Thursday, June 7, 2012

Human aliens, silicon, and science fiction

Sometimes people ask me why aliens in my books are so human. Good question! Let me give a little background to my line of thinking.
Most science fiction fans know life on our planet is considered carbon based. Carbon is the base building block both in us, and in the world around us. The carbon atom is versatile, and able to bind itself to many different substances in different ways.

Some science fiction deals with silicon based life forms. I always wondered, "Why Silicon?" It is the element closest to carbon in the periodic table, and in a theoretical environment where carbon didn't exist, or was scarce, silicon would seem the next logical choice.

I'm in no way a scientist - I am a writer - and even though I like to think I write at least feasible scenarios, my books are about people and their adventures and relations. The settings might be otherworldly, but I want the characters to be identifiable. If an intelligent silicon-based being exists outside our imagination, would they be able and willing to communicate with us? Maybe. Could we be friends? Maybe. Would such a life form look even remotely like us? I don't find it likely. Could they even exist in our environment? Maybe all this carbon would be lethal to them? Thinking of silicon based life forms makes my imagination run off with me. Unless I were to write something completely without humans, silicon seems like too much work.

We tend to assume life on other worlds will share characteristics with our own, but it's not necessarily so. There's no reason to assume life in other places would share our physical build with arms, legs, a head, a mouth, eyes... That line of thought makes even my imagination run headfirst into a brick wall. My mind, at least, needs something familiar to attach new ideas to. In our world, mammals, insects, fish, birds, almost every animal one can see has a head. Jellyfish might be an exception; they do look pretty alien. 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think most people can love a being very different from oneself, but there's a step from that to being in love with someone. Without going into details about DNA and genetic compatibility, I find the likelihood of a main character falling for someone of the same species much higher than the likelihood of him or her nurturing a crush on a stapler with tentacles. Thus, my main characters are humanoid. :-)

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