.) And when we do communicate, it is just by getting other animals (e.g., parrots) to learn our language, rather than taking the hard work of figuring out theirs.
A disappointing but understandable feature of a lot of science fiction is an alien which is just a substitute for a particular subset of human attitudes or perspectives. Life on this planet can be so strange to us – how strange will it be off of it?
Keeping it short, focusing on some aliens memorable enough to have taken up permanent residence in memory.
Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
Footfall, Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven
Titan, John Varley
TV & Film:
The “ugly bags of mostly water’ episode of ST: TNG
Horta episode of original Star Trek
Ambassador G’kar in Babylon 5
The no dialogue episode, with Agnes Moorhead, of The Twilight Zone
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Planet of the Vampires (Terrore nello Spazio)
Strictly for kitsch, They Live
Purple People Eater
Somewhere I read a story about an alien invasion that was so slow and gentle no one even knew it was happening. Basically a mysterious dust begins to be noticed, then there seems to be more of it, and people have to start sweeping and vacuuming it out of their homes, but it keeps accumulating, more and more. I don’t remember how the story ends but I liked the passive-aggressive invasion of an alien that may or may not be intelligent, may not be “alive” in the way we think of life, and is obviously not possible to communicate with, but is going to win.
Just occurred to me that it’s Aliens vs The Super Bowl.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop: His satire, “Fiasco,” is even more frightening. One sadistic other-world entity is exterminating another, the humans have no idea why, and the aliens couldn’t give a shit that the humans are there.
This is the Republican plan.
@E.: This is my house, but with dog hair.
@Amir Khalid: I remember when Alien Nation was on TV, and thinking it looked interesting. However, at the time I didn’t have a TV, so never got around to watching it. Was it really on for only one season?
Chacal Charles Calthrop
@EriktheRed: true tale: Sigourny Weaver once recounted that one time, when she was sitting in first class in an airplane, the guy next to her (after recognizing her and telling her how much he appreciated her work) then said, but that scene in Aliens, that is just a movie, right?
(Because think about it — you don’t want to be trapped on a transAtlantic flight with such a creature.)
As for all the people complaining about Jesuits in space, admit it — if we ever actually met aliens, the Church (as well as all the other religious kookjobs) would be right out there proselytizing…
West of the Rockies
I like positive alien movies, so the aforementioned (and very intelligent) Arrival, Contact, 2001 and, yes, 2010. I also liked Super 8.
Anyone read the sci-fi novel The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell?
“My Favorite Martian” is memorable to me just because it was the first thing I ever saw in which the alien wasn’t homicidal. That gave me pause.
So did I, it’s a fave. Blomkamp ended it with a perfect setup for a sequel, and there were rumors of a “District 10” in the works, but sadly, never came to pass.
Goku (aka Amerikan Baka)
I loved Arrival too just for those reasons!
Ender’s Game was an interesting take on aliens too, I thought. Always liked hive/bug-like aliens, even they’re often just allegories for communism
Also, too, a shoutout to the lizard-like Race from Harry Turtledove’s Worldwar series
West of the Rockies
@JanieM: Ah, a fellow Sparrow fan!
Friday I started binge watching The X-Files from the beginning. Of course Muldar wants to believe and he even has that poster in his office, but nobody else believes. The whole time I had the ‘lost it completely’ line from Subterranean Homesick Alien running through my head.
I wish they’d swoop down in a country lane
Late at night while I’m driving
Take me on board of their beautiful ship
Show me the world as I’d love to see it
I’d tell all my friends
But they’d never believe me
They’d think that I’d finally lost it completely
I’d show them the stars
And the meaning of life
They’d shut me away
But I’d be all right…
Not be most memorable alien, but Mork from Ork was the beginning of an amazing career.
ETA: I see Brachiator already got there.
Peter Watts’ “Blindsight” has some unusual aliens. The vampires in the story are pretty interesting as well , as are the beginnings of posthuman specializations. The narrator character, Siri (2006!) is a specialist who translates from scientific specialists to interested non-specialist parties (e.g. managers/politicians/etc, never made quite clear). A “Synthesist”, or “jargonaut” or “poppy” or “mole” or “chaperone” or “commissar”. “Explaining the Incomprehensible to the Indifferent”:
It’s a little bleak, and I think Peter is interestingly wrong about the utility(and reality) of consciousness. (It has its uses.)
