Science fiction with no human characters

Some idle mental meanderings over the weekend piqued my curiosity on this topic, so I figured my best best would be to open it to the collective intelligence of the SDMB. (I tried a search to see if it had been discussed before, but words like “aliens” bring up unrelated discussions – say, of tiny spaceships on the moon – so I’m forging ahead.)

I’m looking for examples of science fiction in which there are no human characters, and the entire cast, so to speak, is made up of alien beings. There are lots of very good alien characters in SF (the Amnion in Donaldson’s Gap series come to mind), but they’re almost always paired with or against humans. Obviously, for purposes of reader identification, it’s a lot easier working with humans, but it seems to me that shouldn’t be a requirement for solid storytelling.

But off the top of my head, I can come up with only a few pseudo-examples, books where long sequences are conducted without human involvement:
[ul][li]The middle section in Asimov’s The Gods Themselves[/li][li]All the stuff about the alien army in Zahn’s Conquerors Trilogy before anybody figures out the communication thing[/li][li]That crap Piers Anthony wrote about the intelligent musical lawn mowers or whatever the hell it was[/ul][/li]I also thought of the creepy Ray Bradbury story about the unoccupied robo-house, but that doesn’t have any characters at all (except for Time and Regret and other metaphorical presences).

I think maybe the closest example I can think of is Watership Down, which very successfully takes the point of view of a nonhuman intelligence, albeit a familiar one. I expect there are other examples in the science-fiction realm, but I can’t think of a single one. Even the stories that take place on alien worlds and that have nothing to do with Earth – e.g., the Asimov/Silverberg classic Nightfall – assume basically human characters for their cast. You could say the same thing about Disney’s Dinosaur movie, which despite its all-reptile-and-lemur ensemble anthropomorphizes the characters so much as to make the alternative setting basically meaningless.

So: Any suggestions? I would prefer good examples, if possible, partly because it’s bugging me that I can’t think of any. I’ll kick myself if I’m overlooking something obvious.

P.S. If you want to take this as an opportunity to get your jollies knocking somebody’s style of writing ("…but Heinlein never has any human characters, har har…"), feel free, but don’t expect me to pay attention to you. :wink:

  • The Bug Wars * by Robert Asprin and * Far Seer * and the sequels by Robert Sawyer. The first only has aliens and the second only dinosaurs.

  • To Reign in Hell * by (?) Stephen Brust. God, Jesus, Lucifer, and several ranks of angels, but no humans.

Frederick Pohl’s “Day Million,” though its characters are mainly objects for the narrator to expound on how utterly foreign they are to us folks. And technically, the characters are human, albeit from the far, far future.

Likewise, the main action of James Blish’s “Surface Tension” involves microscopic beings which are, in essence, human.

If Star Wars actually occurred “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away” then all of those characters can be considered aliens.

Ah, but it was only “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” from the point of view of the storyteller. From our point in time it’s really far, far into the future. That’s why they says things like “Hello” :slight_smile:

Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement does have some human characters, but the main focus is on the extremely alien Mesklinites.

Some better examples are on the tip of my brain…

CJ Cherryh’s Chanur Saga features a lot of aliens, and only one human who doesn’t have many lines because no one else in the book can speak English.

Cuckoo’s Egg, also by Cherryh, has a human protagonist raised since birth by aliens, and taught to believe he is one, although with serious “birth defects” (no fur, etc.)

Along the lines of Disney’s Dinosaur, there is Robert Bakker’s Raptor Red. Although, I must confess that I haven’t read it, so I don’t know if it fits the qualifier of “good”.

Terry Carr’s Th Dance of the Chnger and the THree.
Joe Haldeman’s Tercentenary

John Brunner’s The Crucible of Time. The intelligent species is insectoid.

Been quite a while (years) since I read it, so I can’t recall any other details of it.

The first part of James P. Hogan’s Code of The Lifemaker is all about a strictly robot society and goes on for quite a stretch. The sequel The Immortality Option has a large chunk devoted to the robots creators, a race of avian type aliens.

Jack L. Chalker’s Well of Souls series has a planet divided into 144(?) sections I think where each section has its own alien species. Very few humans show up in the books (and stay human for very long), but as you said most of the “aliens” are Terran in their culture and seem to just be humans in rubber suits.

FTR, The Dark Crystal is the only live-action movie I can think of that has no humans in it. Antz is one that I can think of that had no humans but it’s all CG of course. They are merely anthropomorphized insects.

