Extraterrestrials in fiction

An extraterrestrial or alien is any extraterrestrial lifeform; a lifeform that did not originate on Earth. The word extraterrestrial means "outside Earth". The first published use of extraterrestrial as a noun occurred in 1956, during the Golden Age of Science Fiction.[1]

Extraterrestrials are a common theme in modern science-fiction, and also appeared in much earlier works such as the second-century parody True History by Lucian of Samosata.

Gary Westfahl writes:

Science fiction aliens are both metaphors and real possibilities. One can probe the nature of humanity with aliens that by contrast illustrate and comment upon human nature. Still, as evidenced by widespread belief in alien visitors (see UFOs) and efforts to detect extraterrestrial radio signals, humans also crave companionship in a vast, cold universe and aliens may represent hopeful, compensatory images of the strange friends we have been unable to find. Thus, aliens will likely remain a central theme in science fiction until we actually encounter them.[2]

Extraterrestrials in fiction
Martian controlled Tripod, from War of the Worlds
GroupingScience fiction
Similar creaturesCryptids
Other name(s)Aliens, space aliens


Taketori Monogatari 2
Kaguya-hime returning to the Moon in The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (c. 1650).


Cosmic pluralism, the assumption that there are many inhabited worlds beyond the human sphere predates modernity and the development of the heliocentric model and is common in mythologies worldwide. The 2nd century writer of satires, Lucian, in his True History claims to have visited the moon when his ship was sent up by a fountain, which was peopled and at war with the people of the Sun over colonisation of the Morning Star.[3] Other worlds are depicted in such early works as the 10th-century Japanese narrative, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and the medieval Arabic The Adventures of Bulukiya (from the One Thousand and One Nights).[4]

Early modern

The assumption of extraterrestrial life in the narrow sense (as opposed to generic cosmic pluralism) becomes possible with the development of the heliocentric understanding of the solar system, and later the understanding of interstellar space, during the Early Modern period, and the topic was popular in the literature of the 17th and 18th century.

In Johannes Kepler's Somnium, published in 1634, the character Duracotus is transported to the moon by demons. Even if much of the story is fantasy, the scientific facts about the moon and how the lunar environment has shaped its non-human inhabitants are science fiction.

The didactic poet Henry More took up the classical theme of Cosmic pluralism of the Greek Democritus in "Democritus Platonissans, or an Essay Upon the Infinity of Worlds" (1647).[5] With the new relative viewpoint that understood "our world's sunne / Becomes a starre elsewhere", More made the speculative leap to extrasolar planets,

the frigid spheres that 'bout them fare;
Which of themselves quite dead and barren are,
But by the wakening warmth of kindly dayes,
And the sweet dewie nights, in due course raise
Long hidden shapes and life, to their great Maker's praise.

The possibility of extraterrestrial life was a commonplace of educated discourse in the 17th century, though in Paradise Lost (1667)[6] John Milton cautiously employed the conditional when the angel suggests to Adam the possibility of life on the Moon:

Her spots thou seest
As clouds, and clouds may rain, and rain produce
Fruits in her softened soil, for some to eat
Allotted there; and other Suns, perhaps,
With their attendant Moons, thou wilt descry,
Communicating male and female light,
Which two great sexes animate the World,
Stored in each Orb perhaps with some that live

Fontanelle's "Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds" with its similar excursions on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, expanding rather than denying the creative sphere of a Maker, was translated into English in 1686.[7] In "The Excursion" (1728) David Mallet exclaimed, "Ten thousand worlds blaze forth; each with his train / Of peopled worlds."[8] In 1752 Voltaire published "Micromegas" that told of a giant that visits earth to impart knowledge and Washington Irving in his novel, A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, spoke of earth being visited by Lunarians.[9]

Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) who lived in a time where biological science had made further progress, made speculation about how life could have evolved on other planets in works such as La pluralité des mondes habités (The Plurality of Inhabited Worlds) (1862) and Recits de L'Infini (1872), translated as Stories of Infinity in 1873. Stories written before the genre of science fiction had found its form.

