|Above: a Pov-Ray model of the famous Dalek from Dr Who (Code appearing soon) - external link: Dr Who.
Earthling sci-fi has made some interesting attempts to imagine possible alien life-forms. In this article we will explore aspects of
some of these aliens and how they draw on or relate to scientific concepts and we will also touch upon cultural influences.
Tentacled brains are one of the most intriguing and most successful concepts in science fiction. One of the earliest Was the
Martians in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds.
[External links: http://www.fourmilab.ch/etexts/www/warworlds/warw.html, http://www.online-literature.com/wellshg/warworlds/ ].
"I think everyone expected to see a man emerge - possibly something a little unlike us terrestrial men, but in all essentials a
man. I know I did. But, looking, I presently saw something stirring within the shadow: greyish billowy movements, one above
another, and then two luminous disks - like eyes. Then something resembling a little grey snake, about the thickness of a
walking stick, coiled up out of the writhing middle, and wriggled in the air towards me - and then another."
"A big greyish rounded bulk, the size, perhaps, of a bear, was rising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder. As it bulged up
and caught the light, it glistened like wet leather.
Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me steadfastly. The mass that framed them, the head of the thing, was rounded,
and had, one might say, a face. There was a mouth under the eyes, the lipless brim of which quivered and panted, and
dropped saliva. The whole creature heaved and pulsated convulsively. A lank tentacular appendage gripped the edge of the
cylinder, another swayed in the air.
Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance. The peculiar
V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedgelike lower lip,
the incessant quivering of this mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange
atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth - above
all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes - were at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous. There was
something fungoid in the oily brown skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of the tedious movements unspeakably nasty.
Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread."
"They were, I now saw, the most unearthly creatures it is possible to conceive. They were huge round bodies - or, rather,
heads - about four feet in diameter, each body having in front of it a face. This face had no nostrils - indeed, the Martians do
not seem to have had any sense of smell, but it had a pair of very large dark-coloured eyes, and just beneath this a kind of
fleshy beak. In the back of this head or body - I scarcely know how to speak of it - was the single tight tympanic surface, since
known to be anatomically an ear, though it must have been almost useless in our dense air. In a group round the mouth were
sixteen slender, almost whiplike tentacles, arranged in two bunches of eight each. These bunches have since been named
rather aptly, by that distinguished anatomist, Professor Howes, the hands. Even as I saw these Martians for the first time they
seemed to be endeavouring to raise themselves on these hands, but of course, with the increased weight of terrestrial
conditions, this was impossible. There is reason to suppose that on Mars they may have progressed upon them with some
The internal anatomy, I may remark here, as dissection has since shown, was almost equally simple. The greater part of the
structure was the brain, sending enormous nerves to the eyes, ear, and tactile tentacles. Besides this were the bulky lungs,
into which the mouth opened, and the heart and its vessels. The pulmonary distress caused by the denser atmosphere and
greater gravitational attraction was only too evident in the convulsive movements of the outer skin.
And this was the sum of the Martian organs. Strange as it may seem to a human being, all the complex apparatus of digestion,
which makes up the bulk of our bodies, did not exist in the Martians. They were heads - merely heads. Entrails they had none.
They did not eat, much less digest. Instead, they took the fresh, living blood of other creatures, and injected it into their own
veins. I have myself seen this being done, as I shall mention in its place. But, squeamish as I may seem, I cannot bring myself
to describe what I could not endure even to continue watching. Let it suffice to say, blood obtained from a still living animal, in
most cases from a human being, was run directly by means of a little pipette into the recipient canal.... "
Wow! Such lucid and entertaining descriptions! The Martians also lacked bony parts, either having lost them during the course
of evolution or having evolved from boneless jellyfish-like or squid-like creatures. (They did have some dead humanoid
creatures they brought with them, which did have bones, though too weak to stand up to Earth's higher gravity, and these may
have been used a s food, i.e. a source of blood.) Although they may have been much more agile on Mars, they nevertheless
appeared to be largely degenerate, relying instead on their machines, of which they made several different types. Crab-like or
spider-like handling machines were the most dextrous, but the tripod fighting machines were also quite agile, higher than a
steeple and faster than a steam engine. Their joints appeared to be operated by electromagnetic pistons, evidenced by the
visible workings (H.G. Wells' description is like something futuristic even by modern sci-fi standards!) and of course they used
poison gas and lasers as their primary weapons, which they wielded by means of mechanical tentacles. The Martians were
trying to refine flying machines, but they were having difficulty adapting to earth's greater gravity and denser atmosphere.
