Stories where we're the aliens
September 3, 2018 6:33 PM   Subscribe

I really like stories that provide an alien perspective on humans -- where humans are Other, and we get an "outside" perspective on human nature. What can you recommend?

I'm looking in particular for written pieces, but if you know a good movie or TV show, let me know!

Thanks!
posted by meese to Writing & Language (52 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
 
My very favorite is the Twilight Zone episode The Invaders starring Agnes Moorehead. It's a classic.
posted by phunniemee at 6:36 PM on September 3, 2018 [7 favorites]


they're made out of meat is a fun little story in this vein that i've quite enjoyed.
posted by rotten at 6:44 PM on September 3, 2018 [31 favorites]


You might like Under the Skin. There's a movie too, but I heard it's quite different from the book (I've only read the book).
posted by cpatterson at 6:45 PM on September 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun is a wonderful graphic novel from the perspective of an alien who lands on earth and learns a lot about humanity.

it is so delightful I have probably gifted a dozen copies to various friends in the last year.
posted by wowenthusiast at 6:53 PM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


PKD's Roog
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 6:57 PM on September 3, 2018


also this question makes me really want to re-visit 3rd Rock from the Sun, which aired on NBC 1996-2001. I remember really enjoying it as a teenager.
posted by wowenthusiast at 7:00 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


John Sayles' 1984 movie The Brother from Another Planet
posted by nantucket at 7:00 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


C J Cherryh does this with her Foreigner and Chanur series. The latter in particular is told exclusively from the point of view of a race of aliens, and begins with the discovery of a strange, bipedal creature wandering around a merchant spaceship.
posted by Alensin at 7:02 PM on September 3, 2018 [10 favorites]


Maybe the Mary Doria Russell novel The Sparrow?
posted by QuakerMel at 7:09 PM on September 3, 2018 [11 favorites]


The short story “Rescue Party” by Arthur C. Clarke.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:25 PM on September 3, 2018


The first thing that comes to mind is Zenna Henderson's stories about The People. Review here which is pretty much spot on for how I feel about them too, having encountered them at the right age and level of alienation.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:32 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Nthing They’re Made out of Meat - I was first exposed to it in this podcast version: http://www.thetruthpodcast.com/story/2015/10/14/theyre-made-out-of-meat
posted by OrangeVelour at 7:42 PM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Peter Watts' The Things. (Helps to have seen the John Carpenter movie)
posted by whistle pig at 8:01 PM on September 3, 2018 [16 favorites]


John Scalzi plays with this a bit in the Old Man's War series, particularly later in the series.
posted by adamrice at 8:03 PM on September 3, 2018


Some recent stories that contrast humans with aliens, reflecting on us as much as on them: Will McIntosh, "What is Eve?"; Adrian Simmons, "The Wait is Longer Than You Think"; Michele Tracy Berger, "Nussia"; and Rebecca Ann Jordan, "We Have a Cultural Difference, Can I Taste You?"
posted by Wobbuffet at 8:07 PM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


I can't find the title for this, so I'll describe the plot and maybe it will tickle someone's memory:
[Click for spoiler]
A short story written around the mid-twentieth-century I think: it starts off with a group of humans digging a tunnel down into the Earth. They see interesting large structures in their scanners further down and make plans to reach the location they're seeing. Then the characters and setting shift to a scientific team exploring a ruined civilization; by the end, you realize that these are aliens from the deep exploring the remains of human civilization up on the surface which was destroyed as a result of the aliens' habitat being breached. (They technically aren't aliens, rather some intelligent species which always lived down there unbeknownst to us.)