Closer to the modern age is J.-H. Rosny, who wrote the short story Les Xipéhuz (1887), about a human encounter with extraterrestrials who turns out to be a mineral life form impossible to communicate with.


Lithograph from the Great Moon Hoax
Avon Fantasy Reader 15
A bug-eyed monster, a trope of early science fiction

Late 19th century-early 20th century

Authors such as H. G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon and Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote both monitory and celebratory stories of encounting aliens in their science fiction and fantasies. Westfahl sums up: "To survey science fiction aliens, one can classify them by their physiology, character, and eventual relationships with humanity":

Early works posited that aliens would be identical or similar to humans, as is true of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Martians (see Mars; A Princess of Mars), with variations in skin color, size, and number of arms. ... Later writers realized that such humanoid aliens would not arise through parallel evolution and hence either avoided them or introduced the explanation of ancient races that populated the cosmos with similar beings. The notion surfaces in Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels (see The Left Hand of Darkness; The Dispossessed) and was introduced to justify the humanoid aliens of Star Trek (who even intermarry and have children) in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Chase" (1993).
Another common idea is aliens who closely resemble animals.[2]

Among the many fictional aliens who resemble Earth's animals, Westfahl lists:

Westfahl continues, "However, Stanley G. Weinbaum's A Martian Odyssey (1934) encouraged writers to create genuinely unusual aliens, not merely humans or animals in disguise. Olaf Stapledon also populated the universe with disparate aliens, including sentient stars, in Star Maker. Later, Hal Clement, a hard science fiction writer famed for strange but plausible worlds, also developed bizarre aliens in works like Cycle of Fire (1957)."[2]

See also

Articles related to the phenomenon of extraterrestrials in fiction and popular culture:

Articles related to the purported or theorized existence of extraterrestrials:


  1. ^ Harper, Douglas. "extraterrestrial". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Westfahl, Gary (2005). "Aliens in Space". In Gary Westfahl. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders. 1. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. pp. 14–16. ISBN 0-313-32951-6.
  3. ^ Grewell, Greg (2001). "Colonizing the Universe: Science Fictions Then, Now, and in the (Imagined) Future". Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature. 55 (2): 25–47.
  4. ^ Irwin, Robert (2003). The Arabian Nights: A Companion. Tauris Parke Paperbacks. p. 204 & 209. ISBN 1-86064-983-1.
  5. ^ Democritus (1647). Democritus Platonissans, or an Essay Upon the Infinity of Worlds.
  6. ^ Milton, John (1667). Paradise Lost. ISBN 0-8414-2222-2.
  7. ^ Fontenelle, Bernard le Bovier de (1686). Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds. ISBN 0-520-07171-9.
  8. ^ Mallet, David (1728). The Excursion.
  9. ^ Barger, Andrew (2013). Mesaerion: The Best Science Fiction Short Stories 1800-1849. USA: Bottletree Books LLC. pp. 43–44. ISBN 978-1-933747-49-1.

Further reading

  • Roth, Christopher F., "Ufology as Anthropology: Race, Extraterrestrials, and the Occult." In E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces, ed. by Debbora Battaglia. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005.
  • Sagan, Carl. 1996. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark: chapter 4: "Aliens"

External links

Alien Planet

Alien Planet is a 94-minute docufiction, originally airing on the Discovery Channel, about two internationally built robot probes searching for alien life on the fictional planet Darwin IV. It was based on the book Expedition, by sci-fi/fantasy artist and writer Wayne Douglas Barlowe, who was also executive producer on the special. It premiered on May 14, 2005.

The show uses computer-generated imagery, which is interspersed with interviews from such notables as Stephen Hawking, George Lucas, Michio Kaku and Jack Horner. The show was filmed in Iceland and Mono Lake in California.