These machines all had 'hoods' in which a Martian controller sat, operating the various levers with great dexterity. Wells was
keen to convey the notion that the fighting machines were not rigid as some may imagine. The hood could turn like the hooded
head of a man in a cowl. The five-legged handling machines were the most dextrous and wells likens them to living crab-like
creatures. H.G. Wells was clearly well ahead of his time!
This theme has been a recurring one - the possibility that reliance on machines could cause a race to become mere tentacled
brains, capable of pushing buttons but of little more athletic prowess. The Martians also used automated robots, one is seen
excavating and fortifying a pit around one of the capsules in which the Martians arrive (capsules that are fired from a giant
cannon to launch them from Mars).
|The exact descriptions of the organic part of a Dalek vary, sometimes attributed to their continued (and even repeated)
evolution, sometimes due to a new strain appearing (like that which was based upon genetically engineered human parts
taken from dead people in Resurrection of the Daleks) or to parallel development in a parallel Universe (until recently the
Doctor was easily able to travel sideways between universes, until that is the Daleks defeated the Time Lords in the Time
Wars, since the Time Lords resolved the anomalies arising from such mixing between universes!). Sometimes, the Daleks
were feeble, vaguely humanoid creatures whose bodies were feeble and almost useless unassisted, other times they were
simply blobs, though quite vigorous in their movements and with a poisonous bite! Most recently, they have been depicted
as essentially tentacled brains. Always, they have been green!
Dalek technology is impressive. However, their capabilities vary, from the earliest descriptions to the most recent,
sometimes the Daleks have been vulnerable, lacking mobility, and other times they have been almost indestructible.
Perhaps it depends which time period one is in, though it also seems to defend on their purpose - resources are always
limited and it makes sense to give the best weapons, armour and power units to main battle Daleks, technicians having less
need for such. The latest Daleks are quite capable of hovering and flying, since the Daleks gradually miniaturised their
anti-gravity technology, dispensing with the large anti-grav discs of earlier forms and incorporating the anti-grav units into
their own casings. Daleks also have defensive energy fields (thermal or electrical or some other energy) capable of instantly
vapourising incoming projectiles. Disappointingly, we have never really seen how the toughest models stand up to heavy
weaponry (that would make a good episode!).
The Kaleds were human as far as we can tell, or at least humanoid. The series offers no explanation for how human-like
aliens, like Time Lords and Kaleds, could have evolved. However, a good explanation can be found. In the Dr Who story
'Image of the Fendahl' we learn that human-like creatures existed, long before humans on Earth, on what was then the 5th
planet, now the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. These people were known by the Time Lords (may they be related
in antiquity?) but were destroyed by the Fendahl, who fed upon them parasitically and which was eventually defeated by the
Time Lords. However, the Fendahl influenced evolution on nearby Earth, causing life to evolve into its desired human-like
vehicles. Maybe they also caused such parallel evolution on Mondas, the tenth planet, which was somehow linked to Earth,
being Earth's sister planet, and on which a human race also evolved (and which became the Cybermen). I think that would
be a neat explanation, but nobody else seems to have spotted it!
|The Dalek transition from humanoid to tentacled blob occurred as a result of nuclear war on their homeworld, Skaro. The
intense radiation produced caused its inhabitants to mutate. This war was interminable and very few were left. The Kaled
scientist, Davros, himself crippled by a radiation blast, accelerated the mutation of Kaled subjects, hoping to reach a stable
and viable adapted end-point. However, he also took the liberty to abolish their emotions, except perhaps for 'negative'
emotions like hate and anger and arrogance. The result was the Daleks - fighting machines concerned only with their own
survival, they largely exterminated the inhabitants of Skaro (though some remained to mutate full-cycle) and even turned on
Davros! The horror of the Daleks, born out of an all-out war, taken to its ultimate conclusion, was also inspired by Earth's
WWII and the fanatical and desperate experiments of scientists to develop more destructive weapons, typically with complete
disregard for the 'Rules of War' or ethics. The Kaled rulers, in particular, are reminiscent of the Nazi Party of WWII Germany,
with Davros, hell-bent on creating his 'master-race', drawing criticism from all but those most loyal to him. It is a poignant
reminder of the fragility of civilisation, especially civilisation confined to a single planet.
So, Daleks can fly and they are tough and powerful, but critics might say that their cumbersome size and shape would make
it easy(ish) to hide from one. The eye stalk is also sometimes a vulnerability, although the hemispheres around the Dalek's
casing are sensor-globes of some sort (so I am not sure it should be so easy to sneak up on one, unless it isn't paying
attention to its sensor readouts). The panels around the neck region are also photosonic screens that detect and record
light and sound waves.
