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In a world I am building, human and a plethora of aliens have met and they are meeting, but unlike many stories on the topic, this scenario focuses on the individuals; how does Conner interact with xyzikzhidth? How does Bill interact with Đóŧẅen? That kind of stuff. One of the stories features a strapping young lad who has a crush on one of the aliens, but he has never seen even her skin, only the armor she wears.

This has created a problem as I have designed this species, I am struggling to think of a way to dehumanize this species, to make them feel alien, while continuing to keep the humanoid form. I want to create a feel of humanity in them, until they remove their armor, thus I need for them to remain humanoid. How else can I dehumanize them?

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    $\begingroup$ Does it need to be a "feel" physically? As opposed to foreign morals / customs / ideas? $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Dec 25 '16 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ Read "Blue and Orange morality" on TVTropes. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BlueAndOrangeMorality. They may look human but their ideas and actions are so far out of the range of human norms that the characters cannot interact with them successfully. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Dec 25 '16 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ What medium are you using? The tools they use to dehumanize movie aliens are different from what you use for a novel. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 25 '16 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ force it to shop at walmart the day before xmas. ha ha google walmartians $\endgroup$ – μολὼν.λαβέ Dec 25 '16 at 21:34
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    $\begingroup$ What weird kind of a name is "Conner"? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Kosubek Dec 26 '16 at 21:05

16 Answers 16

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Mouthparts

Because a picture of a star nosed mole is what everyone should wake up to on christmas morning.

star nose mole

If taking the helmet off and seeing a face like that doesn't kill a crush, nothing will.

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    $\begingroup$ "If ... seeing that doesn't kill a crush, nothing will." Oh there are things far worst than that, but this is definitely in the right ball park. Plus one. $\endgroup$ – a4android Dec 25 '16 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, this is how the romance with Tali in Mass Effect should have ended, instead of that awfully photoshopped stock photo :) $\endgroup$ – vsz Dec 25 '16 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android, there are of course things at the bottom of the sea, but many people eat big meals today and I didn't think it was fair. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Dec 25 '16 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ those moles would go extinct if they weren't all blind. $\endgroup$ – Jasen Dec 26 '16 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ +1 mouthparts is what transforms the mildly human predator-with-armor (vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/avp/images/7/72/…) into a completely alien predator (geek.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/predator-625x350.jpg). $\endgroup$ – sergut Dec 26 '16 at 18:52
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Hasn't seen her skin, eh? Well, she looked like one of these delightful creatures then her species would be somewhat less than warm and fuzzy.

enter image description here

enter image description here

This beauty is Moloch horridus or the Thorny Devil. A native lizard of the Australian Outback. Reasonably biologically plausible that a sapient alien might have evolved from creatures like these.

Presumably if a strapping lad was attracted to a female alien in armour, then there would have to be communications capabilities like shared cultural values or they shared personal traits in common.

This is the simplest approach to dehumanizing humanoid aliens, of making them radically different in their surface features while retaining a generally humanoid anatomy. It could be as simple as giving your humanoid alien the feeding habit and mouth parts of a lamprey or even a leech. For example, sitting to dinner with a humanoid that feeds like a lamprey would take an extremely strong stomach.

Aliens covered with venomous spines would be plain dangerous to keep company, let alone getting intimate with.

This approach involves adopting biological traits from known animals or variants thereof and grafting them onto to your humanoid aliens. Traits that would be repellent to an average human being. This repulsion is normally what causes mere humans to dehumanize others. Obviously this can include humanoid aliens especially with unexpectedly different structural or behavioural features.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is this the one that sprays blood out of it's eyes when agitated? I guess that would go a long way in dehumanising it, too. $\endgroup$ – Davor Dec 26 '16 at 18:54
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    $\begingroup$ But... that looks so cute. I want to hug it. $\endgroup$ – cde Dec 27 '16 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ Suddenly I'm thinking of the jem'hadar (sp?) in Deep Space Nine. Humanoid, but clones, and covered with spiky bits. $\endgroup$ – Ti Strga Dec 27 '16 at 16:46
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I take it that in the armor, the alien looks to have human curves (breasts; hips wider than a waist; shapely legs). The armor gives the appearance of a humanoid female. The description made me think of a Barbie doll space armor.

