Live long and prosper, Past Selves.
My story is going to include alien characters, and they definitely won’t be humanoid in body or thought. Really and truly alien aliens, some with tentacles even. And I want to be able to make them actual characters, with minds and viewpoints not like ours, but relatable enough to keep readers involved and interested.
I have Asperger’s. I can barely understand how other humans’ minds work most of the time. So this is going to be quite a challenge for me, to get into the heads of creatures without heads (or hands or faces or in more than one case, a front side). It’s taken me most of my life to learn to communicate with people of my own species. So I’ve got a bit of thinking yet to do to make this work on paper.
There are at least three non-human species and an AI involved in this story, so I’ve got a variety to cover. One kind is an enemy, so no immediate need for empathy there (though that may change in sequels). But there’s others with the need for some degree of characterization and personalities.
The enemy, and the most alien, are the Tripeds. As the name implies, they have tri-lateral symmetry, three legs, three arms, long snaky neck, all with far too many joints. Eight feet tall at the shoulder. Their brain is internal, their head looks like a tapeworm with six tongues. They communicate by both pheromones and direct chemical exchange; they “kiss” to speak. Communicating with them is nearly impossible for humans. They fight each other more often than they fight us, but for some reason they do not carry personal weapons, only industrial tools that they repurpose. But Triped spaceships are invariably armed.
Next are our bosom companions, the Verdant or “Fiddleheads”, so called because they look like a tree stump covered with moss with giant ferns growing out of it. Radial symmetry. Two main “fronds” or flexible arms usually coiled up above them, alternating with two smaller fronds for fine work. The “fingers” are a dozen pairs of flat leaflike digits lined along each arm. Chameleon eyes on either side, two breathing/speaking mouths, two eating mouths. Poop comes from underneath. Four stubby legs, they can’t run very fast. Despite their plantlike color and appearance they do not conduct photosynthesis. They breathe part of their nutrients so our air is thin and unsatisfying, necessitating their own life support systems. They speak to us through their own imperfect translation devices, but better than anything we could come up with.
Fiddleheads are a dying race, their breeding grounds and breeders were all killed off by the Tripeds, the remainder sterile. This will influence everything else that happens to them, and be have to be reflected in every Fidd character.
Then there’s the “Squiddies”, which are a cross between Thermians from Galaxy Quest and Squibbons from The Future Is Wild. They have mood skin, changing colors in complex patterns to communicate just as we have facial expressions and tones of voice. They’re mostly in a primitive hunter/gatherer culture, though one tribe is developing agriculture after being exposed to human farming. There’s complex relationships between them and humans, some tribes are more dangerous than others. Some humans have learned to communicate with some Squiddies directly.
The AIs are called Crofters. Older than humanity, and vastly intelligent. They can live indefinitely by “pruning” their adaptive programs, but most prefer to grow and develop over time, which means they age. After a few thousand years of this improvement they can become so complex that they turn “post-conscious”, no longer a sentient mind as we would understand it. Under rare conditions the Crofters can split off splinters of their own personalities, creating independent sub-minds. One such sub-mind is implanted in the body of the main (human) character. (It isn’t happy about being in that situation. Would you be?)
And there’s also the danger of a Crofter going “cancerous”, growing and changing so aggressively that they become dangerous to themselves and other. These unstable beings are destroyed as soon as they’re detected.
The Crofters and their sub-minds are the behind the scenes movers of the plot.
So those are my alien aliens, in all their variety and tentacled glory. Now all I have to do is give them all minds to suit the biology, and craft individual personalities for every one who interacts with human characters. Piece of cake, as the kids like to say these days.
But for the sequel, I’m thinking I’ll do something a bit different…