I came across this article in the course of searching although it's mostly mundane examples of the theme or ones which have already been mentioned above.
posted by XMLicious at 8:09 PM on September 3, 2018


Moby Dick; Or, The Whale by Herman Melville
posted by Little Dawn at 8:12 PM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Fantastic Planet, 1973 animated film.
posted by ovvl at 8:38 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Catherynne Valente's Space Opera treats humans as a species newly-discovered by the rest of the universe, and it's a hoot.
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:40 PM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Ken Macleod's Learning the World details the approach of a human spaceship to a planet inhabited by an industrial age species of bats. The novel switches point of view between the exploring humans and the aliens.
posted by Pink Frost at 9:39 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Matt Haig, The Humans. An alien is sent to get rid of a mathematician who discovered the solution to a complex formula, ends up having to impersonate him, and has to learn to live with the humans.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:49 PM on September 3, 2018


Never seen this done better than Instruction for a Help.
posted by flabdablet at 10:31 PM on September 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


We Made a Mistake
posted by Rhaomi at 10:38 PM on September 3, 2018


The mote God's eye is a classic of this genre.
posted by 15L06 at 11:22 PM on September 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


"The Road not Taken" by Harry Turtledove
posted by alchemist at 11:22 PM on September 3, 2018


If you are looking for a Space Operatic take, I quite like Timothy Zahn's Conquers' trilogy. The first book is from a human perspective of first contact with an uncommunicative, hostile alien race. The second is entirely from the aliens' point of view. The third is split.
posted by DoveBrown at 11:39 PM on September 3, 2018


There is a nice quite ongoing series about a universe where there are a lot of different aliens and they are very surprised to discover a sapient race living on a death world, where the temperatures very from -60 to 50 C the gravity is 9.8 m/s^2 and there are a large number of potential predators. Most sapients developed on planets with less gravity and are descended from herd animals without predatory pressure and much more stable climates. they are very wary of this new species capable of running for over 20 km in this heavy gravity and lifting 50-80 kg with ease.
posted by koolkat at 1:11 AM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


A brief but delightful version of this is the poem A Martian Sends A Postcard Home. You can find further examples by searching for Martian poetry or martianism.
posted by yankeefog at 1:33 AM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


Excellent TNG episode “First Contact” about this (not to be confused with the film)
posted by johngoren at 1:34 AM on September 4, 2018


they're made out of meat is a fun little story in this vein that i've quite enjoyed.

There's a nice short-film made of this story.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:36 AM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Vernor Vinge has a couple of books where portions are written from an alien's perspective. A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky.
posted by EatenByAGrue at 2:21 AM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


This wonderful poem!

(and, yes, the Invaders, which my 6th grade history teacher screened for some reason, is something I still think about regularly).
posted by athirstforsalt at 2:37 AM on September 4, 2018


On preview, yankeefog beat me to it :)
posted by athirstforsalt at 2:38 AM on September 4, 2018


I can't remember what the story was called but it's basically a series of government memos sent between different ministers/government departments in the Martian government, who are becoming increasingly worried about how fast humans are developing technology and how violent they are. In the end they send over some spaceships to threaten humanity with extinction unless they completely stop developing space travel.
Click for spoiler:
The last entry is written by human marines who have discovered the above memos; it's revealed that instead of developing rockets, humans invented teleportation and used it to invade Mars.

posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:36 AM on September 4, 2018


Not aliens, but Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay involves an archeological team from the far future unearthing a motel and making some...interesting conclusions about the objects they find there.
posted by damayanti at 4:27 AM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


In the tradition of the Hitchhiker's Guide (but much tastier,) my buddy John Wiswell wrote a fabulous little story where aliens completely misunderstand who the dominant species on the planet is.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:19 AM on September 4, 2018


Robart Forward's Dragon's Egg is in this category.
posted by metadave at 5:43 AM on September 4, 2018


Hal Clement wrote a number of novels in the Golden Age from alien points of view, notably Mission of Gravity.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:29 AM on September 4, 2018


The Mount by Carol Emschwiller
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:48 AM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Specialist by Robert Sheckley
posted by Heloise9 at 7:01 AM on September 4, 2018


A short story written around the mid-twentieth-century I think: it starts off with a group of humans digging a tunnel down into the Earth.

I suspect this is a slight misremembering of Arthur C. Clarke’s The Fires Within.