The pair of protuberances on the head, which flash when Dalek's talk, are energy dispensors that discharge excess or waste
energy. [This would make sense if Dalek's are designed for stealth - supposing they are designed not to radiate much heat
to avoid detection on infrared sensors, then they would need to store and discharge that heat at some point in a controlled
manner). Dalek's have also been known to experiment with invisibility, though only with partial success (just as well!).
Many people who expect a powerful alien race to be super-strong and super-tough, however, often miss the point. In the
future, the most important battles will be fought and lost in space. The combatant that gains control of space will eventually
win. Sure planets can be very well defended, but they can be sieged and laid to waste slowly if need be. Lose control of
space and their is little one can do in the long-run! [Feel vulnerable humans? Good, then perhaps you will get off your
behinds and colonise space!] Besides, a Dalek spaceship can easily destroy whole planets! Another Dalek strength is their
power to multiply - like all living beings the power of multiplication can more than compensate for any weakness of the
individual. In The Power of the Daleks, human colonists on the planet Vulcan (with its liquid-mercury geysers!) discover an
ancient Dalek capsule and reactivate the Daleks who trick the humans into believing them benevolent, whilst all the time they
are draining the colony's power supply to create an army of Daleks!
Parasites are often bizarre organisms and induce both fascination and disgust, and hence they make excellent sci-fi
monsters! Just looking at the range of parasitic life-forms on Earth, a diversity of 'alien' forms becomes apparent! Parasites
are also top of the food-chain and in some senses they are superior organisms.
Parasites, and especially intelligent parasites, are also popular in sci-fi. One example is the Wirrrn, (as they call themselves,
more usually spelt Wirrn) shown above. These larger (more-or-less human-sized) insect-like creatures are parasitoids and
human beings make suitable hosts! A parasitoid is similar to a parasite, except that a parasitoid must consume and destroy
one host in order to complete its development. Examples are found in the insect world, for example, certain wasps lay their
eggs in other insects, generally the host is a larval insect like a caterpillar, and one of the eggs will go on to develop,
consuming the host in the process. Generally the host larva will pupate as normal, during which stage the parasitoid
consumes its tissues and emerges from the pupa in its place!
The Wirrrn progenitor or queen had been floating through deep space in a near dormant state for countless ages (fleeing
destruction on another planet) until eventually she is activated by and attracted to the light emanating from a human space
station toward which she drifts. The space station is the Space Ark. Set in Earth's future during a time when the Sun is
predicted to undergo a period of intense activity, almost sterilising the Earth, the chosen few go into space and sit in
deep-freeze (suspended animation) until the Earth is again suitable for recolonisation. (Those left behind don't all die, but
manage to colonise other planets and these colonies survive). Entering the Ark and wounded by the station's automated
defense systems, the progenitor manages to lay eggs in one of the sleeping humans before she dies. This human is
consumed, but more than that, some of their memories (and possibly some of their genetic information) is incorporated into
the resulting Wirrrn, but the instincts become largely Wirrrn. Thus Wirrrn produces more larvae (perhaps by
parthenogenesis ('virgin-birth') or asexual reproduction.
The development of these free-living larvae differs from the parasitoid stage. The first-stage larvae are multinucleate
plasmodia (similar to plasmodial slime moulds) and colonial, capable of transmuting into a viscous slime, fragmenting and
coalescing, multiplying by fission, or solidifying into masses of green 'crackling bubbles' which luminesce. These larvae are
ciliated, presumably the cilia assist in locomotion. They can grow very rapidly with the aid of intense solar radiation
(presumably elements are scavenged from a variety of sources with help of their acidic secretions) and reproduce asexually
by fission (this is the process of polyembryony - the asexual reproduction of larvae to produce more larvae). Bubbling and
acidic, they coalesce to form man-sized 'slugs', the second-stage larvae which crawl, leaving slime trails behind them, and
possessing a ventral row of red suckers. These can produce large globules and tendrils which are capable of actively
seeking a host to infect, by skin contact, using their acidic secretions to penetrate the host's integument.
The final larval stage resembles a cross between a giant caterpillar and a giant maggot. With green skin, sensory bristles
surround a large gaping mouth and at least the anterior part of the body has two rows of ventral suckers for locomotion.
Symptoms of infection
Initially the infective slime enters the body through the skin, almost immediately upon contact and later reemerges at the
infection site as larval Wirrrn skin, causing pain and disorientation, as internally the brain is infected. An infected limb has 'a
life of its own.' The host struggles between self and Wirrrn identity, as the Wirrrn takes control of the host's nervous system.