Gene Wolfe’s magisteral collection of three novellas The Fifth Head of Ceberus may not have any human characters…


“There Shall Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury. The story’s about a bunch of robots running a house following a nuclear war, oblivious to the fact that their owners are dead.

A dying dog shows up at one point, though.

Also from The Martian Chronicles like “There Shall Come Soft Rains” is its second story, “Ylla.” The tale is completely about the life of two Martians just before man’s first landing. There are discussions about Earth men, and one is killed offstage; but there are no actual human characters in the story. (The Martians’ characteristics and interactions, though, are written as if they were human).

A.E. van Vogt’s short story “Enchanted Village”. There is a twist at the end of it.

Asimov did write IMO one of the best Short tales ever and that also fit the OP: Victory Unintentional. This story was left out of I, Robot because its humorous tone didn’t fit in well with the other stories in the book. The protagonists are three robot heroes: ZZ-1, ZZ-2, and ZZ-3 not a human in sight because they were created to “land” on Jupiter.

In the tale, xenophobic Jovian creatures just found a way to communicate with earth and they are threatening war! Our heroes were the only ambassadors capable to support the environment.

How they defeat the Jovians is one of the greatest twists in sci-fi history.

While the androids climbed their ship, they were concerned that they had failed in their peace negotiations. It is now war to the death! Just then, the Jovians noticed that the android’s ship had no sealed cabin! Finding that the robots could survive in the vacuum of space was the last power they found the androids had and that the Jovians could not replicate: they surrendered to earth then and there!
On the way up, the androids realized that something else had happened: nobody had told the Jovians that they were not humans! The Jovians just assumed all those billions of humans out there, in the third planet and mars, were like our unique heroes!

There’s an Arthur C Clarke story which only mentions chess; it’s very short, conducted between what appear to be godlike computers, and the name completely escapes me.

There’s another one of his in which Venusians come to Earth and pick up a few tattered remnants of human civilisation after the next ice age pretty much destroys civilisation. Humans do appear at the beginning of the story, but they’re sort of post-humans. Again, I can’t recall the story’s title.

Third, another story, set post-ice-age. The characters belong to a species that evolved from humanity into something else - fur-bearing, long teeth for scraping algae out of ice, that sort of thing. I think this is another Arthur C Clarke, but I can’t even remember that for certain, never mind the title. Sieve for a brain, honestly…

There’s yet another Clarke story - I think it’s called “Second Dawn” - which features no human characters at all; the protagonists are a sort of ruminant, with advanced mental powers but no hands. The story concerns the revolution in their culture when they meet up with another species which does have hands, but this other species isn’t human either.

In some of James White’s Sector General series, the focus is very much off the human characters, but I don’t know if any of them actually drop the humans completely (if anyone has spare copies of Code Blue - Emergency or The Genocidal Healer, I have a good home they can go to…)

The protagonists in Brian Aldiss’s Enemies of the System are all homo uniformis rather than homo sapiens, does this count?

How about Samuel Delany’s The Einstein Intersection?

Your mention of Clarke made me think of two of his short stories where human beings have little in the way of appearances. In Rescue Party, which details the efforts of a group of aliens to save the human race before the Earth is destroyed, the humans only make an appearance at the end. In The Parasite, humans only make a very brief appearance at the end, and only as commentators (I think I have the correct title. I took it from a list of his short stories that I found online). As a brief hijack, it’s a great pity that he stopped writing short stories. They were always his best work. It’s also a pity that he hasn’t written anything decent since 2010 (with the possible exception of The Hammer of God).

Actually, Cervaise, for the most part human identification is necessary for good storytelling. Most good stories involve some sort of conflict, whether it be between two characters, a character and nature, or his/her inner self, etc. (I have heard it said before that all stories involve conflict, but I don’t know if I’m willing to go that far). If the thoughts, emotions, motivations, and actions of the characters are not in some way anthropomorphised, the conflict and it’s resolution (or lack thereof) and the other action in the story just wouldn’t mean anything to us. I’m not saying that it couldn’t be done, but that it would be very difficult to create a completely alien character in a completely alien setting and make it interesting to us.

I think that this is expressed much more eloquantly than I can state it in the forward to the book that you mentioned in your OP, Nightfall. In it Asimov and Silverberg talk about the fact that although it is set on alien world, the people are portrayed as talking and acting like we do. Although they could have spent their time coming up with dozens of “alien sounding” words and phrases, it doesn’t really add anything to the story except a gimmick and instead detracts from the readability. YMMV on this, of course.

I can’t find the first story I mentioned above, but the second and third are “History Lesson” and “Quarantine” respectively.