Just make the curves mean something other than how they are interpreted. Perhaps the "breasts" are actually mouths, nostrils, eyes, or ears. The legs and arms are purely part of the suit and do not correspond to actual limbs. The hips are the actual base of the creature. The "head" is where the manipulating tentacles are, not the sensory organs. The hair is something like gills that are used for breathing. There are endless variants if you remove the requirement that the alien looks like the armor.

One of the first questions that I had when I read your description is "Why do we think the alien is female?" The alien can be a member of a species that reproduces by budding or with multiple sexes (perhaps a human male resembles one of the alien sexes). Or simply male. Perhaps, out of the armor, obviously so. Don't name the story "The Crying Game" in that case. You might get sued for copyright infringement.

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    $\begingroup$ It looks really stupid when aliens with alien - and obviously not mammal - biology look like attractive human females. Reptiles don't have boobs - and neither do squids and insects! However, idea that protection suit sports curves that amuse horny brain is nice. If alien had feeding mouth on their chest, mandibles could be packed somewhere around that - and they won't be articulated by the suit because aliens are not going to eat in spacesuit anyways. $\endgroup$ – Daerdemandt Dec 25 '16 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ "legs and arms part of the suit"—maybe they don't have "tools" as efficient as our arms, and so they make them in their suits. $\endgroup$ – WGroleau Dec 26 '16 at 4:49
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    $\begingroup$ Damn that's creative :) "So sweet that you always look me in the eyes, Jonh." "Uh, are those eyes?" $\endgroup$ – user8808 Dec 26 '16 at 10:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Daerdemandt - even amongst mammals, humans are the only ones that have actual "breasts" like that, especially outside of pregnancy. Our relatives chimps, gorillas and orangutans are flat as a board. $\endgroup$ – Davor Dec 26 '16 at 18:56
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for questioning the concept of sexes and genders in an alien individual $\endgroup$ – That Brazilian Guy Dec 27 '16 at 18:01
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The alien is actually a collection of life-forms. Once your hero starts removing that armor, oh boy. Her arms and legs are some sort of worm, connected to a circuit board in her chest that sends electrical signals to make them bend. The life-form in her helmet controls the whole operation, but it gets its energy from the waste of its legs/arms. With a piece of her armor in his hand, he worries that he's broken her forever.

Her face is quite pretty, and with well evolved anatomical parts, he can almost believe she's one species.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is an amazing idea. I love it! $\endgroup$ – Steve-O Dec 25 '16 at 22:15
  • $\begingroup$ That reminds me of Total Recall's Kuato. $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Dec 26 '16 at 7:16
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    $\begingroup$ So Halo's Hunters or Mass Effect Vorcha. $\endgroup$ – cde Dec 27 '16 at 1:18
  • $\begingroup$ @cde Not at all. Think fungus that infects an insect to do it's bidding, but charming and attractive. $\endgroup$ – Carl Dec 27 '16 at 6:32
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If this is a movie, where visuals are possible, one of the keys to dehumanizing an alien is to build it up without any sternocleidomastoid muscles. For humans, there is some humanizing cue that comes from those particular muscles. Apparently its rather unique to humans, and doesn't appear often in the rest of the animal kingdom. Whenever a science fiction artist wants to make a nice alien or a nice robot, they make sure there is a SCM muscle on each side of their neck. For robots, pistons suffice. If they want a villainous robot or an evil alien, they'll leave those muscles off.

Bad guy (No SCM):
T-800

Good Guy (SCM):
Extreme example!