Either some of the host's nervous system persists for a long time, or the Wirrrn incorporates memories from the host. laser
lances are effective at burning away pieces of larval tissue.
the pupae are cloudy-translucent ovoid 'crystalline' structures, attached to surfaces. The forming Wirrrn can be seen moving
within. The adults hatch by using their razor-sharp leg spines, causing splintering of the pupal case.
The adults, or imagos, hatch from the pupae, or form directly from an infected host. The latter inherit human knowledge and
typically become the leaders of a Wirrrn swarm. Typically over six feet tall and immensely strong, though quite slow moving
in Earth-strength gravity, as they drag their leathery abdomens. Six limbs sprout from the mid-torso (thorax). When
developing on an infected host, they do so by shedding the host's skin around the head, but by smothering growth
elsewhere on the body and the limbs burst-out from the position of the host's arms.
The abdomen ends in a powerful pincer capable of slicing sheet-metal. The spines on the legs are used in defense and also
sound-generation by stridulation (used in communication). At least some retain the host's ability of speech (is this eventually
lost?). In addition to retaining memories from an infected host, Wirrrn have a vivid and accurate racial memory, recalling the
memories of past host and Wirrrn generations. Somehow, memories are encoded in the cells that pass on from generation
to generation. The abdomen possesses an egg-tube or ovipositor, capable of laying eggs in a host, and probably also
responsible for asexual or parthenogenetic production of free-living larvae.
The large yellow eyes are capable of controlled luminescence, either as a sign of anger (communication) or to assist night
vision. Large mandibles are present, and a very large brain. Intelligence is obvious. Wirrrn adults, at least, are capable of
surviving rapid decompression in a vacuum and also rapid recompression. Lungs are present and used in olfaction as well
as breathing and can store oxygen, which can be enzymically recycled from CO2, allowing continued respiration for
prolonged periods such that lungs require infrequent refilling. They can survive in space for thousands of years and must be
capable of some directed locomotion in space. Massive electrical discharge can damage adult tissues and very intense heat
can melt them into a glass-like substance. Other than that, they appear very hard to damage!
The alien in the classic film Alien, was also a parasitoid and may have been inspired by the Wirrrn, which again proves my
point - taking a good idea and changing it significantly can be a very successful recipe. The Wirrrn itself was inspired by a
natural phenomena (Nature's great 'ideas') discovered by science. Sci-fi writers should not shy away from science - the
audience need not understand jargon like 'ciliated' or 'plasmodial' or to have ever encountered parasitoids to appreciate the
story, but these things add relish to those of us who do understand them! [No dumbing-down of sci-fi please!]
|The final stage Wirrrn larva.
|A Diversity of Parasitic Aliens
Other fascinating parasitic life-forms have appeared in Dr Who. In 'The Seeds of Doom', the Krinoid was a type of alien
plant-life whose seeds had been scattered through space. Two seeds fell to Earth and germinated into tendrils that lacerate
the skin of their unfortunate human victims. Vegetative growth rapidly smoothers the human host and eventually grows into
a giant motile and sentient plant, with the psychic ability to animate nearby plants and turn them into formidable adversaries,
larger than a house, green and tentacled - a terrible tentacled thing, immune to laser beams that only serve to nourish it.
Fortunately, this mature Krinoid is destroyed before it sporulates. Parasitic life-forms form the centre of the popular sci-fi
'Stargate' and the theme has also been explored in Star Trek.
In the Star Trek (The Original series) episode Operation Annihilate (one of my favourites) the crew of the Enterprise
encounter curious cell-like organisms, about one foot across, that have infested a federation colony of Deneva. The
organisms cling to surfaces, in the shade, and will drop (or propel themselves through the air) onto a target into which they
inject spores. The spores develop into a mass of entwining tendrils that ensheath the central nervous system, allowing the
sentient organism to take control of the host, by administering excruciating agony as a punishment. The aliens are
attempting to use the Denevans to construct space-ships for them, so that they can infect more planets. The aliens are from
another Universe, with different physical laws, and are comprised of a matter which resists all energies thrown at it, except
for UV light, which is ultimately used to sterilise the planet of the aliens. Each alien was apparently but a single 'brain' cell in
a large collective brain, with the macroscopic cells physically separated in space but connected by some other means (such
as telepathy) and able to draw power from one-another.
Sophisticated viruses (not necessarily viruses in the strict biological sense) also make good science fiction. [under
Strange Matters - It's life, but not as we know it!