 Blindsight: Notes and References (Peter Watts) includes “A Brief Primer on Vampire Biology”
C.J. Cherryh has done some good aliens superficially close to human. The first couple of books in the <a href=”https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57043.Foreigner”Foreigner series were amazing. (The narrator is, approximately, a human cultural translator, initially thoroughly confused.)
I suspect that in reality most intelligence in the universe is (or emerged from) machine (or hybrid) super-intelligences) bootstrapped by biological intelligences. If so, then they could easily be hidden in non-zero numbers in our solar system, even in closer Earth orbit if care were taken to prevent radar and visual imaging and occultations observed by telescopes.
Another type of alien is entities similar to Machine Elves (Terence McKenna coined the term), those beings that many who use DMT experience.
One could imagine extraterrestrial non-human civilizations transcending (somewhere in the multiverse) and inhabiting those spaces thereafter, with some of them being busibodies and nudging emerging civilizations during times of peril/crunch times like humanity’s now +/- 100 years.
I liked Arrival quite a bit.
As for aliens in books, I’m a fan of Peter Watts’ Blindsight and follow-up Echopraxia. Not only the extraterrestrials and vampires, but the group mind and other human interactions that seem more alien than most aliens
Aaaaand I see Bill Arnold beat me to it.
@Chacal Charles Calthrop: Reminds me of a humorous moment in Deep Space 9. Sisko and Bashir have accompanied Odo to his home planet. Odo’s been called for possible discipline, so the atmosphere is rather tense. As they await the result, Sisko has to stop Bashir from idly skittering a rock across the water before them.
Odo represents the possibility that even life forms whose physical nature suggests little basis for communication can still learn to interact.
@Amir Khalid: I remember “Alien Nation.” It was a must watch in our house.
@Salty Sam: I was sure they’d do one too. The film was based on a terrific short film that told part of the story.
D 9 would make a good series, too.
And then there’s Alf.
Well’s War of the Worlds deserves a historical mention, as does the George Pal adaptation which terrified me as a child.
IMDB confirms it. I also remember they did a few TV movies, which were as good as the TV show.
One of the many things I love about The Expanse is how the people on Earth, Mars and the Belt begin to diverge because of how they adapt to their world’s.
One more film: Arrival.
Ah, Alien Nation.
“Let’s see now, salt water is lethal to them. So we’ll plunk them down on the coast.”
Wells War of the Worlds is still really great. ‘Intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic’
Goku (aka Amerikan Baka)
@Chacal Charles Calthrop:
It wouldn’t surprise me if the existence of extraterrestrials shattered our major religions’ worldviews
And after reading the thread I see others mentioned Arrival already.
@RSA: Terry Carr’s “The Dance of the Changer and the Three” is one of my favorites in the “we’ll never understand aliens” sub-genre.
Does H. Beam Piper’s “Omnilingual” lie at the other end of the spectrum? It says that we’ll always have something in common, since we’re part of the same universe. (Sorry for any spoiler of a 60-year-old story.)
There was a Heinlein novel, one of his early ones for teens, i don’t recall the name, in which a teenage boy inherited a large caterpillar-like alien creature from his father, and grandfather, going back many generations. The alien was rather dim, but gentle, until some big galactic kerfluffle arose, when it turned out the big, dumb caterpillar was actually the Grand Emperor of the Galaxy, or some such, with the capacity to destroy worlds. It turned out that IT had been keeping generations of these human boys as pets, rather than the other way around. Nice twist.
ETA- it’s been at least half a century since I read this, so the details as I’ve told may be off quite a bit.
@Phylllis: “I watched you very carefully. Red light: stop. Green light: go. Yellow light: go very fast.”
Do we see the aliens at the end of Close Encounters? I think we do. Been a few years since I re-watched.
@BGinCHI: Which version? Tarkovski or Clooney?
The father of the woman who played the “wife,” who was Polish like Lem and a notable director in his nation, despised the Tarkovski version.
@West of the Rockies: Nice to know there’s another one here!
I just reread the two books during pandemic time — well, I’m an avid re-reader anyhow, so that’s not too surprising. Also once went to a Maria Doria Russell talk at the Erie Public Library — she was great. Funny, smart, accessible. Of her later books the only one I’ve liked a lot was A Thread of Grace — a novel set in Italy during WWII.
