Does anyone care too much about the biology of different humanoid races?


Well-Known Member
Jul 26, 2021
I know in certain Sci Fi circles Klingon anatomy has had a bit of a rise in interest regarding just how many redundant back up organs they have (horny brig is full past capacity) but does anyone here tend to think about how much anatomical or biological differences there should be between a bog standard human, and the races they might come up against?

For example should humans and Elves and Dwarves in Tolkiens work have all their internal organs in the same places or would they vary in position and maybe even size? Could a Dwarf have a much bigger heart than a humans for example?
Would Dwarfs be stronger than humans or on the same kind of level or maybe weaker because of their height? Or does mining and blacksmithing give them an edge in muscle?
I can understand Hobbits being a lot weaker since so many don't do manual labour, Sam clearly gets more of a work out then say Frodo does, so I can see Sam dominating the other Hobbits in a fight but never having much of a chance against a taller opponent.

Does a Vulcan (whose anatomy is vastly different and not just down to green blood) being three times stronger than a baseline human make any real difference to fights if a human works out and the Vulcan doesn't?

I know this could cover a lot of variables, like how Vulcans and Ferengis have both been shown to have far better hearing because of their ears shape and size, or TimeLords and their respiratory bypass, but does anyone have any favourite examples of things they like about the physical differences we get presented with, and any they dislike or see too much off?
The general rule is this: if it's relevant to the story, if it affects the story, then yes such anatomical differences are important. If not, then not. To grab a convenient example, Doctor Who has two hearts. But this odd anatomical fact appears only when relevant to the story.

That said, in worldbuilding, there's a great and enduring fascination with detail, whether or not those details make it into a story. So if you've a mind to explore "The Placement of Kidneys in Non-Humans" then have at it!
In general, I wouldn't bother, unless it has relevance to the story.

The only story where I did bother is Streamrider, which has a number of alien species, and then I only did the bits needed for the story. So, my "humanoid toad" species experiences osmotic stress like a gastropod, the "mammalian pseudo-snake" species has a digestive process akin to constrictor snakes, the "bugs" and their "hives" are actually symbionts, and the "elder race" are just plain nasty.

I couldn't tell you whether the "toads" have their kidneys in the same place as a human, and in fact I've no idea whether they even have kidneys, because it doesn't have any relevance to the story, but a fatal "osmotic stress incident" provides the trigger for a war.

You might want to hunt around on Chrons for threads on world-building. I'm not much of a world-builder* and only do as much as I need, whilst others can't start writing until the world is built. The danger is always becoming obsessed about the building, and never getting as far as writing the story, or losing the story in the wealth of world detail.

*I've had feedback, particularly on shorts and flash fiction, saying "great world-building" and I scratch my head because I didn't do any, or not consciously.
I agree with the two previous posters, only if it's significant to the story.

If a story or book were to spend more than a non-significant amount of verbiage explaining alien anatomy I would feel cheated if the story or book didn't use some of the information later on.
I agree with everyone, but I'd rather worry a bit not only if those differences are relevant to the story but in terms of pure lore.

I'd find it rather dull if despite the myriad races in a novel, there were no difference between them beyond the appareance. In that case, race would be just like hair color; a boring detail.

Maybe the difference is not an important part of the story, but that would give each character a better way to be memorable.
Normally I wouldn't really care about the innards of an Orc and whether his liver and spleen have switched places, compared to a human. You usually don't see someone anatomical lay-out (and if you do, something is seriously wrong), so most of the time it doesn't really matter. It could be fun though to have your dwarfs somewhat lopsided, due to the exceptional bone-structure in one of their shoulders/arm, which enables them to swing the hammer all day long and determines whether he is right- or left-handed.
Problem is, as soon as you describe anatomical 'anomalies' you know it is going to be important at some point. On the other hand, what potentially could be annoying is when an alien miraculously survives a fatal incident and than (surprise!) turns out to have 2 hearts.
On the other hand, what potentially could be annoying is when an alien miraculously survives a fatal incident and than (surprise!) turns out to have 2 hearts.

I can't remember the title, there's a famous example from the 50's that people used to bring up to illustrate this point.
Alien, pretty much humanoid, right at the end of the story grabs the gun to save the day with his prehensile tail. There had been no mention of tails previously.

A lesser example, but more widely known -in one of the original Star Trek episodes. They build up drama around Spock sacrificing his sight to save the day, only to later explain (surprise!) he has two eyelids (an leftover adaption to protect against Vulcan's sun's once volatile flares). This sort of works as they were still playing up the whole mysteriousness of Spock's physiology.
I feel an alien species should add to the feeling of wonder to the story. This will likely reflect what is externally visible, though, rather than internal organ position. So, yes, biology is important -- give me an alien alien.
I think that world-building and writing a novel are two separate hobbies and writers should be wary of one blurring into another. While it's important to have internal consistency, it's often unnecessary to go into details that the characters wouldn't naturally think about - I don't think about the internal combustion engine when I'm driving my car, for instance.

The places I'd say you need this kind of thing are when the plot demands it, or when it would seem like a glaring issue not to explain it (how does a creature made of pressurised gas survive on Earth, for instance). Things like artificial gravity and faster than light engines are often so taken for granted that no explanation is required (although this changes depending on the style of story. If you're touting a book as near-future, "hard" SF, you might well need to explain them so that they aren't too jarring).

Alien aliens are interesting, so long as they make some sense. When I was writing comedy SF, I got a lot of entertainment out of aliens based on lemmings, ants and newts, because I could extrapolate their biology into weird societies (although lemmings don't really jump off cliffs, so their society based on suicide doesn't quite work).