Few aliens can be more alien than those composed of strange matter. Of course, it would be naive to expect an alien's
biochemistry to be of terrestrial type, though most aliens are at least organic. Some aliens in sci-fi are silicon-based, rather
than carbon-based, since silicon has some similarities to carbon in its chemistry (though it is no substitute under terrestrial
conditions). In the Star trek (Original series) episode 'The Devil in the Dark', a curious silicon-based alien murders a
number of humans, but only, as is later learnt, in order to protect its eggs. In the episode 'The Savage Curtain' the
Excalbians are rocklike creatures, whose body temperature is so high that their touch burns human flesh. They have clawed
hands and several luminous eyes irregularly distributed over their bulbous heads. These creatures live on the highly
volcanic planet Excalbia and have the (technological) ability to manipulate the form of matter at will.
In Dr Who, the warlike Sontarans (or at least their warriors) are clones, mass-produced, and each fitted (on joining the Star
Corps) with a probic vent, at the back of the neck, through which they feed on raw energy, requiring no organic sustenance.
This is their only weak spot to such primitive weapons as clubs and knives (though swords can allegedly cut their flesh),
since their tough tissues can withstand most normal attacks. Their biochemistry is quite alien, their tissues consisting of
'hpercatalysed polymers' which it is implied may be capable of synthesising atoms from the raw energy food stuff. Their
brains are described as like 'wet seaweed' and their lungs like 'iron wool'. It is not clear whether or not they have a
water-based solvent, their saliva is black and oily and their breath releases noxious chemical vapours which are sometimes
hissed from their red glowing eyes or nostrils as jets of toxic (to humans) gas. After a recent energy-feed, the Sontarans
possess great strength, essential to their life on Sontara, a planet, in an unknown region of space, with many times Earth's
gravity. One Sontaran is described wielding a 300 kg gravity bar like a stick! (Suggesting that they are at least ten times the
strength of an average human).
Some aliens are made from even stranger forms of matter. In Lovecraft's 'The Whisperer in Darkness' (Necronomicon) the
Outer Ones claim to originate in the dark voids outside the normal stellar space. They are a kind of pale-red fungous
organism with green blood, disc-like heads bearing 'pyramidal fleshy rings or knots of rope-like stuff bearing feelers', many
legs (though sometimes rising-up on the hindmost pair) and great wings with which they can glide through space. Their
atoms differ, their electrons vibrating at different rates.
The alien above is my Pov-Ray version of an alien depicted in a children's book (The World (Mysteries) of the
Unknown) I saw many years ago (was one of my favourite books). It's design is actually quite practical for a
creature designed for a low-gravity world.
|The Zygons from the Doctor Who adventure, "Terror of the Zygons"
(aka "Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster"). This highly
technological race were scattered across the galaxy in their spaceships
when their home-world (and presumably nearby stellar systems) was
devastated in a stellar explosion. One such ship crash-landed on Earth,
several centuries prior to the 20th in which the Zygons finally make their
move after lengthy repairs and slowly rebuilding their power.
|Zygons excel in cybernetic technology; their spaceship and all their technological devices are at least part organic and
grown to specifications. Their home-world was a very damp planet, covered in lakes, and in these lakes they reared
plesiosaur-like creatures, called skarasen, upon whose milk they feed. They brought an embryonic skarasen with them to
Earth and converted into a powerful cyborg to whom, the Zygons boast, a nuclear missile would be a 'mere pin-prick'. This
cyborg is to be their main weapon with which to subdue and conquer the Earth, turning it into a new home for the nomadic
Zygons. Zygons are recognisably individuals, with names like Broton and Marda. This elludes to a sexual mode of
reproduction, though no sexual dimorphism has been observed (they may even be hermaphroditic or maybe they rely on in
vitro fertilisation). Broton, the spaceship captain, is particularly arrogant and over-confident in Zygon technology and
delights in impressing and terrifying the primitive Earthlings by technological demonstrations. (It is not known to what extent
these attributes are typical of the Zygon psyche). In this respect the Zygons are much like H. G. Wells' Martians, or indeed
the early human European colonialists in viewing less technological species as fundamentally less important animals, whom
they have the right to subjugate and abuse for their own purposes. (Though the Martians and Zygons can at least use their
desperate struggles for survival as some crude excuse).
