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Quackcast 640 - Aliens

Ozoneocean at 12:00AM, June 20, 2023

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We base our images of aliens in comics on aliens in TV shows and movies mostly, because those are the ones we all know.
But movie aliens have been generally based on humans because it's less expensive, easier to come up with a costume and makeup for an actor, and it's also easier to make those aliens relatable. “Aliens” even THINK the same as we do, have the same motivations, wants, needs, prejudices, opinions… Almost 100% of the time aliens in media are US, just a weird version of us: distorted reflection.

As comic makers we're not restricted by makeup budgets, prosthetics, CG issues, or actor comfort levels. We have a HUGE advantage. We can actually explore TRULY alien creatures in a way that is only really done in novels.
Consider- all the assumptions that we have for aliens in TV and movies are wrong:

1. scale- There's no reason at all that aliens should be our size or even slightly taller or slightly smaller. They could be MUCH tinier or MUCH bigger (as large as a house or a building or a planet)

2. Bilateral symmetry is an earth based genetic thing that evolved specifically only to animal life on this planet and not even all animals have it. Plants, fungi, viruses, bacteria and all other forms of life (which are all related to us) don't have it.

3. Four limbs, one head, and a few main sensory organs ON the head is something that only certain forms of earth animal life has, the rest evolved differently in various ways. So it's pretty much absolutely impossible that any alien life will ever have that structure.

4. All forms of life on earth are related and all developed from the same DNA, a process that took 100's of millions of years of weird false starts, accidents, specific adaptations to all sorts of different strange circumstances, and all those things were just added up on top of each other to create the life that's here. Without all of those things being exactly the same there's no possible way that any alien life will ever resemble any earth creature in any way, be it human, insect, cephalopod, pine tree, sea slug, or slime-mold. Even “convergent evolution” which produces the same features in unrelated things isn't as unrelated as it often seems since those creatures often share earlier precursors to develop the same thing: like eyes in cephalopods and eyes in other creatures.

5. Why would aliens think like us or even think to talk to us? To a truly alien creature there wouldn't be much difference between us and a housecat, to them we're both earthlings Even a tree and us would be much the same to them in a lot of ways. We have everything in common with a cat or a dog in the way we think VS what an alien would think about.

6. Alien motivations could not be the same as ours, They'd have to be based on the aliens themselves and how you chose to structure them. But they couldn't be anything resembling our needs unless it was very basic and elemental- the need for sustenance, survival, fuel, supplies etc. Things like lust, love, hate, ambition, competition, religion shouldn't really factor in because they're too human-centric.

It's a complex and interesting topic! If you want to continue to make human type aliens though go ahead.It's more fun to do and the audience will have less trouble relating to them that a truly alien creature like The Thing. Special mention to one of the most truly alien aliens: the planet in Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem. Special mention to the least aliens ever: the native American blue cat-humans from Avatar. What are your fave aliens?

This week Gunwallace has given us the theme to THE SQUIRREL MACHINE - Slow to develop, creepy, atmospheric, and unsettling… This will keep you on edge, uneven and unbalanced. Dark, hideous monsters wait just around the corner, lurking at the edges of your vision, ready to drag you deep into a dirty, shadow filled, earthy crevice.

Topics and shownotes


Featured comic:
Drunk Duck Awards 2023 -

Featured music:
THE SQUIRREL MACHINE - - by Hansrickheit, rated M.

Special thanks to:
Gunwallace -
Ozoneocean -
Kawaiidaigakusei -
Banes -
Tantz Aerine -

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Ozoneocean at 7:29AM, June 22, 2023

@Bravo- It really IS wrong to base alien-life on creatures from that period, they're solidly earth derived creatures and part of our DNA even now :) Evolutionary biology is not xenobiology so we don't even have to go there. In Hitchhikers he has some weird creatures, none are based on Cambrian life though. They're almost all based on modern earth life or modern inanimate objects generally purely as jokes. The closest he gets to weird totally alien life that I remember are the shade of blue in the first book, and the sentient mattresses on the planet that Marvin gets marooned on. Though there are things with no description that could be anything like the bugblatter beat of traal.

bravo1102 at 11:55PM, June 20, 2023

@Ozoneocean: Douglas Adams actually consulted with an evolutionary biologist who at the time was studying the Burgess shales and Cambrian life. Exactly the things you say is wrong. Richard Dawkins and Douglas Adams were good friends and Adams even introduced Dawkins to the woman Dawkins later married. So I didn't come up with my procedure myself, I looked up how Douglas Adams did it and you praise him but of course I'm wrong.

Ozoneocean at 8:52PM, June 20, 2023

@PaulEberhardt - YES, the best was the make an alien is to base them on the environment they came from :) And rather than look at the way earth creatures handle those environs (tentacles, eyes etc), you have to think in much more basic terms and then work up from there. e.g.- A sensory organ for light... what form does it take? A bunch of pin-holes all over the creature? Square flat reflectors? Maybe the creature doesn't naturally have any eyes but that developed a device to help them see light like we developed devices so we can see radio waves?

Ozoneocean at 8:41PM, June 20, 2023

@dpat57 - we mentiuon the scale thing in the Quackcast actually :) Douglas Adams was clever, in the stories he has an alien that's just a shade of blue captured in a prism, so he could definitely think outside the sphere... even computer life. Though his world was filled with human aliens for comedy purposes and the worst example of that is Zaphod Beeblebrox called Arthur Dent and Ape-man... I can't help but think that must have been a complex in-joke because to poses his particular form he must have bee derived from an ape himself XD (the third and and second head were surgical additions), besides which it's later discovered that Arthur isn't even from a species that evolved on earth- he's golgafrinchen.

