The culturally monolithic alien race seems like staple of science fiction. All members of an alien race dress alike, speak alike, worship alike, and hold the same beliefs and mindset. Consider Star Trek, for instance; pacifist Klingons not obsessed with warfare and honor, socialist Ferengi, and emotional Vulcans are extremely rare, if not unknown.
The monolithic alien culture is probably the result of artistic license; it’s easier to have everybody share the same mindset than to create distinct subcultures. My question for those more familiar with SF than me: has a fictional alien race ever been created which has a diverse culture, where there are different religions, different beliefs regarding violence and honor, different fashions, and different forms of music?
I think a better exception that proves the rule is the black and white people that killed their entire planet over which side the white/black halves were on. (Star Trek, the original series, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.)
In general I’d agree with the OP that diversity in indigenous people only seems to happen when they are at war with each other, and that war is a necessary plot point.
In Edgar Burrough’s Barsoom series, there are red, green, yellow, blue, black, & white martians which are always at odds with eachother.
Cultures aren’t really that deeply explored (in the first three books, at least), but there were differences (religion, slavery, how much they worshipped war prowess)
This cliche was (perhaps) unintentionally pointed up in an episode of Babylon 5, when the station hosted a convention showcasing the religious practices of all known sentient races – except humans. And each race appeared to have only one religion. Then at the end Captain Sheridan invited the various ambassadors into a room where he introduced them to a human Catholic priest, Protestant ministers, a rabbi, a Buddhist, an atheist, a Hindu . . .
The first author who leaps to mind is Ursula K. LeGuin. Check out her Werel/Yeowe books in the Ekumen saga; in particular “Four Ways to Forgiveness” which is a suite of stories all taking place on these worlds. Interestingly, the breakdown of the slavery system in these books (due to the influence of the interplanetary league, I forget what it’s called) is followed by male/female conflict in both major ethnic groups.
Lots of her other work deals with these themes as well, but not as obviously as these books.
My recall may be fuzzy, but I’m remembering that on the 80s TV miniseries V:
there were a significant number of reptilian aliens back on the home world who were abhored by the human harvesting program.
Obviously, this wasn’t a hugely major plot point or anything … I think I’m recalling something Wally Englund’s character once said off-handedly. Also, the aliens’ actual culture was barely explored at all.
Forget about cultural diversity – what about geographical diversity? In too much TV and movie SF we have things like Star Wars’ “Ice World of Hoth” and “Desert Planet of Tatooine”, as if the entire planet is like that. (I’ll let Frank Herbert’s desert world of Arrakis slide). Too often, I think, it’s the result of a simplified mindset that images planets like countries – all the aliens look the same, speak the same language, practice the same religion, and have one constant environment.
Written SF left that behind a long time ago. Heck, Burroughs wasn’t exactly the most sophisticated writer, but even he had a lot of variation of people, climes, and customs in every one of his made-up locations.
I was going to mention this one, too. But the Narn seem to have at least two religions: From the episode with the special flower G’Kar (the Narn ambassador) needs for a religious ceremony, he asks Na’Toth (his assistant) “You’re not a follower of [insert religion name here], are you?”, and she replies “No, my father was a follower of [insert other religion name here].”. She goes on to say that she herself is an atheist, so if we count that, then that’s three Narn religions.
And while we do have different Vulcan races on Star Trek, they all seem to be the same culture. This, at least, is partly explained by the Romulans: Any member of the Vulcan species who does not embrace logic would be a Romulan, not a Vulcan, and would either leave the planet or act as a subversive agent from within.
Niven and Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye explores a struggle in an alien culture, but again it’s war that drives it. The one that comes to mind, however, is Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement. The Mesklinites are shown as a varied and far-flung culture, and the alien protagonists are sailors who trade all over their world.
First of all, let me say, what a great OP. Something along these lines has been at the back of my mind for years.
You know, I don’t know of any work of SF that gives us an alien race with diversity anywhere near what we see here on our little ol’ planet. But if you want your book to be readable (or show to be watchable), there’s only so much you can do.
C.J. Cherryh’s “Foreigner” series comes to mind. The alien race (the atevi) are portrayed as thinking very different from humans, leading to a lot of the plot points, and also being quite varied amongst themselves. This may well be as much cultural diversity as you’ll see in a work of fiction, because too much diversity would require too much exposition and explanation, thus bogging down the plot.
We’ve been shown Vulcan subsects a few times. On Enterprise, the “Mind Melders”, for instance. Spock’s Brother in Star Trek V was not a subscriber to the overall philosphy of Vulcans, and he was certainly no Romulan. (Though I can’t recall whether or not that movie made mention of others like him).
Also, the Vulcan Mystics depicted in Star Trek III seem quite different from the usual scientists and diplomats we see from Vulcan. They may not have a distinct culture, but they’re certainly differentiated.
There were the gas-bags with their aphrodisiac, the crab-like beings, and the mole-like diggers. All intelligent, all coexist but they feed on each other as well. But each culture was monolithic within its own species, and they were not much higher that the tribal level. Then, as YPOD stated, the Humans arrived.
It does seem to be a science fiction cliche, the one world culture. It’s assumed that mankind can’t deal with other planets without Earth being under one flag- *Babylon 5, Star Trek, * and many others share this unspoken creed.
Personally, I think it’s more likely that the first colonists to leave Earth for another world will not be sent by a government, they will be a religious or social group looking for a new start.
The Alien Nation TV series touched on this a couple of times - in one episode some religious event for the Newcomers was going on and when Matt’s neighbor Cathy (a Newcomer) didn’t know about it, he was surprised and asked “don’t you guys all worship Andarko and Seline (or however it’s spelled…)” and she said something about “why would we all have the same religion - humans don’t” then stated that her beliefs would be considered more “eastern” by human terms.
On Star Trek, there was some discussion of Bajorans who don’t buy the whole “Celestial Temple and Prophets” religion (Ro Laren being an example), and they started making sure to cast actors with various skin shades to play Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons and Bajorrans to make these races a bit less “monolithic” by about the third or fourth season of TNG.
I think it comes down to writers coming up with one alien culture and not really wanting to come up with two or three more for the same aliens if they don’t absolutely have to. That’s probably why all these alien worlds have single world governments, even if they’re only at a 1960’s level of technology.
The Unas come in at least 2 types - more or less civilised and working for the Goa’uld (primarily Sokar), and primative tribes.
Several of the displaced human worlds have multiple societies.
To an extent, the Goa’uld and their Jaffa have variation within the over-arching Goa’uld society - based on the human cultures they either influenced or assymilated. Sokar and his Jaffa, Unas and human servants, and lesser Goa’uld lived in a different society than Osiris, who was again different from Lord Wu’s worlds, which wasn’t like Marduk’s, etc, although they all fit into the larger Goa’uld society.
Then, of course, there’s the Tok’ra (Goa’uld who don’t fit into the Goa’uld family of cultures.), but whether they count as a different society of Goa’uld or a faction within the same culture.