Andrew Siemion

Andrew Patrick Vincent Siemion is an astrophysicist and director of the Berkeley SETI Research Center. His research interests include high energy time-variable celestial phenomena, astronomical instrumentation and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI).. Andrew Siemion is the Principal Investigator for the Breakthrough Listen program.Siemion received his B.A. (2008) M.A. (2010) and Ph.D. (2012) in astrophysics from the University of California, Berkeley. In 2018, Siemion was named the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI at the SETI Institute. Siemion is jointly affiliated with Radboud University Nijmegen and the University of Malta. Also in 2018, he was elected to the International Academy of Astronautics as a Corresponding Member for Basic Sciences. In September 2015, Siemion testified on the current status of astrobiology to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the United States Congress.

Budd Hopkins

Elliot Budd Hopkins (June 15, 1931 – August 21, 2011 Manhattan) was an American painter, sculptor, and prominent figure in alien abduction phenomena and related UFO research.


Extraterrestrial refers to any object or being beyond (extra-) the planet Earth (terrestrial). It is derived from the Latin words extra ("outside", "outwards") and terrestris ("earthly", "of or relating to the Earth").

Extraterrestrial may also refer to:

Extraterrestrial (2011 film), a 2011 Spanish film by Nacho Vigalondo

Extraterrestrial (2014 film), a 2014 American film by Colin Minihan and written by The Vicious Brothers

Extraterrestrial (TV documentary), a program on the National Geographic Channel

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a 1982 film by Steven Spielberg

"E.T." (song), a 2010 song by Katy Perry

Extraterrestrial (TV program)

Extraterrestrial (also Alien Worlds in the UK) is a British-American two-part television documentary miniseries, aired in 2005 in the UK by Channel 4, by the National Geographic Channel (as Extraterrestrial) in the US on Monday, May 30, 2005 and produced by Blue Wave Productions Ltd. The program focuses on the hypothetical and scientifically feasible evolution of alien life on extrasolar planets, providing model examples of two different fictional worlds, one in each of the series's two episodes.The documentary is based on speculative collaboration of a group of American and British scientists, who were collectively commissioned by National Geographic. For the purposes of the documentary, the team of scientists divides two hypothetical examples of realistic worlds on which extraterrestrial life could evolve: A tidally locked planet orbiting a red dwarf star (dubbed "Aurelia") and a large moon (dubbed "Blue Moon") orbiting a gas giant in a binary star system. The scientific team of the series used a combination of accretion theory, climatology, and xenobiology to imagine the most likely locations for extraterrestrial life and most probable evolutionary path such life would take.The "Aurelia" and "Blue Moon" concepts seen in the series were also featured in the touring exhibition The Science of Aliens.

The show's concept shares basic similarities with The Future is Wild. Both series depict imaginary but scientifically-plausible ecosystems and the species that inhabit them, with commentary by scientists. The key difference is that in The Future is Wild the ecosystems represent the possible future evolution of life on planet Earth, while in Extraterrestrial they are designed from scratch based on possible conditions on extrasolar planets.

Extraterrestrial intelligence

Extraterrestrial intelligence (often abbreviated ETI) refers to hypothetical intelligent extraterrestrial life. The question of whether other inhabited worlds might exist has been debated since ancient times. The modern form of the concept emerged when the Copernican Revolution demonstrated that the Earth was a planet revolving around the Sun, and other planets were conversely, other worlds. The question of whether other inhabited planets or moons exist was a natural consequence of this new understanding. It has become one of the most speculative questions in science and is a central theme of science fiction and popular culture.

Grey alien

Grey aliens, also referred to as Zeta Reticulans, Roswell Greys, or Grays, are purported extraterrestrial beings whose existence is discussed in ufological, paranormal, and New Age communities and who are named for their unique skin color. Forty-three percent of all reported alien encounters in the United States describe Grey aliens. Such claims vary in every respect, including the nature, origins (e.g. extraterrestrials, extradimensionals, time travelers, or machines), moral dispositions, intentions, and physical appearances of the encountered beings, though many of them nonetheless share some noticeable similarities. A composite description derived from this overlap would have Greys as small-bodied beings with smooth grey-colored skin, enlarged hairless heads and large black eyes.