Biologically the Zygons have the ability to generate electrical charge that they use to shock or sting by the tough of their
hands. The strength of this sting can be regulated, but at maximum can kill a human being. On Earth, such abilities are
unique to certain aquatic fish, like the electric eel. Of course electricity propagates more easily in water, but the main
reason seems to be that it evolved from an electrical sense used by many fish to navigate murky waters. This may elude to
aquatic or amphibian origins of Zygons, or perhaps their humid planet has a murky atmosphere. Zygons are coated in
sucker-like protruberances, the function of which has never been stated. However, one possible function is generation of
the electric charge, perhaps they act as electrical cells or capacitors connected in series, much like the modified muscle
cells in the stinging organs of electric fish. Perhaps they have the unusual ability to generate static electric charge.
presumably these protuberances also have a cosmetic function. Other possible functions include gas exchange (either
absorbing some gas for respiration or photosynthesis, or excreting some gas or pheromone), excretion and sensation
(perhaps functioning like the electric sensors of fish, but adapted for use on land, or perhaps for sensing vibrations). They
probably also serve a protective function, and seem to be positioned above key skeletal elements, of which they may be
outgrowths. Zygons are quite strong and although lacking some degree of agility they can run quite fast. Their strange
whispering voices sound especially alien, though some have speculated that they have difficulty breathing the relatively dry
air on Earth. They live for several centuries.
Zygons have the technological ability to assume different shapes by molecular rearrangement. They can, for example,
assume the identity of a human individual, using the living original to generate the template whenever needed (they
evidently do not have sufficient computer capacity to store multiple replicas indefinitely, which require vast amounts of
data). Their ability to sting, however, is only possessed when in their original form - suggesting that it is indeed an innate
One of the most notable features of Zygons, however, is that they have vast cranial capacities, and presumably very large
brains. Indeed, their head is so large that it has fused to the trunk and Zygons have very little, if any, ability to turn the
head. Nevertheless the advantages of such a large brain are obvious (though large brains generate heat and require lots
of energy - perhaps the sucker-like protuberances are part of a cooling system?). The original intention behind the Zygons
was to create a race that represented embryonic humans, with their relatively large heads. Humans evolved from more
apelike ancestors in large part by a process of neotenisation - the retention of juvenile features in the adult state: the large
human head lacking thick muscles attached to large bony protuberances and with infantile features, the lack of body hair,
the upright posture and even the presence of the foreskin and hymen, are all infantile and even embryonic features in
apes (though the upright posture may have been inherited directly from the common ancestors of both apes and humans
who were possibly bipedal). Taking this process further one might end-up with something resembling the 'space goblins' or
the aliens that typify UFO legends, with their large heads and large eyes.
The Zygons are especially successful, as sci-fi aliens, because they are human enough for the audience to relate to, but
different enough to look convincingly alien. Perhaps similar in this regard are the Draconians, a favourite of the third
Doctor, Jon Pertwee, for the same basic reason - they can be related to and interacted with due to their recognisable
moods and emotions and facial expressions (but these reptilioid race still looks convincingly alien). That said, writers should
not assume that all aliens need recognisable and expressionful faces in order to be successful - the Daleks are indeed
very popular! Perhaps a variety of aliens is the key.
The best ideas often take popular themes and modify them in such a way that connections to the original idea are not
obvious. Tolkien did this in his outstanding Lord of the Rings - borrowing from Saxon and Nordic myths, and perhaps from
their Celtic counterparts which are, at any rate, quite similar. Thus Gandalf, or Mithrandir, is similar in many ways to Odin or
Merlin, and the Elves resemble those of Nordic myth, or the Fay of Celtic myth. One such great leap in sci-fi was so well done
that it took me an embarrassingly long time to spot the connection - Terry Nation's Daleks! Another great sci-fi contribution,
but one which is based along similar themes to H.G. Wells' Martians - tentacled brains, the degenerate remains of a race (that
was once the human-like Kaleds in the case of the Daleks, 'Dalek' being an anagram of 'Kaled'). Like Wells' Martians, the
Daleks are one of my personal favourites. They are not robots, but they too are tentacled brains encased inside a fighting
|Above: A Martian fighting-machine in crouching position. The Martians could only slowly drag their large bodies around with
their tentacles in earth's strong gravitational field (they weighed three times their Martian weight on Earth) and relied upon
machines that substituted for bodies. Note the weapons carried by three of the tentacles: the gas cylinder and the heat-ray
generator (possibly a laser: the invisible beam is focused by a parabolic reflector). Note also the electromagnetic joints: plasma
discharge can be seen as powerful magnetic forces shorten or extend the legs (as noted by H.G. Wells). The Martian itself,
larger than a bear and consisting almost entirely of brain can be seen in the 'hood' or cockpit, which is mounted in a rotating
turret. Among their methods of communication is sound, which are emitted through the hexagonal arrangement of pipes at the
front of the machine. The Martians landed in huge bullet-like capsules fired from Mars by a type of giant cannon - an elegant
way to launch in the low-gravity of Mars. As far as is known, ten such cylinders were launched, one every 24 hours. The pit
formed upon impact of the cylinder was typically deepened and reinforced by excavating robots (small machines reported to be
'unmanned'), for security purposes, especially after some of the early cylinders to arrive came under attack. The cylinders open
by the top rotating and unscrewing, like a lid, before falling off. At this point the Martians are at their most vulnerable and it is not
clear how many were killed when attempting to emerge, though they were by no means defenceless at this point. The
fighting-machines were carried in kit form, allowing them to be rapidly assembled after planet-fall. The first cylinder defended
itself by utilising the heat ray of a partially assembled fighting machine (the 'quick-firing gun' mentioned in a report). Handling
machines were used to unpack the later arriving cylinders.