Ozoneocean at 8:34PM, June 20, 2023

@Bravo- those example are just more interesting and imaginative. But regardless if alien life has a form of DNA it would still have zero to do with the form we have and Edicaran life is still millions of years advanced into the development of our DNA. All those creatures are part of our heritage, even the dead ends, so using them as alien influence is still absolutely wrong.

PaulEberhardt at 10:20AM, June 20, 2023

I don't know. Even if their DNA is unrelated to any found on Earth (or that particular type of alien life doesn't even have any) there may still be such a thing as convergent evolution. Having at least one, but better two free hands, so they can use tools, as well as sensory organs at the highest point possible, so as to spot early on what's going on around them, may well be a working formula for much of the galaxy... But I don't want to take sides, really. Both more or less human-like and totally weird types can be justified equally well, form following their function in the story. Ok, but that aside: if I wanted to design an alien, I would always think of the planet first, no matter if it actually appears later, and work from there... Or just draw little green genderless men with a trumpet nose and tentacle eyes, flying little saucers with two-stroke engines - which I usually do, because they're fun to draw. 😜 (Haven't done that for some time, but it's on my list.)

dpat57 at 8:31AM, June 20, 2023

No matter what they look like, they will introduce themselves with the time-honored phrase, "We are the Blurgo" (insert weirdo alien name here) -- in English, of course, the universal common language. Yes that's jokey but as long as some kind of communication is possible and a story kicks off, you can dress up your aliens however you like. Frank Herbert came up with some real bumpers in Whipping Star and its follow-up The Dosadi Experiment (non-Dune novels) half a century ago, how linear time flies! Numerous other clever ideas out there include Douglas Adams' skit with the combined alien war fleet coming to Earth to seek revenge for an insult, but due to an unfortunate error of scale, being eaten by a small dog. All of us are but microbes on the buttocks of the universe.

bravo1102 at 7:32AM, June 20, 2023

Life without DNA? The proteins come together so easily and even found on space rocks. The origin of life studies strongly suggest that the proteins will always produce some sort of helix structured coding molecule. I'm concentrating on biological life forms whereas all your examples are non-biological. A deep dive into Edicaran life shows forms that cannot be defined under current taxonomy because they're so different. Some are obviously precursors but others just -- aren't. Then you look at just how extensive the variation is among something like trilobites and things can get very varied and different even when it's one group.

Ozoneocean at 4:55AM, June 20, 2023

Thinking bout non-understandable creatures- that's how gods, angles, and demons used to written about .

Ozoneocean at 4:53AM, June 20, 2023

@Marcorossi- it used to be done more before TV and movies took over as the main for of expression. Think of the classic Solaris by Stanislaw Lem where the the planet is alive and communicates by visions. There's the story by Fredrick Phol, The World at the End of Time- where the extra-terrestrial life take the for of plasma based intelligences in suns. Their main goal is survival and their lives last billions of years. The humans in the story notice them through the unnatural changes to the structure of the universe around themselves. It's an amazing story.

Ozoneocean at 4:43AM, June 20, 2023

@Lothar- the unstated thing about life developing along similar lines multiple times is that it actually come from the a lot of the same DNA, so it's not really ever just arriving at the same forms by chance: If you only have the same 20 Lego sets to work with, if you give them to 500 different people you're going to get repetition in their builds. Alien life would be like throwing playmobile, mechano, and other wierd things in there

lothar at 4:03AM, June 20, 2023

Ohhh yeah! I really should start posting sooner of my exobiology stuff. I've done some research on this stuff and come to the conclusion that alien life would probably evolve along similar lines just because it has already many times on Earth. Just look at reptilian shark types and then real sharks and dolphins. Or the success of tetrapods. Nature takes the path of least resistance. There are limits to how large a creature can be and how small intelligent creatures can be. Carbon based water utilizing life seems to be the easiest path. Silicon life is unlikely because the atomic bond are weaker and less variety. Sensory organs in the"head" just make more sense from a design perspective. That said.... Fuck that There's such a thing as fantasy sci-fi. It's just more fun. Massive creatures, unicellular humanoids, seas of mercury and neon skies.

marcorossi at 4:01AM, June 20, 2023

Lovecraft was big into the un-human aliens thing, and in old sci-fi (up to the 70s) insect-like aliens were a thing. But on the whole even then aliens tought in a way similar to humans, or at least to animals (like the "Thing"). It wouldn't make sense to have completely not-understandable aliens in a story, it would be like having a story where one of the character is a seashell or a pine treee who act realistically, it would just be very boring. Also, aliens are often used for space opera kind of stories, but I tried to read some stuff written by ufologist who really believe in this stuff and it is weird, they are depicted more like angelic/satanic beings, they play a really weird psychological function (e.g. the ideas of rape by aliens, or that aliens use the human soul as fuel, or similar stuff).

Ozoneocean at 3:19AM, June 20, 2023

@Bravo- yup, life had a lot of variations, which proves quite neatly that what we have now is impossibly unlikely for anything else to chance upon. All that early stuff was wild and whacky and yet it was all earth life, related to us, from the very same DNA, none of it the remotest bit alien. It's unlikely aliens would even look like any of those examples.

bravo1102 at 12:34AM, June 20, 2023

Back in the Edicaran and Cambrian life was experimenting and without the forms that came later. You want forms that defy modern definitions look at some of the stuff from back then.

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