The popularization of the idea of the Grey alien is commonly associated with the Barney and Betty Hill abduction claim, which purportedly took place in New Hampshire in 1961, although skeptics see precursors in science fiction and earlier paranormal claims; Grey aliens are also famed from earlier depictions of the 1947 Roswell UFO incident. Some sources in the UFO community describe the Grey aliens as artificially created/modified race used by other alien races as servants or even slaves to execute tasks such as abductions and others. Whatever the origin, the Grey alien has since emerged as an archetypal image of sentient non-human creatures and extraterrestrial life in general, as well as an iconic trope of popular culture in the age of space exploration.


A humanoid (; from English human and -oid "resembling") is something that has an appearance resembling a human without actually being one. The earliest recorded use of the term, in 1870, referred to indigenous peoples in areas colonized by Europeans. By the 20th century, the term came to describe fossils which were morphologically similar, but not identical, to those of the human skeleton.Although this usage was common in the sciences for much of the 20th century, it is now considered rare. More generally, the term can refer to anything with distinctly human characteristics or adaptations, such as possessing opposable anterior forelimb-appendages (i.e. thumbs), visible spectrum-binocular vision (i.e. having two eyes), or biomechanic plantigrade-bipedalism (i.e. the ability to walk on heels and metatarsals in an upright position). Science fiction media frequently present sentient extraterrestrial lifeforms as humanoid as a byproduct of convergent evolution theory.

List of fictional extraterrestrials

This list of fictional extraterrestrial species is subsidiary to the lists of fictional species and is a collection of various notable extraterrestrial species that appear in various works of fiction. It is limited to well-referenced examples from literature, film, television, comics, animation and video games. This list excludes cases in which only a single member of a species is shown, such as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

List of science fiction television programs

This is an inclusive list of television programs with science fiction as principal theme, or which contain at least one significant element of science fiction, even if some cross over into other genres.For television programs with fantasy, horror, mystery, paranormal, supernatural and other related themes, please see the respective genres and listings.

Science fiction films, one-time presentations, original net animation (ONA), original video animation (OVA), short films (a.k.a. shorts), serial films (a.k.a. serials) and specials must have been created specifically for or broadcast first ("first showing") on television to qualify for the purpose of this list.Films that premiered ("first presentation") on the "big screen" (theatrical release) or have been distributed direct-to-video (tape/VHS, laser disc, DVD/HD-DVD/Blu-ray, etc.) or on the internet do not belong here, even if they aired ("second presentation", rerun) at some point on a TV channel. Please see the lists of science fiction films for more details.

List of science fiction television programs by genre

This is an inclusive list of science fiction television programs classified by genre.

List of science fiction themes

The following is a list of articles about recurring themes in science fiction.

Murasaki (novel)

Murasaki is a 1992 "shared universe" hard science fiction novel in six parts to which Poul Anderson, Greg Bear, Gregory Benford, David Brin, Nancy Kress and Frederik Pohl each contributed one chapter; it was edited by Robert Silverberg. It is the first anthology of this type to be entirely conceived and written by winners of the Nebula Award.

The scenery is set in a fictional double planet system in orbit around an actually existing red dwarf star (HD36395; also known as Gliese 205 and Wolf 1453), about 20 light years from our solar system. Because the system had been first explored by a Japanese robot interstellar probe the star has been given the proper name Murasaki (after the famous Japanese writer, Murasaki Shikibu). The larger of the two planets is Genji, named after Hikaru Genji, the hero of her novel Genji Monogatari; the smaller one is named Chujo, after Genji's close friend Tō no Chūjō.

Outline of science fiction

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to science fiction:

Science fiction – a genre of fiction dealing with the impact of imagined innovations in science or technology, often in a futuristic setting. or depicting space exploration. Exploring the consequences of such innovations is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a "literature of ideas".

Science fiction

Science fiction (often shortened to Sci-Fi or SF) is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as advanced science and technology, spaceflight, time travel, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a "literature of ideas".

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