Oh, I like this one.
The motiles and immotiles from Peter F. Hamilton’s Commonwealth Saga struck me as a really clever description of an alien lifeform predisposed by evolution to see all sentient life other than itself as an intolerable threat that must be exterminated. MorningLightMountain might be a gigantic prick, but we’re given enough information to understand why it’s that way and appreciate its solipsistic view of the universe.
Daniel Keys Moran’s sadly incomplete Tales of the Continuing Time includes a variety of alien races, many of them involved in the multi-million (billion?) year Time War that underpins the whole internal mythos, including a reptillian species that managed to produce very alien humans by taking prehistoric homo sapiens as a slave race and imprinting upon them their own cultural norms, in which only males are considered sentient while women are confined to the status of despised breeders. I really wish he’d get around to publishing more of that series but it doesn’t look at all likely.
Julian May’s various series have some very entertaining aliens. The hyper-horny Tanu and grumpy Firvulag of her Saga of the Pliocene Exiles, then the various telepathic alien races making up the Galactic Milieu in her eponymous prequel/sequel series. Her stories give me a similar feel to Dorothy Dunnett’s historical sagas, in that you can just snuggle down in them and bask in the inventive cleverness of well drawn characters and immaculate world building.
Has anyone mentioned the Tralfamadorians?
I’m thinking of a Plan 9 joke, but quite honestly, Tor Johnson in real life could be frightening.
@Chetan Murthy: Probably my first understanding of malicious compliance.
@JanieM: Nah. Trump put more humans in cages than they did.
I loved science fiction as a kid — I had read every Asimov book by the time I was 13. But I will never forget my first sf movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I was 6 and watching Richard Dreyfuss with the mashed potatoes and then how they communicated with music absolutely fascinated me. I saw that movie truly on the big screen — at the drive in with my family. We saw star wars after that, but that did not make me think about alien encounters, rather that was amazing because of the special effects and being immerse in just a totally different world. The television miniseries V was interesting because the aliens said they came in peace, looked like humans, said they were here to help us but were really on earth “To Serve Man. “
The whole “Deep State in cahoots with aliens” thing on The X-Files was originally conceived as a workaround to let Gillian Anderson take a brief maternity leave in the middle of the season 2 shoot. And it became the second most riveting thing about the show, after the Mulder-Scully relationship.
“The Forever War” had aliens that seemed beamed out of the ironic ending of “The Naked and the Dead.”
Babylon 5 makes a point of depicting alien and Earthly religions.
There’s even a new Earth religion, Foundationism. Maybe a nod to Asimov here as well.
@AWOL: You remind me of a short story (obviously not Lem’s Fiasco) in which two alien factions are trying to win the hearts and minds of Earthlings, with purges and re-education each time one faction gains control of the planet. It was a fairly transparent metaphor for some of the Cold War conflicts in Third World nations.
I have no idea of the title or author, ringing any bells for anyone?
EDIT: IIRC there was also some major destruction during the conquests and re-conquests, like Australia being blasted off the planet. And something happened to the air, I think – the human narrator saying something like “we scuttle between reeds, sucking air”??? I may be mixing in another story (perhaps “Heresies of the Strange God”).
@JanieM: How could we forget them! Thank you !
Chewbacca, best alien
@AWOL: Both are good, but the Tarkovsky is a classic.
Chacal Charles Calthrop
@Goku (aka Amerikan Baka): If Darwin didn’t do it, aliens won’t.
The best argument to stop the proselytizing (while we’re on the topic of artworks involving Aliens) is Gene Wolfe’s La Befana, where the Christmas witch who failed to acknowledge Christ on this world manages to escape her curse by acknowledging him when he visits another: “you see, he hasn’t been here yet.”
@Benw: I’d watch a Mork & Chewbacca buddy movie, where they solve crimes.
@BGinCHI: I saw the first US screening at Cinema Village in NYC in the early ’90s. The print was awful, and some scenes were repeated, once dubbed, once subtitled, bit the dialogue didn’t match.
It was “Stalker” that blew me away—and those aliens came and went without giving a shit about us. (Based on the Russian novella “Roadside Picnic.”)
@Salty Sam: The Star Beast.
(Checks Google. Yes, my memory still works!)
