Well, *my* own, I guess. I'm in a major sci-fi mood right now and I'm starting to worry that it might last until I start my official senior fiction writing project, which is supposed to show my ability to dedicate myself to a single story idea (ha!). Anyway, I actually have a plot and a few leads ready to go, but I'm struggling to lock down just what my nonhuman sapient main character who totally isn't a rip-off of my own Reads-With-Tail might look and think like.
I'm aiming for soft sci-fi with more of a social and character focus (so, Star Trek), but I still want to have some degree of realism at the foundations, and to that end I'm planning to anthropomorphize either a terrestrial species or at least more general grouping of land/amphibious animal. I can use real-world traits, everything from social behavior to vision spectrum, to construct the differences in how this kid sees the world.
For a basic idea of the plot - outline's not done yet, but I plan to work on it tonight - First Contact between this world and humanity goes hideously wrong, sort of in the style of Sonic SatAM. The ship that comes in to observe and decide how to proceed ends up setting up shop and trying to conquer the planet. The story starts at the end of the invasion, which spreads rapidly at first and then breaks down only a little less quickly as its resources are depleted and the collaborators fall out of favor. The main character, though young, has been deeply involved with one of the guerrilla factions and is part of the group that eventually seizes the starship.
After a fairly energetic first act dealing with the close of the war, the story slows down to deal with the aftermath - the sudden surge of human technology scavenged and reverse-engineered during the invasion, the sudden knowledge that there are other species (and fairly scary ones at that) out in the universe, the bitter rivalry between old factions that each get local credit for winning the war, and the first hesitant steps of this alien people out into the stars.
Anyway, here are the specific questions I'm working with. I'm going to spend quite a while thinking over each of these, and I'm really curious to see what other people would like to read about. Of course, pretty much all of my handful of dA friends and watchers are avowed furries, but it'll be interesting and probably very helpful all the same.
1. SPECIES. The big one, obviously, is who/what to use as the foundation for this race. Right now my mental image is something reptilian or avian, probably because of how much thought I've lavished on Reads-With-Tail. But I'd be open to suggestions, to hearing what other people might like to see underpinning an alien species. I'm trying to keep inspiration to the animal kingdom, though, and to critters that spend most of their time above water too, but those are about the only constraints I've formed so far.
2. With species selected, what sort of societies (plural, trying to avoid Planet of Hats here despite the Trekkie tone) might arise? A lot of this is stuff I'll develop once I've got the species dialed down, since there are a few different layers to it. After all, these *aren't* terrestrial animals anymore even if they evolved from very similar critters - if nothing else, the size difference is bound to have had some impact, especially if the original baseline was a dedicated herbivore or carnivore (and thus in need of very large amounts of a fairly limited type of food). All of that said, though, this is something I may scrap in favor of just creating interesting societies in the moment *without* needing to write their entire history from the earliest caveman days.
3. How do their physical differences impact their technological advances and stagnations? My current thought with the lizardmen is that they have difficulty naturally thermoregulating, so climate control - everything from air conditioning to cryogenic preservation - has always been a huge focus. It would reach into industry too; just as one example, larger mammals crave salt even more than humans do and would probably mine, refine, and even desalinate like mad to meet the craze as they develop the tech to do so. Regardless, my current idea is that they're somewhere around the level of modern humans tech-wise, with a budding space program and some solid communication and/or travel technology (in fact, it may end up being their comsats that lure human explorers there for First Contact).
4. What sort of fashions might they have evolved? What's the baseline? Humans have a two-piece outfit, shirt and leggings, underlying all of our myriad designs, though there are quite a few cultures and subcultures that use one-piece wrappings instead. Taboos and common desires go to war in determining what clothes emphasize, and there's always practicality to consider too. Perhaps fur, scales, feathers, or simple anatomy keep unwelcome signs of arousal hidden enough without clothes, perhaps those signs aren't unwelcome at all. Perhaps it's polite to keep your talons covered. Perhaps avians have developed some sort of flight scarf that actually enhances their lift or gliding duration. There are all sorts of ideas here, which makes it really hard to pick one and envision it as "the" style that my character will go with (especially since I haven't picked his body yet anyway!).