The Martians also built several dextrous five-legged 'crab-like' handling machines with multiple manipulators (telescopic
tentacles). Some were used to unpack cylinders and assemble the machinery they contained. Some were used to operate
machinery, such as aluminium smelts as the Martians began to manufacture materials from Earth's own natural resources.
Others had a huge basket upon their back and were used for chasing and catching people whose blood were injected directly
into the veins of the Martians for nourishment.
The Martians have no bones and their only limbs are tentacles like an enlarged pair of hands emerging from the face. Their
digestive systems are also much simplified, capable of ingesting only fluids. It is possible that they once had more complete
bodies, but evolved into tentacled brains optimised for operating machinery. They brought some food with them, consisting of
more primitive humanoid creatures with 'flimsy' siliceous bones, though these bones would have surely broken on Earth, but
they seem to have been dead on arrival, serving as food in-flight. Each was a biped about six feet tall, with round upright heads
and large eyes. It is thought that the Martians farm these creatures as they intended to farm Earthlings which they probably
considered to be as anatomically primitive as their food on Mars. Martians are capable of reproducing by budding, which is
probably asexual. Sexual reproduction is unknown in this species. It would appear that they do not require sleep, or very little of
it. Wells attributes this to their lack of heavy musculature to rest and recuperate, however, it is now thought that the main
function of sleep is to allow a busy brain time for maintenance, especially the visual processing centres which are working at
capacity when animals are awake and active. Perhaps the enormous brain of the Martians can carry out such processes more
effortlessly and without saturating its circuits, such that maintenance of parts of the brain can occur during wakefulness.
So why were the Martians interested in Earth? Mars underwent an accelerated evolution and being a small world has now
cooled and lost most of its surface water. It is a dying world. Wells' account is ingenious for its thoroughness and realistic detail.
The War of the Worlds began with the firing of the first cylinder in the summer of 1894. The ten cylinders the Martians fired at
the Earth all landed around London. Their aim was to establish a 'beach-head' by capturing Britain. This makes sense for
several reasons, Britain is a sizeable but defendable island and as one of the superpowers of its day it would be worth taking
early in a test of strength. Maybe they intended to fire more cylinders but were unable to, or perhaps this was the most their
dying world could muster in terms of resources. Once their base was established they began to develop flying machines, though
were having difficulty adjusting their designs to Earth's dense atmosphere. Their aim was clearly to move abroad once their
beach-head was secured, but they never got the chance to do so and only Britain was properly under Martian rule.
The Martians did not have everything their own way, however. We learn that a gun battery destroyed one fighting machine at
the village of Shepperton. A direct hit exploded the hood and the Martian inside it, sending the machine tumbling to its
destruction. The heat rays destroyed a number of gun batteries, and a fighting machine routed a key battery at Ripley, which
was, unfortunately manned by unseasoned troops. A gun battery at St George's Hill faired better, they smashed the leg of a
tripod, casing it to fall. The Martian inside had to vacate to effect repairs, whilst his comrades dealt with the battery. The second
cylinder landed at Addlestone Golf Links and immediately came under heavy shelling. The first fighting machine, assembled by
the first cylinder which fell at Horsell Common, Woking, moved to assist the second cylinder, at first moving stealthily by keeping
low to the ground. The second assembled fighting machine followed. The second cylinder evidently escaped destruction,
though was perhaps damaged. The Martians then moved their equipment from the second and third cylinders (the third landed
at Pyrford) to their encampment at the first cylinder. They were clearly cautious, having learned of the power of terrestrial
artillery. The Earthlings had, by this time, moved in so many heavy guns (some by boat along canals and rivers) that the
defensive triangle of these three cylinders and the 12 mile crescent of fighting machines stationed between them, were
completely surrounded. Any fighting machine leaving these defences would have surely been rapidly destroyed.