Mork, played by Robin Williams, made a brief, one-scene appearance on either Happy Days or its spin-off Laverne & Shirley. Both those sitcoms were inspired by American Graffiti. Which was made by George Lucas. And there it is, the connection between Star Wars and Mork & Mindy.
@AWOL: I prefer “Stalker” as well. It’s about time I watched it again.
Ah yes! Another favorite Vonnegut alien is the rock-clinging flat blobs on the planet Mercury. They do communicate, but only two messages: “Here I am.” and “So glad you are!”
I actually saw an alien once! He was green, 15 feet tall, and he was holding up a Dunkin’ Donuts sign in Roswell, New Mexico.
@BGinCHI: You know that beautiful sepia it’s shot in? That was an afterthought. The lab screwed up the first filmed version. The entire set of reels were tossed. Tarkovski had to beg the Soviet Film Industry for funding for a total reshoot.
When I saw it at Film Forum in the Village, the original one, I knew it was the most significant genre film I had seen since “2001” in 1968.
@Salty Sam: That was The Star Beast, which many people — including me — think is actually Heinlein’s best novel, juvenile or no. And your memory is good!
I was also going to mention Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Julian May’s Pliocene Saga books. And all of C.J. Cherryh’s aliens, not just the ones in the Foreigner series — Hunter of Worlds, Chanur’s Venture, many others.
And let’s not forget some of Ursala K. LeGuin’s “alienesque” humans, such as the humans who can sex-morph in “The Left Hand of Darkness.”
@Craig: (H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”)
1978 saw the album release of a musical version of WotW, narrated by Richard Burton. Later it was presented live, with narration provided by … an animated Richard Burton. YouTube Link.
Lots of great offerings. I also love Doctor Who. The weeping angels are the most terrifying aliens.
Just recently I read (maybe prompted by a post here) about experiments on dog self-awareness, but with treated urine rather than a mirror, because of course that would be a more natural way for dogs to “recognize” the world and themselves, if they do. So I agree, aliens might be a huge step
Thanks for the recommendation! I think Carr was a Golden Age writer or editor? I’ll look him up.
I also remember “Omnilingual” with its very clever Rosetta stone.
Another for kitsch: The Abyss.
“So raise your hand if you think that was a Russian water-tentacle.”
You may be remembering “The Liberation of Earth” by William Tenn, 1953?
@MomSense: “Blink” works as SF and horror. The sadness of people lost in time.
“It was raining when we met.”
“It’s the same rain.”
@Goku (aka Amerikan Baka):
The last few centuries in science have already severely weakened the geocentric and anthropocentric Weltanschauung of the world’s major religions, particularly the Abrahamic faiths. There isn’t all that much left to be shattered.
Ceci n est pas mon nym
@BGinCHI: Arrival is the one I was going to mention, both the movie and the story it was based on.
We were fans of the short-lived TV adaptation of Starman.
From literature, I enjoy Victor Vinge’s alien’s, particularly the difficulties in dealing with the alieness of aliens in A Fire in the Deep.
The no longer present aliens in the movie The Forbidden Planet were a particular favorite as a cautionary tale, whole the aliens of “To Serve Man” were deliciously terrifying
Anonymous At Work
Arrival, not for the reasons cited above but for the different perception of time. Aliens will perceive reality differently than we do. And that’s really difficult to show.
Assassin’s Creed’s meta-story works well too. Ancient Aliens is done to death but having them screw up and die off due to their screw-up and leaving pieces behind to be figured out. That’s the angle.
And, Red vs. Blue. Aliens who construct elaborate lies to knock up humans, aliens that fling insults our way just like we would them, and definitely the worship of weird technology such as treating printer set-up instructions as literal Scripture. Not only anti-Star Trek human explorers but anti-Star Trek alien explorers.
Yes! Thank you. I have it in a collection… somewhere around here. The Carr “Changer and the Three” story has also been collected many times.
@Brachiator: One of my favorite scenes from Babylon 5.
Frederick Pohl wrote short creepy story called “Punch”. There’also Gene Wolfe’s “All the Hues of Hell”.
@Brachiator: me too. And it’s something I have only read the a small number of sci-fi books. What effect does low G or high G (and radiation) have on pregnancy and the development of children. Everything from development of the eyes and organs in the fetus to the effects of low G on bone density.
