One of the challenges in creating Vault of the Galaxy is designing a universe filled with alien civilizations. Many of the tropes that work in Human Space—crime syndicates, space navies, etc.—aren't appropriate for alien races.

In this design request I'd like to hear about your favorite alien races (and alien civilizations) in fiction (books/movies/games) and how they might inspire us for Vault of the Galaxy.

To get things started, here are a few of my inspirations for some of the current alien races.

Larry Niven's Tales of Know Space

Though Ringworld is the more famous book, The Ringworld Engineers is probably my favorite. One of his races, called Pierson's puppeteers, is wonderfully incongruous, combining extreme cowardice with masterful long-term planning.

This book also introduced me to biogenetic transformation, as when the character Teela Brown eats a plant that mutates her into a Pak Protector: a creature with superhuman intelligence and strength biologically compelled to protect the Ringworld.

David Brin's Uplift Saga

I remember reading Startide Rising when I was young, but it wasn't until The Uplift War that I really got hooked on Brin's Uplift Universe.

This series has been hugely influential in science fiction. I believe it is the first book to use the word "uplift." It also popularized the now common trope (used in Star Control) of a long-dead and mysterious "progenitor" race from which all alien species emerged.

For Vault of the Galaxy I lifted his concept of "orders of sapient life" to design the various races in the galaxy. In Brin's universe, the galaxy is separated between oxygen-breathing and hydrogen-breathing races, though there are also other orders, such as transcendent, mechanical, memetic, and quantum.

Alastair Reynolds's Revelation Space Universe

Though I haven't read all the books in this series, my favorite part is the Lovecraftian setting, in which humans are but pawns to alien civilizations pursuing their own inscrutable agendas.

I read these books around 2010 or so, long after the core of the Transcendence universe was set, but we might be able to get some ideas for Part II.

What are some of your inspirations? Let me know in the comments.

derakon 24 days ago:

The Mote in God's Eye has the Moties, of course. It's been awhile since I read the book, but the main takeaways I remember are:

* They're stuck in their system, with no interstellar travel. And they've been like that for a long time. Consequently they're constantly bouncing into the limits of their material resources (but not so much their energy resources). Every single scrap of matter is precious; all weapons and engines are photon-based whenever possible to avoid wasting matter.

* They have short lifespans, but are incredibly fast learners and quick to pick up skills or imitate others.

* They're separated into clans that are constantly in conflict with each other. Periodically the conflict will go hot enough to knock the entire species back to the Stone Age or so. Motie "librarians" maintain knowledge preserves that are intended to rapidly uplift the species whenever this happens; damaging a library is taboo.

george moromisato 24 days ago:

@Derakon: I love The Mote in God's Eye, and that's a really good summary of the interesting pieces in it.

If I remember correctly, another key point was that Motie biology does not allow for birth control, so there's no way to prevent overpopulation, and all civilizations eventually collapse in a Malthusian catastrophe (which led to nuclear war and thus back to the stone age).

Thanks for reminding me of it.

sarin 23 days ago:

I think a muse hit me because I got an idea for an alien concept. Probably patched together from all the various books I've read...
Concept name, Mindgregates. Mostly solitary gaseous lifeforms that evolved in a gas giant, they had no civilization until a ship crashed nearby and sunk into their planet. They figured out how to interface with its computer and control whatever was left, using it to build more machinery and eventually their own ships.
As they explored, they found out that due to their gaseous nature, they can connect with other lifeforms and can form some sort of hive mind with them, and so they now wander the galaxy looking for new additions. Each one would be different, some aggressive, getting new minds by force kinda like Borg, some would try to trick them into joining, and some would be more benign, trading in knowledge and even helpful.

derakon 23 days ago:

Oh, yes -- Vernor Vinge's *A Fire Upon the Deep* has an alien race that uses sonic telepathy to form synthetic personalities. Each person comprises generally from 2-6 individuals of the species, whose traits and tendencies combine to form the gestalt personality. Isolating an individual is deeply distressing for the gestalt and debilitating for the individual, which is unable to do much more than emit distress calls and attempt to integrate itself into any passing gestalts.

Because the gestalt is formed using sound waves, gestalts have to maintain a minimum distance from each other, lest their thoughts start to trample on each other. This is problematic when it comes to breeding, as only breeding within the gestalt group is a recipe for inbreeding long-term but joining with another gestalt risks permanent alteration to one's personality. Similarly, individuals must stay fairly close or their thoughts will "lag" behind the group, which is disorienting. In the book, one gestalt discovers that it can use radio waves (with mics/speakers) to maintain the gestalt over long distances.

A Fire Upon the Deep also has the neat concept that the degree of technological advancement possible depends on your distance from the galactic core. The further out you are, the faster you can travel, the better your equipment works, the smarter AIs are, etc.

sarin 22 days ago:

@derakon I have not read that yet...oh well, one more to the reading list. I suppose my inspiration were hivers from some Discworld books and Borg.

ferdinand 22 days ago:

In my youth I read a book by Piers Anthony called Chthon.

There was an interesting twist, Chthon was a planet that had become "alive" or intelligent because of the complex structures in it. It could turn other living creatures into zombies to serve it and send them out to destroy other races.

There also was a race called Minionettes. They are all identical young females that stay forever young by negative emotions, but positive emotions cause them pain and suffering and love will kill them. They are also telepathic and very strong.

george moromisato 22 days ago:

@Sarin: Great ideas! You could go several different ways with this. Maybe the gaseous creatures always need someone else to build their technology (which they then take over). This leads to the archetypes around ghosts and possession. Could be scary.

Another path is to focus on the alienness of the hive-mind. In particular, I like the dichotomy of hive-minds that are different depending on what they assimilate. Lots of dramatic potential there.

george moromisato 22 days ago:

@Derakon: Great recommendation! I actually think I got the name "Transcendence" from A Fire Upon the Deep. Vinge's ideas of scales of intelligence (sub-human, human, beyond, transcendent) were hugely influential to me.

george moromisato 22 days ago:

@Ferdinand: Heard great things about that book, but I never read it. Thanks for the recommendation.

avorite 22 days ago:

Greg Bear in 'The Forge of God' and 'Anvil of Stars' writes about a race of beings known as "The Benefactors" that supply the remnants of humanity, or any other fledgling races which have had their home planets destroyed by an aggressive civilization.

They are highly advanced in technological understanding - but they are content to stand by and shepherd younger races on their quest to seek justice for the destruction of their civilization and home planets. Although they guide and resupply humanity, they are purposefully limited in the assistance - the supplied ship has to hunt for its own supplies and fight its own battles - if they perish, they perish permanently.

I think such a concept can be applied near the start of VOTG - some mysterious race supplies the player with some starting equipment after a run in with hostile factions, and an auton representative accompanies the player on his journey towards the Core for some purposeful end.