This stalemate was short-lived, however, for the Martians developed a special weapon: the black smoke. This was a dense and
powerful poison that hung in low-lying clouds and which the Martians knew they could neutralise and disperse with jets of steam.
The armies of earth in that day were unaccustomed to this kind of chemical warfare and unprotected. The Martians fired this
smoke from canisters launched from cylinders they carried. They fired them into every conceivable position where gun batteries
might be hidden or deployed. This broke the stalemate and threw the armed forces of Britain into disarray. Having lost the battle
on land, attention turned to the sea.
|The Thunderchild Incident
From Task Force Command to Martian Council of Elders
We can confirm that two of our comrades were killed when their fighting-machines were destroyed by what
can only be described as one of the Earthling's own fighting-machines, which was promptly destroyed once
its threat became established. Let us allay your alarm, for the weakness of Earthling technology has been
exploited and many more of their fighting-machines have been destroyed without further casualty.
Our intelligence gathering focused on scrutinising the Earthlings' lives on land. What we had overlooked
was the consequence that two-thirds of the Third Planet's surface are covered in water. Although the
Earthlings lack any technology that poses a significant threat on land (our use of Agent X countered the
huge numbers of primitive kinetic-energy weapons they amassed around our cylinders with surprising
speed) they do possess surprisingly powerful fighting-machines adapted for water. Thus it appears that on
water they are more technological than we had supposed. With Mars being a dry planet this is a forgivable
oversight. However, we can assure the Council of Elders that this primitive Earthling-technology poses no
further threat as we shall explain.
The very large metal Earthling fighting-machines that can move swiftly over water are nevertheless armed
with primitive kinetic-energy weapons of limited range and accuracy. The fighting-machine in question
approached close to our operations simply because it appeared to be like so many of their water-faring
machines: a simple vessel for transport. It made no attempt to threaten us until it was very close. Then,
without warning it accelerated and swung-about and moved straight towards one of our fighting-machines
which was largely submerged in deep water and so unable to manoeuvre out of the way in time. Whilst
retreating back to shallower water the Martian released Agent X, the canister of which simply glanced off the
target into the water. This was an error which shall not be repeated: chemical weapons are not to be used
against this type of threat. The Earthling machine then collided with and destroyed our comrade.
The Earthling machine was not unharmed, it was badly damaged by the impact and venting fire and smoke,
but was still able to operate and turned towards a second target, opening fire as it did so. Had it opened fire
at long range, with its inaccurate projectile weapons, then we would have destroyed it instantly with the
heat-ray. Immediately, at least two other Martians brought their heat-rays to bear upon the Earthling
machine. Initial strikes punched holes straight through their primitive armour, though without effect. Soon,
however, a critical strike caused the Earthling machine to explode. It is thought that a heat-ray ignited their
own munitions, which use simple exothermic chemical reactions to propel projectiles. However, due to its
momentum, the Earthling machine struck and destroyed another of our comrades. The Earthling
fighting-machine was destroyed. Our remaining fighting-machines retreated to the coast as more of these
Earthling machines closed to engage us. This time however, aware of the potential threat, we simply
deployed heat-rays at long range and the Earthling machines were destroyed with relative ease. (Three of
our fighting-machines sustained minor damage in this latter engagement).
Thus we can assure the Elder Council that this new threat has been neutralised. We may encounter more
of these primitive machines when we colonise the rest of the Third Planet. Our recommendation is to deploy
heat-rays at long range. We are still experimenting with flight, which has proved difficult in such a dense
atmosphere. However, we can assure the Elders that we will soon have developed fighting-machines
capable of flight and that these will be able to gain mastery of the vast waters of the Third Planet in safety.
This incident has been a minor inconvenience and our plans are proceeding unchecked.
It does, however, raise the question of how such primitive creatures with such small brains have
manufactured devices that posed a transient risk to our comrades. It would appear that they have better
communication systems than we had supposed and that they have a high degree of division of labour. Each
of their small brains thus functions like a cell in a larger brain. We do of course have division of labour, but
this appears to a higher degree in Earthlings, so that each has a simpler task to perform. Collectively they
were able to produce these primitive fighting-machines. However, they remain primitive by our standards.
Their communication systems have now been disrupted and they currently present no further organised
End of Communication