WorldCon 2016: Alienbuilding


Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Alienbuilding

Panellists: Caroline M. Yoachim (moderator), G. David Nordley, Ctein, Larry Niven, Sheila Finch

Joined in progress …

GDN: To build aliens, you have to start with the system, planets, and so on down.

C: When it comes to the aliens themselves, a top-down approach means psychology first.

LN: I’ve created aliens with handles on the skull. Humans have bilateral symmetry on the outside. Inside, not so much. An alien can have two dominant arms for fine manipulation, or one extra-muscular arm for heavy lifting. Why not a dwarf elephant with two trunks and fingers on the trunk-tips?

SF: It happens all at once for me. I have an image of the alien. I take a step back and consider what environment might have produced it. Then, I develop the psychology and language. The metaphors used are linked to physiology.

C: I’m happy to steal if it works. I have a species I based on puppets.

CMY: Do you have to balance strangeness with relatability?

GDN: I’m not bothered by aliens that have commonalities with humans. Our basic drives are all the same.

C: There are special, species-related characteristics. Will aliens have religion? Will they be acquisitive? Are they into body augmentation?

SF: Corvids are acquisitive.

LN: I ask myself, what’s the weirdest thing about an alien? Then I extrapolate back.

SF: Sentience and self-awareness have been proven to exist in animals.

C: One notable characteristic of humans is that we build. If there’s an advanced species out there that doesn’t build, what do they do?

LN: What’s the process of adapting humans to their environments?

CMY: What pitfalls do you see? What are your pet peeves?

GDN: Characters that don’t have survival value.

LN: There was a story based on a hospital station—everyone got sick. [Mel’s note: not every disease will attack every species by the same vector. Zoonosis is not common on Earth. And then, there’s immunity.]

SF: Plant aliens that aren’t done well. Sequoias, for example, would have a chemical intelligence.

C: When the physical worldbuilding isn’t related to the story. If it’s all about the display of worldbuilding prowess, it’s essentially scenery.

CMY: When all the aliens are the same, are they truly “alien” aliens?

GDN: Silicone and oxygen might be able to produce something similar to DNA and RNA. Truly alien aliens are difficult to figure out physiologically and biologically.

SF: With truly alien aliens, their physiology becomes the story. It’s all about explaining how they function.

And that was time.

I’ll have one more WorldCon 2016 session to share with you this month, and it’s more worldbuilding (are you sensing a theme?). Next weekend: Political worldbuilding in science fiction.

Be well, be kind, and stay strong until next I blog.

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