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    $\begingroup$ I think this choice is because the evil robot should look like a skeleton and the good one should not, rather than any more generic human / non-human factor. $\endgroup$ – Random832 Dec 27 '16 at 4:36
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  • Make it difficult for them to remove the suit. They need carefully controlled environments. The touch of a human will overheat them, or give them too much humidity, or whatever.
  • Make it difficult for humans if they remove the suit. A disgusting odor. A carcinogen. Perhaps they are silicon-based lifeforms.
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  • $\begingroup$ Environmental differences would cetainly make fraternizing difficult. Current thinking is that silicon-based lifeforms will need low-temperature environments. Low enough to freeze humans solid quickly. Gave you plus one for the disgusting odor. Simple but effective. $\endgroup$ – a4android Dec 25 '16 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Brythan Many thanks. It's done. Much appreciated. This feels more like the Xmas spirit! $\endgroup$ – a4android Dec 25 '16 at 10:51
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Who says there is anything under the armor, maybe their bodies are mechanical and the lifeform is little more than a brain in jar. Maybe they don't take off armor just pop off the head and put it on a different mechanical body. Perhaps somewhere in their history their species when full cyborg. Her species might form connection based on personality less than physical characteristics. The armor looks "good" because artificial bodies are pinnacles of engineering nearly organic in complexity. Bulky angular bodies would be like wearing rags for clothes

They might have even made the type of body she wears based on their first contact with humans to make it easier to work with humans and human tools. This is how humans are shaped so this is how we should build a body to work with them, a human shape but made of precision metal and polymers. They could switch to different bodies as the need arises and their bodies vary in size, form, and characteristics.

Damn you could even have him compliment her on her shape and she takes it the same way we might take a compliment about our clothes. You can push it even more if the aliens have hand in designing their own unique bodies, "I thought he was complimenting me on my engineering skills" Gender might not even be a thing for them, maybe their translator interprets gender as body type, which for them is of course optional.

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Have the gender signals be flawed. The suits could be very curvy to be aerodynamic, but their bodies are much more masculine. The inversion of expectation frequently triggers angry feelings of betrayal in humans, which can be observed in reactions to cross-dressers (an effect you can research more about with ease by talking to any drag queen in your hometown). Once that anger gets going, it morphs into a clear sense of "other" that persists.

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    $\begingroup$ The juxtaposition of "curvy to be aerodynamic" and "drag queen" is terribly amusing. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Dec 25 '16 at 17:40
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Invisible body

They have no visible body. So they may have human shape, but no appearance at all.

Why do they have a visible armor, then? To be visible when interacting with humans. And because in modern warfare, everybody has infra-red.
Additional tactical advantage: if your (potential) opponent don't know you are invisible, you can surprise him a big time.

They are not humanoid

They are tardigrades or jellyfish with humanoid power armor.

Obviously, a tall and rigid body with legs and arms has many advantage when living on earth

Inorganic body shell

Maybe you only need to de-eroticise them

With a cold and stony (like crustaceans ) or metallic shell, they would lose most of their erotic attraction.
Why would they keep an armor? Because a crab-like skin does not stop bullets.

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They have no (human) face

Building on the answer by Separatrix, the fastest way of dehumanizing another sentient being if by moving away from the human build for faces: roundish shape, two eyes, one nose, one mouth. Beings that follow this pattern look humanish, like pandas, wookies, kzins, and Disney's crabs; aliens that do not follow the pattern look really weird, like fruit flies, spiders, ithorians, predators, Pierson's puppeteers, and real-world crabs.

Maybe the alien has a body structure like a human: torso, head, two limbs for moving, two limbs for sensing-acting. However, their head do no have faces in the human sense because any of the following are true:

  • There are two eyes but they are on opposite sides of the head, not looking to the front, like in deer or octopuses.
  • There are two eyes but they not fixed, like snails or chameleons.
  • There are three eyes like tadpoles, a few eyes like spiders, or a lot of eyes like DnD beholders and real world scallops.
  • There is only one eye but it is omni-directional
  • There are no eyes at all, like many blind animals.
  • There is no nose, like fish and water mammals.
  • There is no visible mouth because it is hidden, like squid.
  • There is no visible mouth because it is not at the front, like Ithorians (who have two mouths for extra credit).
  • There are tentacles or tendrils and they are not where the human hair is (on top) but at the front or all around the head.
  • The head does not have a fixed form out of the armor (maybe the alien comes from an aquatic world, like octopuses). This applies to the body too.
  • They have all the same parts but in a different order, for example mouth on top and eyes in the middle.
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How about not actually making it human-like, but turning it into a sort of swarm/shapeshifter (in a way)?

