Extraterrestrials in fiction

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For the scientific concept, see extraterrestrial life.
Extraterrestrials in fiction
(Aliens, Space Aliens)
Martian controlled Tripod, from War of the Worlds
Grouping Mythological
Science fiction
Similar creatures Cryptids

Extraterrestrials are a common theme in modern science fiction but can also be found in much earlier works such as the second century parody True History by Lucian of Samosata.

An extraterrestrial or alien is any extraterrestrial lifeform; a lifeform that did not originate on Earth. The word extraterrestrial means "outside Earth". The first published use of extraterrestrial as a noun occurred in 1956, during the Golden Age of Science Fiction.[1]

Historical ideas[edit]

Kaguya-hime returning to the Moon in The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (c. 1650).


Cosmic pluralism, the assumption that there are many inhabited worlds beyond the human sphere predates modernity and the development of the heliocentric model and is common in mythologies worldwide. The 1st century writer of satires Lucian in his True History claims to have visited the moon when his ship was sent up by a fountain, which was peopled and at war with the people of the Sun over colonisation of the Morning Star.[2] Other worlds are depicted in such early works as the 10th-century Japanese narrative, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, and the medieval Arabic The Adventures of Bulukiya (from the One Thousand and One Nights).[3]

Early modern[edit]

The assumption of extraterrestrial life in the narrow sense (as opposed to generic cosmic pluralism) becomes possible with the development of the heliocentric understanding of the solar system, and later the understanding of interstellar space, during the Early Modern period, and the topic was popular in the literature of the 17th and 18th century.

In Johannes Kepler's Somnium, published in 1634, the character Duracotus is transported to the moon by demons. Even if much of the story is fantasy, the scientific facts about the moon and how the lunar environment has shaped its non-human inhabitants are science fiction.

The didactic poet Henry More took up the classical theme of Cosmic pluralism of the Greek Democritus in "Democritus Platonissans, or an Essay Upon the Infinity of Worlds" (1647).[4] With the new relative viewpoint that understood "our world's sunne / Becomes a starre elsewhere", More made the speculative leap to extrasolar planets,

the frigid spheres that 'bout them fare;
Which of themselves quite dead and barren are,
But by the wakening warmth of kindly dayes,
And the sweet dewie nights, in due course raise
Long hidden shapes and life, to their great Maker's praise.

The possibility of extraterrestrial life was a commonplace of educated discourse in the 17th century, though in Paradise Lost (1667)[5] John Milton cautiously employed the conditional when the angel suggests to Adam the possibility of life on the Moon:

Her spots thou seest
As clouds, and clouds may rain, and rain produce
Fruits in her softened soil, for some to eat
Allotted there; and other Suns, perhaps,
With their attendant Moons, thou wilt descry,
Communicating male and female light,
Which two great sexes animate the World,
Stored in each Orb perhaps with some that live

Fontanelle's "Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds" with its similar excursions on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, expanding rather than denying the creative sphere of a Maker, was translated into English in 1686.[6] In "The Excursion" (1728) David Mallet exclaimed, "Ten thousand worlds blaze forth; each with his train/Of peopled worlds."[7]

Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) who lived in a time where biological science had made further progress, made speculation about how life could have evolved on other planets in works such as La pluralité des mondes habités (The Plurality of Inhabited Worlds) (1862) and Recits de L'Infini(1872), translated as Stories of Infinity in 1873. Stories written before the genre of science fiction had found its form.

Closer to the modern age is J.-H. Rosny, who wrote the short story Les Xipéhuz (1887), about a human encounter with extraterrestrials who turns out to be a mineral life form impossible to communicate with.

Lithograph from the Great Moon Hoax
A bug-eyed monster, a trope of early science fiction

See also[edit]

Articles related to the phenomenon of extraterrestrials in fiction and popular culture:

Articles related to the purported or theorized existence of extraterrestrials:


  1. ^ Harper, Douglas. "extraterrestrial". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  2. ^ Grewell, Greg (2001). "Colonizing the Universe: Science Fictions Then, Now, and in the (Imagined) Future". Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature 55 (2): 25–47. 
  3. ^ Irwin, Robert (2003). The Arabian Nights: A Companion. Tauris Parke Paperbacks. p. 204 & 209. ISBN 1-86064-983-1. 
  4. ^ Democritus (1647). Democritus Platonissans, or an Essay Upon the Infinity of Worlds. 
  5. ^ Milton, John (1667). Paradise Lost. ISBN 0-8414-2222-2. 
  6. ^ Fontenelle, Bernard le Bovier de (1686). Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds. ISBN 0-520-07171-9. 
  7. ^ Mallet, David (1728). The Excursion. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Roth, Christopher F., "Ufology as Anthropology: Race, Extraterrestrials, and the Occult." In E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces, ed. by Debbora Battaglia. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005.
  • Sagan, Carl. 1996. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark: chapter 4: "Aliens"

External links[edit]