@AWOL: Oh, Lord, what *was* “Plan 9” anyway? Was it the destruction of the human race? I remember the swishy alien announcing it in a bored voice in the middle of the movie, one of the many crack-ups in Plan 9.
“Hexapodia as the key insight”
(Always pay attention to the aliens!)
@Vello: My favorite part of Fire Upon the Deep is the Usenet-like message exchanges. Reading carefully, there’s one alien who knows exactly what’s going on, but who communicates so poorly that no one else realizes it. Some things never change.
@Miss Bianca: Ironically, I just drunk-watched it for the first time in 25 years a week ago and realized the schlock of Plan 9 was actually slightly better than other 1950s exploitation releases.
@Miss Bianca: Plan 9 was resurrection of the dead. I want to know what plans 1 to 8 were.
Great movie, my favorite of Mario Bava’s wide range. You can see the influence on Alien and sequels, Pitch Black, and probably others. I also remember doing a double take when I compared Vampires‘ spacesuits with the uniforms from the first X-Men movie—to me there were really obvious similarities.
@RSA: Bava, Argento—those visual geniuses are so ignored here.
@Goku (aka Amerikan Baka): For a religious take on alien contact you could try A Case of Conscience by James Blish.
I’ll give a shoutout to Rendezvous With Rama. Aliens passing by with no concern for humans. Just like Oumuamua.
What Have The Romans Ever Done for Us?
The new SyFy network show Resident Alien is pretty amusing and has an Alien as the main character.
Larry Niven created some of the very best aliens ever. Pierson’s Puppeteers and Kzin both appear in multiple stories, but together in Ringworld — a book that’s crying out for a video adaptation if I ever read one — they were magnificent.
The three major humanoid alien species in Babylon 5 are brilliant, as well. All three are realized as not completely monolithic (which is the failure of so many stories about other species or worlds) and none are allowed to be simplistic, but are shown as both good and evil, smart and stupid — in short, with depth.
Alien Nation deserved more than one season, though the movies helped.
Oh. And yes, it’s a cookbook. :-)
I can’t believe that no one’s mentioned Paul, which stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost with Seth Rogen performing the alien Paul. Also has Kirsten Wiig, Bill Hader, Jane Lynch and Jason Bateman. Plus a surprise at the end.
Douglas Adams gave us some memorable aliens — Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Marvin, the Paranoid Android. I think I’ll order up a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and avoid Vogon poetry.
@What Have The Romans Ever Done for Us?: I agree.
Plans 1 through 8 all failed. I don’t think that whoever wrote the movie really cared what they were.
Too bad the rest of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets didn’t live up to its opening scene:
I remembered Star Beast (when I first read it, the title was Star Lummox). But Heinlein had other excellent aliens in his “juveniles:” the multi-legged dragons from Venus in Between Planets, the three-legged Martians from Red Planet (which he recycled in Stranger in a Strange Land), and a whole boatload of diverse critters in Have Space Suit Will Travel. Of course I was an actual juvenile when I first read all that stuff.
The whole premise of the six weighty novels of David Brin’s “Uplift series” is that there’s a humongous civilization spanning five galaxies of sentient beings who seek out planets where a species has evolved to where it has the potential to use tools and communicate, and the discoverers get to “uplift” them with genetic tailoring and other methods. The benefits to the discoverers are substantial: besides the immense status of a successful uplift, the patron species gets to use the clients as near-slaves for thousands of years, until the rest of the galaxies find them “civilized” enough. When earth’s humans encounter aliens who are the product of this system, we have already begun uplifting dolphins and chimpanzees, so all the other aliens have to grant us patron status– but they’re real suspicious of us, because we don’t seem to have any patrons. Trouble ensues!
Far less ancient are the aliens from Robert Forward’s “Dragon’s Egg.” They have evolved on the surface of a neutron star, where humongous gravity has squeezed all matter into bosons, which in those conditions can form semi-stable aggregates that interact in ways analogous enough to earthly molecular chemistry to allow life to evolve. I want to thank Janie M for the information that there are two sequels to that book!
@Tehanu: Heinlein got a dirty joke past the rather strait-laced editor of juvenile SF acquistions — the alien named Lummox was actually a princess abducted by alien monsters i.e. the human crew of an exploratory starship. All of her ‘owners’ and their descendants were males, all with the same name. She had spent her time in exile by raising John Thomases.