The alien could consist out of thousands of weird, creepy-looking maybe buglike liveforms, which form themselves to the shape of a human body and, together, are intelligent. The armor might help them to hold together. But as soon as the armor gets removed, bad news! Its all small and crawly under the surface, almost like an ant hill! Disgusting! After removing the armor, it could even grow additional limbs and/or remove some for whatever reason to make it feel even less human after removing the armor.

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Consider reproductive strategies. We like small litters of labor intensive young. Consider a toad, that lays a clutch of eggs, and walks away. They may not even consider an infant part of the species until it grows legs and comes onto land. Much less investment of time and energy, and they probably will have one or two survivors. Or, consider the harem approach of many species. Only males that prove their fitness are attractive to females, and only then when they are fertile. One male fights for a group of females. What kind of society would exist when most males are bachelors and a select few have all of the females? What if your crush isn't attracted to someone who hasn't fought for them? Finally, consider the bizarre reproductive strategy of humans. Our females are in heat all of the time, and they conceal their condition from males. What kind of mutant creature does that? Perhaps this female is not in season and can't understand what the hell he's trying to do. After all, it's not spring time and she's not remotely interested in mating. Come on, smell my urine! Clearly, I'm not ready for mating! What kind of animal are you?

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  • $\begingroup$ Human females aren't "in heat" all of the time. They ovulate every 28 days (or so), and are fertile only for a few days around that time, just prior to menstruating. That was the basis of the Catholic Church's "rhythm method" of contraception. $\endgroup$ – jaxter Dec 25 '16 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ @jaxter Why does the rhythm method belong to the Catholic Church? It is pretty widely used method, and is supported by reputable medical authorities. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Dec 25 '16 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion There are other groups that have adopted or practiced the method, but Johannes Smulders, a Dutch Catholic physician, created a calendar-based method for avoiding pregnancy in the 1930's. Smulders published his work through the Roman Catholic Medical Association in the Netherlands. This was the method promoted over the next several decades. In 1932 Dr. Leo J Latz, a Catholic, published a book titled "The Rhythm of Sterility and Fertility in Women", based on the method. The first U.S. Rhythm Clinic was started by John Rock for Catholic couples. So, founding efforts were Catholic. $\endgroup$ – jaxter Dec 26 '16 at 0:08
  • $\begingroup$ @kingledion And the reasoning behind it is that every sperm is sacred. If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.Under the strictures of the Old Catholic Church, masterbation, pulling out, anything that involves sperm spilled anywhere but inside a vagina are considered sinful. In Medieval times, the church only allowed specific days for copulation--and most the calendar was taken up by holy days. Even before they got scientific, they were limiting population by limiting the days of copulation. (Not that people followed it to the letter) $\endgroup$ – Erin Thursby Dec 26 '16 at 20:03
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Unable to Communicate Without Armor

Have the female's communication skills be possible only with her armor. Say her armor has a built-in translator and without it, she can't speak English or understand what is said. Have her language be utterly unintelligible to humans, and also be unreproducible with human vocal anatomy, much in the same way humans can't perfectly reproduce bat vocalizations.

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Well, I was thinking that, to "dehumanize" something you'd have to take the "human" part out.

To do this I'd say add or remove key features / components of the human body.

For example:

  1. Have 4 nostrils, this alien might need the extra oxygen intake.
  2. Give the alien one eye, maybe this alien doesn't need the extra eye, maybe it has a super computer attached to its cheeks or something.
  3. Give it rotating limbs. (yeah, I don't know why it just sounds cool).
  4. Remove its genitals / breasts, this alien has a entirely different reproductive system.
  5. MAKE IT FLY!!!!!! (sorry, inner child speaking here).

Anyways... Regardless of what you do, change or remove, just make it so that it looks similar to a human being but has a key feature / component that's extremely (insanely) different.

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Perhaps there is no life form inside the body armor; the "alien" is really just a remote controlled drone with a body engineered to promote feelings of sexual desire in human males.

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I would start with asking how human you want it to look. Do you want this to be a regular lad, or one with a few more kinks than is healthy. I'm thinking you should focus on something humans would be used to seeing, like a humanoid version of a common earth animal with a few alien features.

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