5. Finally, what about humanity (or other nonhuman aliens already involved in the interstellar community, if there are any) would these people find fascinating? Terrifying? Intriguing? Disgusting? I don't even mean morally or philosophically, though I'm sure that'll come up too. I'm just talking about Bizarre Alien Biology, technology, and maybe aesthetics. I think there'd be plenty of room for humor in this as long as I don't just keep harping on it every second line.
Basically, I'm trying to literally *envision* my main character before I start writing, but right now I've got too many possibilities and not enough constraints, and that's why I'd like to see what sorts of things other people would like to see in a SF novel.
Hopefully this all sounds interesting to anyone who's interested enough to read this far! I'd love to hear thoughts and feedback on any part of the concept - and if any of my watchers think they know anyone else who'd appreciate a discussion on the topic then I would be more than happy to hear from them too. I always learn far more than I ever expect to from conversations like this.
MAJOR UPDATE: I've largely settled on the character design - big thanks to
for mentioning his Bio-Zenith and putting me on track. I'm going to work with a reptilian centauroid - basically a six-limbed stegosaurus that generally walks reared up and has significant dexterity with its front limbs. Keeping the ectothermic biology and exceptional color vision from real-world reptiles as well, and I think I'm going to make this lot dedicated herbivores too.
That's what I have locked down. But it gives rise to a number of new questions I'm struggling to build a mental image for.
1. What's the scale relative to a human? I have the idea that infants start off crawling on all six limbs and gradually develop the core strength to stay upright, but even at that stage I don't really know how big or small they should be. Are adults as tall as a human, taller, shorter? How bulky? I imagine them being fairly stout both in the torso and abdomen, at least under ideal conditions, and having a tail that starts off similarly broad and tapers quickly, but "fairly stout" relative to what exactly? Lastly, how much of their height comes from long limbs versus pure body? Are the legs tree trunks or widespread crocodile flippers? Since they're landbound rather than amphibious I'd tend towards either stout dinosaur legs or spindly gecko legs, but I can't make up my mind - and it's fairly reliant on their height and weight in the first place too. Anyone have any thoughts?
2. Transportation. This one is reliant on their size, of course, but what do their cars look like? Aircraft, tractors, living mounts (though their anatomy makes those fairly impractical), all of those would be radically different from human models just because of the different proportions. Even folded up fairly tightly on a mat (or just on the floor), they'd need a lot more surface area per person than humans do, and if they're big and heavy then designing anything to fit them would be extremely challenging. All the same, especially for an herbivorous society, I can't imagine them not having at least one-man motorized farm equipment and probably one- or two-man motor trucks (these wouldn't actually be too different from human models, really). But aircraft, mass transit, military vehicles, and even civilian automobiles all come with a lot of challenges that my brain can't quite wrap itself around yet.
3. Oviparious or viviparious? Again this mostly depends on the size, but even for smaller entities I can't imagine that giving live birth to a six-limbed infant or several is particularly healthy. Then again, considering how many mammals give birth to massive litters in a single go, it's not impossible either. Eggs might change the core social structure too, especially if they're secured and incubated communally instead of privately. And in this time of invasion and scarcity, I imagine both methods would carry a lot of potential for tragedy.
4. Environmental conditions are still somewhat up in the air, though the *immediate* setting has some...specific changes (more on that later). I envision two moons and a single star, but the star's size, color, and distance aren't really clear to me. That'll also determine their natural timeframe - as reptiles they're probably pretty long-lived, but how long is a local year relative to Terran time? Atmosphere I'm just going to keep fairly similar to Earth's, but pressure may change as well. And then there's gravity, which I'll probably tailor to fit the physique I eventually settle on - heavy grav for stockier builds, low or mid for lighter ones.