@Minstrel Michael: I looked at the listing in Amazon so quickly that I didn’t realize the other two aren’t actually by Robert Forward. Meanwhile, Wikipedia says there’s a SQL called Starquake.
Further investigation required, I guess.
Yes! I haven’t followed Argento’s work lately but I’m happy he’s still working. I think it’s telling that some of the directors they influenced are now A-listers in Hollywood. They ought be more celebrated today.
Very true This was the crappiest SF movie that I kinda enjoyed. The lead actors were terrible. But a lot of great visuals and halfway interesting ideas.
@RSA: I met Dario at a horror convention in Albany in the late 80s; his English was nil, my Italian worse. I had no idea he was heavy on coke during that time. I was friends with RM, who did a doc on “Opera” and then went on to secretly screw Dario’s other daughter (not Asia, forget her name). Fell out of touch with him ages ago.
I was at the NJ games convention, way back in ’19. Told a friend with a small business, making ‘fantasy miniatures’, that what he should add to his line is
‘a giant, plucked-out eyeball, trailing blood vessels, walking on spindly legs,
wearing a bush hat, and carrying a guitar (or maybe a lute)…
In other words…
“It’s a wandering minstrel eye
Yes, a wand’ring, minstrel eye.”
Dah-da-dum, da-dum, da-dum…
I live in a part of the world where a significant portion of the population believes that The X-Files is a documentary, so knock off the meme that it’s fiction.
As far as that furry dipshit in the photo at the top of the post, I blame him, the History Channel, and all the absolute tripe he and it puts out for Trump and Qanon. He hooked all the weak minded on conspiracies and then they all graduated to Trump and Q. May he rot in the festering core of the foulest dung heap in Tajikistan.
Although the Star Wars aliens of various kinds are amazing, I have to say that seeing ET with my kids at the Ford Amphitheater in vail, with the soundtrack played live by the Dallas Symphony
@Ceci n est pas mon nym
Remember the even shorter-lived The Phoenix?
@Ken: That’s right!! “Plan 9…the resurrection of the dead”. Thank you – that would have been torturing me all night!
@Minstrel Michael: Speaking of dragons…Pern! I mean, fire lizards! That then got morphed into actual dragons, what’s not to love?
@Salty Sam: The Star Beast
Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx Confederation is a pretty interesting treatment. Humans encounter an insectoid alien race called the thranx and end up getting along well enough to form an alliance. The origin novel is one of the few told from the non-human point of view.
Bowie as The Man Who Fell to Earth.
@Doug R: i was about to add my favourite alien. the coolest one, ever. the big surprise? you mean sigourney weaver as an in joke ?
Larry Niven’s Known Space books have some of the best aliens
Outsiders. Kzinti. Pierson’s Puppeteers. Bandersnatchi. Protectors.
And the Moties were good.
But especially Outsiders.
I can almost buy ‘Oumuamua as an Outsider ship.
J R in WV
When I was a little kid, Dad was working nights, came home around 2 or 3 am, after putting the AM newspaper to bed and doing some work towards the next day’s editorial page.
Some nights I would wake up (age 5-6-7?) and creep into the den where mom and dad would be talking and watching late night TV. I would hide behind a big overstuffed armchair and peek around to watch the movie.
One night the feature film was about an Alien invasion, and they flew around in clam-shell shaped space ships shooting rays that would create a burst of burning hot lava. The clam shell would open and the death ray would shoot out, destroying whatever they aimed at. Then mom (or dad) heard me squeak, came behind the big chair, and took me away to the bedrooms in the other end of the house. No idea what the film was…
Another story, from the late 1970s or early 1980s. A neighbor and I, and our wives, went over to Turkey Creek to visit a farm with Brown Swiss cattle, which are a breed that works for beef or for dairy. The farmer took us up on the ridge to see his herd — they’re great cows, very calm and friendly, good milkers, etc.
Anyway, as it began to come on to dusk, the guy we were visiting got a little antsy, and wanted to head off the ridge before it got dark, even tho we had lights.
One of us asked why he was so ready to get back to the farmyard and house. The story he told us was hair-raising. A few years earlier his daughter, who had just gotten her driver’s license, had left right after dinner to drive to a neighbor’s farm to visit with a girl friend. Didn’t show up on schedule, so he fired up his Pickup truck to drive up the creek, thinking she may have had car trouble.
