Best Fictional Aliens

Fiberglass Cyborg

Well-Known Member
Jul 13, 2021
What are some of your favourite fictional aliens, and why? What makes a good alien? Is it always the same, or is good-alien-ness context-dependant, like?
The Vorlons in Babylon 5. Kosh was so wonderfully enigmatic . He was cryptic is his comments but, you knew or at least , had an idea of the point he was trying to make.
I like the Dwellers in Iain M Bank's "The Algebraists." Built up as these mysterious, ancient and utterly inhuman beings... then when you actually meet them, it's more like Planet of the Mad Uncles. I like the mix of non-humanoid biology and extreme but recognisable personalities.
My favourite Aliens were the "Aggregate Intelligence" from Greg Bear' Anvil of Stars.

Braids were the intelligent aggregate and were made from a group of individual cords which were animalistic. They communicated by smell and had no concept of lying, not even fiction. They always stand out for me.
I know it might sound cliché, but my favorite alien is the extraterrestrial from the Alien(s) movie series. It turns out that the creature was inspired by a particularly nasty looking deep water fish. Which means that the emotional experience of witnessing or observing the ET from Alien(s), is a terrestrial/local (or personal) fear.

What is really alien, are those parts of ourselves that we haven't yet explored.

I hope this all makes sense.
I loved the ones from Arrival. They had a unique mesh of horror, intrigue, and serenity that you'd (in theory) expect in an intelligent species from another planet. Helped that the design was rather unusual too.

Or anything other than green-glowing balloon heads.
Nothing has really beat the Moties from The Mote in God's Eye as far as I am concerned.

The society was so complete and ancient. It just "felt" old as you read the book. It reminds me of an Indian woman I knew who talked about visiting home and how "olde" it felt compared to the US and Europe. She liked to visit for short periods but wouldn't live there. Despite the ridiculous sexism and politics in The Mote the aliens make the story.
For me, SFs best aliens are the Phagors, who inhabit the Helliconia world of Brian Aldiss' Helliconia trilogy. Both enigmatic and comprehensible, frightening, awesome and utterly believable, they both support and oppose the human-like inhabitants of the world. Some people find the trilogy dense, even difficult, but I'd place this in the top three of SFs greatest works.
Like the poster above, I was much taken with the Moties. I haven't read that novel for decades, but still recall a lot about them.
This will sound corny but 1963's Daleks were one of the greatest aleins ever devised. Not only the avoidance of the biped stereotype but a pretty good backstory of how rejection can turn around on the rejectors (the Thals)
I would agree with both the previous posters that the Phagors and especially the Moties were both interesting and believable aliens. Also not simply people or lizards with minor modifications.

I'd like to add the soft ones and the hard ones from Azimov's The gods themselves
The first thought that popped into my head was that Alien is “the alien”, followed by the weird plethora in Star Wars. There are many well thought out aliens and alien cultures in various books and movies but I would have to go with those that clearly has left the greatest emotional impression. Thus, another vote for Alien
All of the above.
Also the concept (rather than the exact individuals) of non-organic invaders described in Stross' last Merchant Princes volume, Invisible Sun.
The symbiote "Hunter" in Hal Clement's Needle.
The Mesklins in Clement's Mission of Gravity.

In movies, Jeriba Shigan in Enemy Mine, played by Louis Gossett.. Here it was the makeup design, later reflected in many aliens of other movies and series, including the Unas of Stargate the Jem’Hadar of Deep Space Nine, not so much personality differences.

The invention of aliens that are not simply humans who look different but who both think differently and are still somehow more than incomprehendable critters is a rare skill.
And some more unhumanoid aliens, I enjoyed, though I can't think of a name.

The ones in, I think, the penultimate book of Orson Scott Card's Ender series, that eventually become trees.
Another vote for the xenomorph. I preferred the space jockey when it was a weird elephant alien than a guy in an elephant suit. Predator is a proper iconic design, too.

I like Lovecraft's Mi-Go, too, for the sheer weirdness.

The Thing.

Space Girl from Lifeforce. *cough*

The weird thing in the ball from Invaders from Mars (1953) and its counterpart in Tobe Hooper's remake. Wonder if Kang from TMNT was based on that.

The Id beast from Forbidden planet terrified me as a kid. As did the Metaluna Mutant from "This Island Earth".
The Martians from Wells' The War of the Worlds were the first cephalopod aliens. Their description really stuck with me. In Japan, the generic alien is portrayed as squid- or octopus-like.
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