I initially published this article back in September last year. But other events rolled over me around that time, so I didn’t get around to providing the second half of this list. So as I’ve now completed it, I thought I’d reblog the original today, before adding the second half of the list.
Yalda from The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan – Book 1 of The Orthogonal
If you really enjoy hard science fiction with a strong, coherent and utterly different world and haven’t yet encountered this series, then do so. By tweaking a mathematical sign from minus to plus in an equation that governs space time, Egan has created a universe where light behaves completely differently – he writes at length about it on his website. To people his world, he also creates a species that don’t look like us and don’t breed like us. Once fertilised, the females bodies break down into two breeding pairs, effectively dying. So it is the males who are left with the task of raising the young and keeping society running. This creates tensions among women who don’t wish their lives to end prematurely, so refuse to mate with their co. Yalda is born without her opposite, larger and stronger than average and regarded as a freak in the farming community where she is raised. I loved her story from the first page. Read my original review here.
Illisidi from The Foreigner series by C.J. Cherryh
This is another extraordinary series. I need to catch up on it, because I’ve read the first six, but now realise to my delight that since I last read them, Cherryh has written a whole bunch more. Yippee! These books are about a human outpost on a planet already settled by tall, predatory dark-skinned aliens who use numbers and maths to make sense of their world. The protagonist is the diplomat, Bren Cameron, who lives among them, constantly striving to ensure communications between the two species stays peaceful. Illisidi is grandmother to the ruler, a stately, enigmatic lady very heavily involved in politics. Scary and stately by turns, she is intrigued by Bren. Cherryh is superb at writing tension and miscommunication.
The Fithp from Footfall by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
This famous alien invasion book lodges in my mind as the elephant-like aliens may superficially resemble the grazing beasts that live in Africa and Asia, but the Fithp are far more lethal. They don’t understand the concept of diplomacy, regarding species as either prey or predators. Prey are to be turned into useful slaves and predators are to be subjugated. A frightening species I loved to hate…
The Thranx from the Humanx Commonwealth series by Alan Dean Foster
These insectoid species stumble across a human crew while waging war with the AAnn. After scooping them up, they tweak humanity’s DNA a tad and then forge a close alliance with them. Foster is one of a handful of science fiction authors completely comfortable with producing a whole slew of remarkable and original alien lifeforms, but the Thranx is the one that stick in my mind.
The Ariekei from Embassytown by China Miéville
This is another book about a small enclave on a planet already settled by an alien species, but differs markedly from Cherryh’s Foreigner series in all sorts of important ways. The Hosts are large, powerful crablike creatures, who communicate with pairs of specially raised and trained humans. Until it all goes terribly wrong when a new pair of ambassadors turn up from off-planet and attempt to communicate with the Hosts… This offering blew me away with its sheer inventiveness and worldbuilding – particularly around the alien species. Miéville has also lots of interesting things to say about language and how it is used, along the way. Read my review here.
Once I started writing this, I realised it would be far too long if I included all my favourites in one article. So this is the first half… I’ll be adding the next tranche in due course.
Please don’t forget about the aliens in “Jem,” one of Fred Pohl’s best novels. They’re utterly alien in both appearance and psychology–not just “humans in rubber masks”–and Pohl even worked out their societal structure in some detail.
I haven’t read it! But I’ll have to do so now, given my weakness for excellently depicted aliens. Thank you for the recommendation:)
Thanks. Always an education to visit here. I appreciate your expertise and your shrewd reviews and recommendations. Regards Thom.
It’s kind of you to say so, Thom:).