Sure enough, he came upon her in the car, stopped on the country road in the dark. He stopped, got out, walked up to her and she was a total wreck, could barely tell her story.
After she left her girlfriend’s house, just a couple of miles later, a bright shiny object came out of the sky, and her engine, lights, everything just stopped, while the bright thing roamed around the sky overhead. Then her dad showed up, the car started OK, and they moved it out of the road and she got into his pickup truck, they headed back down the creek homeward.
It happened again. His truck stopped, a bright light passed overhead, all around, the lights went off, just as daughter described. They held on to each other, waited for it to end. Which it did, after a few minutes. Then in the quiet evening, the truck started OK, and he beat it back home.
And now he avoids being out after dark. Serious story to hear walking down off a high ridge top in the WV countryside. His actual job was at a plant in Charleston, where he was a unit operator, not an ignorant person at all.
We drove home after dark, Tommy and his wife and me and my wife. Tommy and I shared the story with our wives, but not until we were near home. Creeped us all out, even though we didn’t experience anything odd ourselves, the down-to-earth farmer’s story was so real. There were several UFO events in the area at the time. You can look that up. Kanawha Valley UFOs, Mothman, etc.
I have seen inexplicable things late at night myself, with a shipmate in Key West. I’ll tell that story another evening. Not nearly as strange as our Brown Swiss cattle farm story!
Okay, the aliens from Blindsight have been mentioned, which I think come close to being Most Alien.
Brother from another planet and Arrival have also been mentioned already.
So, that leaves Semiosis by Sue Burke — marooned human colonists land on a planet and become symbionts with a sentient bamboo grove.
And Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time, in which sabotage of a terraforming project results in a world dominated by sentient social spiders. I liked the way their culture evolved better than the spiders in Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky.
It’s been so long since I read any of Larry Niven’s books that I’d forgotten the Kzin and Puppeteers.
Oh: John M Ford wrote The final reflection, a Star Trek (original series, published in the 80s) novel set among the Klingons. It’s fantastic. Fortunately, more of John M. Ford’s novels are coming back into print (thanks to an enterprising journalist who tracked down his relatives to ask why they were out of print, and it turned out to be a case of broken communication).
Just wanted to add to the recommendations for Stanislaw Lem, in particular the books Solaris and His Master’s Voice. Another vote for the Arkady and Boris Strugatsky book Roadside Picnic, plus one I don’t think has been mentioned yet, Definitely Maybe. A scientist working on a project which he thinks will win him the Nobel Prize, is visited by a beautiful woman who tries to distract him from his research. When that fails, he is visited by a more menacing character (who may or may not be an alien) promising that he will be struck by “lightning bolts” if he doesn’t stop.
Also a great fan of movies Buckaroo Banzai, They Live, The Brother from Another Planet, and District 9. I’ll add an oddball trippy picture, Liquid Sky, miniature drug-seeking aliens inhabit the body of a new wave model, harvesting the endorphins of her sex partners as they orgasm, killing them in the process.
You need to track down A Case of Conscience by James Blish. Jebbies – mmm, pardon, Jesuits – & everything.
@Marc: One more favorite movie that may or may not count, Repo Man is about something in the trunk of a repossessed car.
Unmentioned so far are Joe Haldeman’s !tang aliens found in the short story ‘A !Tangled Web’ and their ritualistic apologies.
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke was my first Sci-Fi experience. And having been raised in a hellfire/brimstone church it had a special meaning for me.
I enjoyed reading these comments, they reminded me of so many authors I had long forgotten and now intend to revisit. Thanks to you all…
In the notes to his Selected Poems (1955), Randall Jarrell notes that “A Game At Salzburg” contains
He continued, “It seemed to me that if there could be a conversation between the world and God, this would be it.”
Not sure when Vonnegut’s Mercurian (Mercurial?) blobs appear, but I’d guess not earlier than The Sirens of Titan (1959). Coinkydink?
Nnedi Okorafor’s novel Lagoon imagines what happens when aliens with scarily powerful shapeshifting and matter-manipulation abilities announce their intention to settle peacefully in Lagos, Nigeria. Every preexisting tension in society gets stretched to the breaking point. (And it turns out it’s not even the only supernormal thing going on.)
