May 27, 2024


Science It Works

Five Classic SF Novels Written From an Alien Perspective

Unsurprisingly, most of science fiction’s protagonists tend to be human. After all, as far as we know, the vast majority of its audience members and creative staff are human. Nevertheless, some works take the alien perspective. Here are five classic examples.


Leviathan’s Deep by Jayge Carr (1979)

The matriarchal Delyene follow traditions that have not changed significantly for millennia. Why should they change the ways that have provided tolerable lives for all, even males? Alas for the Delyenes, their home world Delyafam is way too close to those claimed by the “Terrens.” The aliens have become ever more common and encroaching on Delyafam; change is inevitable.

The Kimassu Lady deals with those foolish Terrens who break Delyene law. One idealistic Terren uses his arrest as an opportunity to deliver a warning: Delyafam is endangered. Terrens are aggressive, numerous, technologically sophisticated, and well armed. They’ve convinced themselves that the Delyene are not really people. What the off-worlder cannot tell the Kimassu Lady is how to save her people from conquest and extermination.



Nor Crystal Tears by Alan Dean Foster (1982)

Ryo, a young Thranx, only realizes what his life’s calling might be when word comes to his backwater colony world of a disquieting discovery: the starship Zinramm has encountered a damaged alien ship, one belonging to a new and unfamiliar starfaring race. The aliens—humans—inside are utterly hideous and un-Thranxian.

Disquieting, yes, but it’s a problem that intrigues Ryo. He is determined to take part in this first contact.

Then authorities insist that there are no new aliens, that the whole affair was a joke. A dutiful Thranx would accept this at face value. Unconventional Ryo is convinced that the official proclamation is a lie. Why his government would conceal the truth of alien contact escapes Ryo. Nevertheless, he sets out to find—and, if necessary, free—the unspeakably monstrous (and for all he knows, Thanx-eating) space monsters despite, as he soon discovers, being wildly unsuited for the task. It is a bold decision that will guarantee his place in Thranx history.



Pride of Chanur by C. J. Cherryh (1982)

The Compact comprises seven technologically sophisticated species, each shaped by its own evolutionary history. In spite of sometimes profound communication problems, the seven coexist peacefully enough that violence is retail, not wholesale.

At Meetpoint Station,  , takes refuge in the hani trading ship Pride of Chanur. For reasons that made sense at the time, Pyanfar Chanur grants the furless, blunt-fingered alien sanctuary. In so doing, she offends the kif Akkhtimakt. In Akkhimakt’s eyes, Pyanfar has stolen Akkhimakt’s property. The kif do not forgive affronts. Pyanfar’s act of mercy makes her ship the target of a kif vendetta.



The Crucible of Time by John Brunner (1983)

Although strange to human eyes, the folk at the heart of this Brunner novel could have progressed as rapidly as humans, save for one misfortune. Their home star system happened to pass through a dense interstellar dust cloud just as the aliens began to clamber up the technology ladder. Although the passage through the cloud would be brief in geological time, it has been an eternal misery from the perspective of the aliens.

The episodic novel documents the rise and fall and rise and fall of the aliens. Each time the aliens recover from the previous calamity, a new setback brings them to their knees (or whatever land-dwelling octopoids use for knees). Nevertheless, the survivors never stop striving. It’s a race to escape their world before it is destroyed by the dust cloud.



Delan the Mislaid by Laurie J. Marks (1989)

Delan had always been viewed by the Walkers who raised him as an outsized, genderless, freak. Thus, when the opportunity to sell Delan presented itself, the Walkers were not inclined to ask awkward questions. They’d be rid of a useless mouth and get a little richer in the bargain.

Teksan is a cruel, demanding master…and an ambitious sorcerer. Unlike the Walkers, Teksan knows exactly what Delan is. Delan is the key to Teksan’s scheme to grab knowledge he is certain has been unjustly kept from him. True, the consequences won’t be wonderful for Delan, but that is a price Teksan is more than willing to pay.



I’ve limited myself to classic examples because (of course) there are too many recent examples to winnow it down to just five. Feel free to discuss in comments which recent examples would have fit the bill…

In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennial Darwin Award nominee James Davis Nicoll is of “questionable notability.” His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young People Read Old SFF(where he is assisted by editor Karen Lofstrom and web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.