In case you missed it, PBW had a wonderful post on the "don'ts" of writing fiction (Paperback Writer: How Not To). Pearls galore. Some time soon, I hope to blog on my own list of don'ts. In the comments, one of F. O'Brien Andrew's "don'ts" struck me. Paraphrasing: in science fiction, make your aliens physically bizarre but psychologically human. This is a don't, mind you. This is an interesting "don't" because it gets at the root of an interesting dichotomy in the science fiction audience. Some folks read SF exclusively for the wow factor. These readers go into ecstasies over authors who can deliver extraterrestrials who are alien body and soul. And then there are folks like me. I don't like alien aliens. I want to have a clear picture of these critters in my mind, and I want to understand their motivations. I want to empathize with them. Example: consider Larry Niven's Ringworld. Niven's Kzin are the fighters among us, the folks who barely restrain their violence in order to Get the Job Done. Niven's puppeteers are the manipulators -- the politicians and administrators whose goal is to shape the destinies of vast numbers of souls. These characters are fun because they are so understandable. We don't have to struggle to recognize them as human archetypes. Counter-example: Niven and Pournelle's moties (from A Mote in God's Eye). I remember the moties as shambling asymmetrical critters with one-dimensional characters. It's been more than a few years since I read Mote, but that's all that sticks with me -- in contrast to Ringworld's aliens. PBW didn't respond to this particular "don't", but I suspect from my reading of her book Afterburn that she's in my camp. PBW's aliens are easy to picture, and their motivations are intensely human. They have much the same fears as we do, and they love, lust, and feel despair and loneliness just as we do. It's easy to like her characters and care about what happens to them simply because they are so understandable. I like science fiction not for the wow factor, but because SF writers find unique ways to tell me more about human themes. (No surprise, then, that P. K. Dick is one of my favorites.) Does that mean I want my aliens to be humans-in-costume? Nah. In the best stories, there's always a little something which gives the aliens a unique perspective on life. Vernor Vinge's pack-mind doggies (A Fire Upon the Deep) come to mind. Yes, they're alien, but they share enough psychology with humans to be three-dimensional characters whom you can empathize with, like, or hate, as the case may be. The few of you who have read my stuff know how this relates to my fiction. Bare Rump may gobble mates like Twinkies, sucking out all the gooey goodness, and she may be a primo-bitchin' fighter, but she's a romance-loving softy at heart. Hearts? I never did make up my mind about that. D.