Thursday, September 2, 2010

Inside the Other's Skin ... or Shell

I've always loved reading about nonhumans. Part of it could be due to the numerous horse and dog stories I read as part of my childhood - even though the main character was the usually the human owner of said horse or dog. But part of it could have been the fairy tales and fantasy stories I also read back then.

Whatever the cause, once I began reading my father's collection of science fiction and fantasy the stories I treasured most were those from the alien point of view. Authors such as Andre Norton, Gordon Dickson, Hal Clement and James White - to name a few of my 'must read' authors from back then - created believeable aliens, ones who weren't just slightly different humans.

I love to write about nonhumans. They do take a bit more time, since I have to design their worlds, cultures and languages (including what do they swear by and what are their swear words). But once they are part of the story, it can be so interesting to see the universe through a different set of eyes (or whatever the aliens use for visual sensors).

Some of my nonhumans are based upon familiar forms. In the Crystal Throne universe, for example, there are elves and gryphons and dryads as well as humans. The Fleet Ones in that world are the descendants of several horselike beings that live in that magic world. There are also treelike beings who, when they are young, are mobile and resemble green-skinned children. That way they are able to travel the land far outside their mothergrove and decide where they want to plant themselves.

There is another plantlike being in my galactic agents series of stories that resembles a short turquoise bush that can walk. It is also the pilot of ship. And then there's Sstwel, the first of her people to attend college on Earth. She has featherlike fur, which is blue on her head and short tail, and green out to her clawed hands and feet. She also has a strong hooked beak and large brown eyes. She is majoring in marketing and picks up human expressions quickly, though she's not always sure of their meaning.

When I talk at Young Writers' Workshops, there is usually only time for us to do the general description 'what does your alien look like'. The choices range through furred, scaled, feathered, shell-encased, rock/crystal-based, even robotic. But to me it is heartening that usually for every alien described with emphasis on claws, fangs and heavy weaponry, there will be one or two that have a backstory - sometimes why they came to invade Earth, but there are also alien pets, princesses, or misunderstood monsters as well.


  1. I love writing about non-humans, too. Not only is it fun seeing how different they are from us during the writing process, but also how SIMILAR they are to us at the same exact time. :D

  2. Great post, Kathy. I enjoy reading fantasy stories but have never attempted to write one. The closest I've come is my ghost stories. I love visiting new worlds and new characters and reading about princesses and alien animals.