I can't remember what the story was called but it's basically a series of government memos sent between different ministers/government departments in the Martian government

Arthur C. Clarke, Loophole.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:44 AM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


The Nacirema - classic example! Here is the original text: Body Ritual among the Nacirema, by Horace Mitchell Miner, 1956.
posted by belau at 7:57 AM on September 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


Iain M Banks' The State of the Art.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 8:33 AM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


You might enjoy Solaris, an excellent Sci-Fi novel about an incident at a research station orbiting a planet that may or may not be a single enormous alien mind. The humans researching this planet are visited by apparitions from their past, in what may or may not be an attempt at contact, or perhaps an elaborate psychological experiment, by the planet beneath them. A bit slow and psychological, but really, really good. Had a regrettable Clooney vehicle adaptation and a better Tarkovsky one.
posted by Rinku at 9:17 AM on September 4, 2018 [1 favorite]


Bradbury’s collection of short stories The Martian Chronicles. They’re best read together I think.
posted by gollie at 11:18 AM on September 4, 2018


Becky Chambers' Record of a Spaceborn Few has some of this, though most of the book focuses on the Human diaspora themselves. There are excerpts of an alien's articles about them scattered throughout the book. It's third in the Wayfarers series, but it stands alone just fine.
posted by yasaman at 12:31 PM on September 4, 2018


Allan Dean Foster's "Damned" trilogy is about a interstellar war between two assemblages of aliens, one of whom discovers humanity circa 1990. Earth's lifeforms, unlike the lifeforms of the planets belonging to aliens on both sides of the war, are primarily competitive instead of cooperative, and for that reason, even a moderately out-of-shape human is an excellent stalker, tactical thinker, and general bruiser, compared to most of the aliens involved. The humans are admitted to the alliance that finds them as the primary military force, and the war begins to take an interesting series of turns as the trilogy progresses. I read these recently, and they're both good on both action as well as contemplation about the social and political problems that're both solved and created by the arrival of the aliens.

The books tell their story from a few different perspective, roughly equally between alien and human protagonists. In particular, one protagonist in the third book is a sociologist academic from a bird species which largely contributes its facility with language and protocol, but like so many of the species on both sides, are overwhelmed to the point of fainting at the idea of physical contact. Nevertheless, she takes on the human fighting force as her area of study, and spends some time with the people who, despite being her allies, she reflexively fears to the core of her being.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:33 PM on September 4, 2018


Forgot to add a link. The Damned
posted by Sunburnt at 1:55 PM on September 4, 2018


David Brin's "Uplift" universe of books and the occasional short story has both aliens and non-human Earth species, namely neo-chimps and neofins (Uplifted, i.e. genetically enhanced into sentience, chimpanzees and dolphins) as main characters in addition to humans, but the primary characters are humans. There are 7 novels including the "Infinity's Shore" trilogy, where humans are just one of half a dozen alien species hiding out on a planet at the edge of the galaxy. I think "The Uplift War" probably has the most non-human mains, including neochimps, while "Startide Rising" has the most dolphin mains, being, as it is, set largely on a mostly dolphin-crewed spaceship. I believe there are some short stories, but the only one that comes to mind is "Afficionado," which is both pre-Uplift and pre-Alien contact for humans, so it doesn't meet your requirement.

Also, seconding "The Things," above. If you're a fan of "John Carpenter's The Thing," you'll spot some plot differences, because "The Things" is using the Campbell short story, "Who Goes There?" as its basis, just as that story was the basis for "John Carpenter's The Thing."
posted by Sunburnt at 2:42 PM on September 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


No word from Gurb.
posted by Stewriffic at 4:10 PM on September 6, 2018


Planet 51 is a 2009 animated film that's basically the Roswell Incident in reverse: a planet of green-skinned four-fingered people has a U.S.-1950s-like culture. An American astronaut (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) lands on it and is feared as an alien invader.

Not technically aliens, but in MeFi's own cstross's novel Glasshouse a group of humans in the distant future create a sort of LARP subjecting its participants to the more oppressive aspects of 1950s U.S. society, based upon fragmentary historical records, as a form of research into psychological warfare techniques and social control.
posted by XMLicious at 10:21 PM on September 6, 2018


Spirited Away (a Japanese animated film) covers this to some extent.
posted by anonymous donut at 2:51 PM on September 8, 2018


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