Her Binti stories take place mostly in Namibia in a far future in which aliens have been interacting with humans for centuries, and particularly promising students can enroll in a galactic university. The local human superpower has a generations-long war going on with jellyfish-like aliens, and there are people with near-magical powers that seem to be the result of extraterrestrial manipulation.
I’m happy to see Stanisław Lem get his due–back in the early days of the Web I had a fan site about his books and it seemed like, for all the great international fame he had, he was relatively obscure in the US. (Though probably not as obscure as any other non-English-language SF writer, after Jules Verne.)
Some of his books, particularly the earlier novels, have never been translated into English and a few used to be only available in quite bad translations. One of those was The Invincible, which got a much better translation in the 2000s by Bill Johnston, but I think that’s only available as an e-book. I read it recently, anyway–that was an early exploration of his theme of evolution of artificial cybernetic organisms, following a different path from that of increasing intelligence. And it’s an atmospherically scary book.
Liu Cixin’s Three-Body Problem trilogy describes a rather terrifying vision of a universe in which any intelligent species whose existence becomes generally known is going to be squashed flat by the interstellar competition. Maybe literally. By the end of the series it becomes apparent that even the laws of physics as we know them are being manipulated as a tool of inter-species warfare.
C.JCherryh was mentioned upthread for her Foreigner series. I also liked her alien Mri, in the Faded Sun trilogy, which we see through the experience of a human struggling to live alongside the aliens.
@Doug R: Paul is a huge favorite of both me & my husband, but I have to admit Vulcans are still my preferred aliens, & the ones I hope turn out to be real.
Brian Aldiss’s The Dark Light Years is a weird one–there’s an intelligent species that humans don’t recognize as intelligent because the aliens spend their time wallowing in their own shit, and humans have too great a hangup about such things.
Omnilingual was a H. Beam Piper short story IIRC
as I’m two thirds in and as of yet, no one has dropped David Brin’s Uplift series is a bit of a surprise…. For those unfamaliar with it… humans being humans, we start to get a foothold in space and in the interim, do some DNA tinkering with other species at home, namely tweaking the genetics of Chimps and Dolphins to better communicate… and while doing so…
We get discovered by other aliens, and in fact there’s a whole galactic federation who has no idea on what to do with us, but one of he main tenets of a civilized species is the ability to enhance other species into sapiency, so we’re given a begrudging pass… maybe… kinda sorta…
Another good series is from Eric Flint and K.D. Wentworth, which explores alien societies and the difficulties in creating a subservient humanity. The first book is The Course of Empire. Highly recommended.
now to finish the thread
Way late, to the thread, but, I figured a mention of Hal Clement was needed. He created several interesting aliens. A symbiote who helps a high school kid while looking, for a dangerous criminal, in Needle. Mission of Gravity…The inhabitants of a very high gravity…several hundred g’s…planet, which also spins very fast, so that the perceived gravity at the equator is bearable for humans for short periods. The Terran need help from the inhabitants because an Earth ship, with some kind of valuable stuff ( I forget exactly what) had crashed at one of the poles, where the gravity was strongest. The POV switches between one of the inhabitants and an Earthling as they try to understand each other and to work out a basis for cooperation.
I was intrigued the view that Karl Schroeder takes in his novel Permanence which riffs off of the Fermi paradox: intelligence, consciousness and self-awareness are adaptive traits that disappear when the environment changes sufficiently for the selective advantage to disappear. The universe could be overflowing with life but not as something we recognize as we are relentlessly in our bubble of self-awareness and intelligence. Those beings that are in a phase of being self-aware, intelligent and spacefaring expand into a volume of the universe, eradicating all other life they encounter (and recognize). In a similar vein, the concept has emerged of “grabby civilizations” and “grabby aliens” expanding and changing volumes of the universe.
Maybe SETI isn’t such a good idea after all.
@Sebastian: That’s the one!!
i own imnotsayingitsaliens.com
That is a fun fact.
@Marc: Oooh, Liquid Sky! I remember that movie, mostly for the utterly amazing soundtrack.
ETA: And man, no love for Starship Troopers from anyone? I guess vicious bug aliens aren’t anyone’s cup of tea?//
Where’s the love for fun-loving aliens that/who aren’t great mechanics? Fortunately, Earth Girls are Easy.