5. Lastly (for now), fingers, talons, or vestigial talons at the tips of the fingers? I'm trying to decide just how dexterous these guys will be compared to humans, and to a lesser degree what their tools and weapons will look like. For the clumsier talons or nubs most of the fine motor control would probably be in the wrist and forearm, guiding the hand to the right place to grip or tap something, while fingers would be little different from human fingers except in the specifics.
As for other decisions, I've kind of settled on tech bases for both sides. Humans have a dramatic lead in cybernetics, telecommunications, networking, and robotics, and nearly everything else is more efficient or more powerful just by dint of more iterations and improvements. As a result, they can fabricate new tools and weapons very quickly, even rapidly repairing and building more security robots and exploration probes as long as they have the resources to do so (which is part of why the renegade captain goes all Robotnik on the planet - he wants to essentially create an army of his own with the undivided resources of his new little fiefdom). Nearly everything from combat to EVA repairs is handled by remote now, generally with just one or two humans out as extra eyes. Space exploration has also honed their sensor capacity and fidelity, meaning their ships and bots tend to field lots and lots of cameras that see in pretty much all spectra.
The locals, meanwhile, actually might have the edge on the intruders in area climate control, since so much of their planet was a challenge to domesticate. While they may *prefer* taking long naps on hot rocks or dipping into shady spots to cool off, they've also developed a lot of skinsuits and hardsuits for working in conditions that would otherwise incapacitate them fairly quickly, and their buildings and workspaces have very efficient air conditioning. They've applied a number of technologies to heating and cooling, and while material limits still have them hampered they're doing some very creative things with Peltier and magnetic coolers. Then there are aerosols, which are particularly popular among police and more restrictive governments for quickly (but briefly) making life very uncomfortable across fairly wide areas. Localized changes in humidity can have similar effects as well, and architecture takes gleeful advantage of water features to retain heat in cold areas and dump it in hot ones.
When not-Robotnik comes knocking he starts off by just observing the locals like he's supposed to. Once he's determined they're temperature-sensitive and depend on lots of agriculture to keep themselves alive, he kicks a few of his probes into the planet as on-demand meteor strikes, basically going for a marginally less omnicidal version of the standard dinosaur extinction event theory. The widely distributed impacts not only damage some croplands directly but also kick up smoke, dust, and debris into a global cloud, quickly wilting the rest of the plant life and impacting the locals. Then he swoops in and generously offers the support of his advanced technology to create a few safe zones that can provide food to the rest of the planet, and all he asks in return are loyalty, obedience, and lots of menial workers to provide him with the metals and petrochemicals he needs to bulk up his robot army. Most countries and populations accede without a fight, but a few stubborn ones go into liberty-or-death mode and start the initial resistance.
Then people stumble across the wreckage of the probes at the various impact craters - he salvaged most of it but missed enough - and realize what really happened. This is when he starts losing the support of his organic crew and local collaborators, but he's got enough military presence and the threat of starvation is still strong enough that it takes local decades to oust him. By that point there are children alive - including my primary viewpoint character - who haven't known a time when there weren't metal monsters waiting to pounce on anyone who went out scrounging for food, children and young adults who have never seen a clear sky, and when the victory day finally arrives it's left some massive generational scars in every culture on the planet. And then they find the rest of the humans, and things just get even more confused.
Lastly, I found that that "Heavens Divide" from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walkers, taken literally, is a surprisingly good synopsis of what I've got planned for my unlucky lizards. I already enjoy the song, but I was humming it while on a trip downtown earlier and suddenly realized how appropriate it was. Just felt like sharing that along with everything else in this massive post.
This honestly could have used another journal, but I'm still interested in continuing the old comment threads and seeing if anyone else has interesting thoughts on the initial premise. I'm thinking of trying a short story to get my feet wet in this universe - this might even turn into an anthology rather than a contiguous novel, we'll see. But I need to work out some of the rest of this first. So, do any of my handful of readers have any thoughts here?