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Here's a question for you: why are xenomorphs in science fiction, and even in fantasy, so often athropodic?
Phylum Arthropodia includes subphyla Chelicerata (containing class Arachnida), Hexapoda (containing class Insecta), and Myriapoda (containing centipedes and millipedes).


Starship Troopers (both the book and the film)
The Talents series (The Rowan, Damia, Damia's Children, The Tower and the Hive)
Ender's Game
Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones



( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 25th, 2005 06:36 am (UTC)
...i dunno, whadda you think?
oh so philosophical-ish!

May. 25th, 2005 07:24 am (UTC)
Are you makin' funna mee?

May. 25th, 2005 06:38 am (UTC)
Because Bugs are Icky!
May. 25th, 2005 09:11 am (UTC)
Re: Doh!
See my reply to crypthanatopsis below!

May. 25th, 2005 07:12 am (UTC)
For a lot of them (like the Zerg, the buggers of Ender's Game, and the Klackons of Master of Orion), it's because the aliens have a hive mind, and we easily associate hive minds with insects.

Also, as someone else pointed out, bugs are icky. They're about the most alien-looking thing we have here on land visible to the naked eye.
May. 25th, 2005 07:24 am (UTC)
Individualism and _varelse_
All right, let's consider that. I am not a cultural anthropologist, nor have I any semblance of a background in mythology, psychology and other social sciences, etc.

But let's take a layperson's crack at it: xenomorphs (alien races) require an aspect of the "other", what Orson Scott Card refers to as varelse. Taking the proper deduction here gives us that people alienate properties that remind them strongly of aspects different from their own race: many legs, exoskeletons, etc. But it wouldn't be interesting to have lots of carniferns for enemies (well, it would to me, but put that aside for now). But there are plenty of weird-looking hominid creatures in SF: the Catteni, Kzin, and that cat race in Wing Commander I can't remember now; the quijillion races of the Star Wars universe; etc. What makes us gravitate towards the hive mind as varelse? Inference: We must think of ourselves as individualistic.

Also, as someone else pointed out, bugs are icky. They're about the most alien-looking thing we have here on land visible to the naked eye.
I don't entirely agree, but let's chalk it up to the diversity of Arthropoda compared to Mammalia. One thing I was expecting people to say is that there aren't that many other phyla to which we could impute fictional sentience easily. Me, I love sentient plants cf. the Supox in Star Control or the Neti of Myrkr in the Star Wars EU, but maybe I'm alone in that.

May. 25th, 2005 09:33 am (UTC)
Re: Individualism and _varelse_
You have to think about the lowest common denominator. The fact that you don't find bugs icky, or find talking plants interesting, doesn't mean that general public will or won't. Bugs are icky, hideous, plus bugs are supposed to be small, making them big is unnatural. Many people have
phobias on bugs and spiders.
The rules are simple. If you want something evil and unnatural, bugs are pretty much it. If you want evil but natural, or evil but noble, you go with reptilians or felines. If you want unnatural but funny/clever, you go with amphibians (Jabba). etc.
May. 25th, 2005 02:24 pm (UTC)
Re: Individualism and _varelse_
The intelligent cat race in Wing Commander is the Kilrathi.
May. 26th, 2005 04:07 pm (UTC)
That's it! Thanks. I still think of them as akin to Kzin cf. Niven.

May. 25th, 2005 05:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Individualism and _varelse_
I wasn't linking hive-mindedness to difference from humanity; insects are the only animals I know of that actually _can_ have a hive minds (bees, ants). The whole first half of the term "hive mind" comes from the name of the dwellings of insects, so when SF authors picked up the idea, I think bugs were the natural choice.

I think we can impute fictional sentience into just about anything. My favourite is anything abstract, like sentient words, forces, or time. Not that it's been covered much. I also enjoy sentient things that we don't even have animate versions of, like geographic features.
May. 25th, 2005 02:46 pm (UTC)
As you and I have already discussed, this is one of my biggest pet peeves is the fall back of 'bugs' as the bad guy. It is overdone and pretty much a plot device that says Oh I can't think of much else that's new. Your list is a nice start, let's add Men In Black, X-Files, Star Gate, etc to the list too now.

I think there are a variety of factors at work some of them already mentioned.

1. Most people have phobia's, so this strikes an unconscious chord at emotional manipulation in the viewer towards the bad guy thus forcing the viewer to 'root' for the good guy.

2. It is very difficult to come up with a completely new form or concept that an audience can relate to or understand.

3. It's 'easy' to use bugs.

4. Natural features of insects/bugs ie Hive Mind, Hard Protective Shells and Sugar Cravings can be iuseful traits to expound upon in character development and motivation. However, this ties back to something we already know or related to, at least in part, as an audience.

I love the character of Kip in Futurama. He is humanoid, has smooth skin, and yet he sheds it, but has none of the reptillian features we know as associated with most animals that shed their skin.
May. 28th, 2005 04:39 pm (UTC)
Good points all
... and discussed in the last massforge meeting. Synopsis to follow.

(See also the catalogs of aliens above and below in this thread.)


May. 26th, 2005 03:00 am (UTC)
The Little Green Men (TM) aren't bugs. Although you have a point - I'd say a good 40% of sci-fi aliens are modeled after bugs. All things considered, that's a huge percentage.
May. 26th, 2005 05:00 pm (UTC)
Little Green Men
Well, yes, that's a good point, too (LGM comprising Grays, Roswell/Area 51 hominids, etc.). There are some "story-internal" explanations for them in Stargate, Dark Skies, and Julian May's Intervention and Galactic Milieu series, even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, when the Roswell incident was revealed to be Quark, Rom, and Nog crash landing in a Federation shuttle (meh).

I understand that Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Taken also deal with grays, though I don't remember whether they are actually shown in Taken. I suppose Independence Day, which features Area 51, could be considered part of this "flying saucer" genre.

Cultural conceptions and taxa of xenomorphs fascinate me - particularly the parasites, particularly the serpentine Goa'uld of Stargate, the arthropods of First Wave, the ganglia of Dark Skies, and the larger "retro-parasites" of War of the Worlds (the TV series). Notice that even there, a large percentage of the parasites are arthropods (though that's a natural consequence of so many of our real parasites being arthropods). I believe the Borg of Star Trek could be considered to be infested with a cybernetic parasite, though as reformulated in First Contact and Voyager from the original hive mind notion, they would profess this to be a symbiosis. The "voluntary symbioses" such as the Trill and Tok'ra are even more interesting, as are the ones in Roswell, The Visitor, and Starman.

40% is rather a significant minority. I agree with you and darana that there are many other interesting xenomorphic archetypes, but I posed the question mainly because so many creative works (my own included) seem to get stuck in the rut of alienating the terrestrially strange.

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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