Image via Morguefile, my favorite source for random imagery
Interesting that in most science fiction writing featuring aliens, the aliens are either fairly monolithic (one world, one political unit or culture), or have two or three major divisions. Seldom more.
Our good Earth, on the other hand… there’s a whole lot of Balkanization going on. The large units such as the United States, the EU, China, India all have significant internal divisions of some sort that create internal friction. Perhaps not the kind of internal friction that leads to dissolution, but who knows what the future may hold? We generally seem to assume, as groups, that cooperation will lead to cultural extinction for the various subsets we create for ourselves as human beings. It certainly could, too. History has plenty of examples of cultures dissolving and dissipating within larger wholes, especially conquering larger wholes. History also has examples of peoples preserving their heritages for centuries within larger units as well.
Some science fiction addresses these issues, but I think overall the tendency to cast alien races as large world or interstellar-empire-spanning political or cultural blocs represents the perception that in order to pursue exploration of space effectively, great amounts of resources are demanded.
Unity is the best way to coordinate massive efforts. We see this in our own recent history. Although it was largely a showpiece in many ways, the 20th century space race between the USA and USSR illustrates this. Those two nations commanded enormous resources and strong industrial bases. Smaller or less industrially developed nations didn’t join in because they didn’t have the means to.
The only way around this issue would be a technological advance that reduces the resource expenditures needed to escape Earth’s gravity well. Even with that, there’s still the demands of building whatever ships or habitats we plan to use in exploration or seeking resources, and coordinating those efforts. Again, easier to do with a large fairly single-minded bloc.
It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s just easier if it is. Thus, relatively homogenous aliens when compared to the diversity of real-life Earth.
Plus, big homogenous bloc aliens are easier to write. There’s that, too. Describing 200 alien nations in one story, novel, or even series could easily overwhelm the narrative with worldbuilding.
Anything I missed? Tell me in the comments and I’ll get to it as soon as I finish designing my latest big-single-political-and-cultural-bloc alien race.
- Our Science Fiction Movies Hate Science Fiction (theawl.com)
- Science Fiction, Aliens, and Suspension of Disbelief (jtdavidson.wordpress.com)