A bunch of authors responded. Also, I did (somewhat at length). Interesting stuff.
Humans with funny foreheads are easy; truly alien aliens are hard. With that in mind, here’s what we asked our panel of experts:
Q: What successfully makes an alien character, well, really alien?
You’ll notice Peter Watts’ Blindsight gets prominent mention here. It just so turned out to be the book I was reading when the invitation to participate showed up in my email, and, well, was perfectly relevant. It’s also one of the best books I’ve ever read, and really, it felt like finally someone had put into SFnal form all those ideas I was first exposed to in Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine back in grad school, plus so much of what we’ve learned since.
Watts released this novel (like a number of others he’s written) under a Creative Commons license, and it’s available on his website in HTML form. (Or you can get it from a number of other public domain/CC sites like Manybooks.net.) I actually read it on my Kindle, but I bought a hardback years ago, which is in a box somewhere in Seoul. I’m so glad I did: support for excellence is a good thing. Which, on that note, is a good moment to mention that Watts’ newest book, Echopraxia–set in the same universe as Blindsight–just came out a little over a month ago. Though I have tons of books here in Saigon I need to get through before we leave, it’s still on my TBRTYD (To Be Read This Year Dammit) list.
(Or, if you haven’t bought Blindsight, you could buy the omnibus of Blindsight and Echopraxia, if you like: it’s titled Firefall. It costs the same as Echopraxia alone.)
Oh, and I’ll throw this in: I met Watts, once, on the street, very briefly–he wouldn’t remember, as it was a random encounter late at night on a street in a foreign country–but I remember him being pleasantly surprised that he was even more genuine and nice than I had expected.
Here’s the trailer for Echopraxia.