I attended FenCon 2019 and went to a couple of panels by science fiction and fantasy authors that I thought had useful information for writers. One of those panels was Extraordinary Creatures.

The panelists

  • Julie Czerneda, with 17 science fiction and 3 fantasy novels
  • Amber Royer, with 2 comic science fiction novels
  • William Ledbetter, an author of hard science fiction and alien first contact
  • Stephen Patrick, author of Holocaust Engine
  • Adrian Simmons, editor of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly

Favorite alien or mythological beasts

  • dragons, though most don’t do it right
  • goblins, who are traditionally bad guys but have their own issues
  • the alien from Aliens, because was visceral and can do things humans can’t

by Sarah Phillips via unsplash

Discussion of different takes on sentience included

  • intelligent plants–communicate through photosynthesis?
  • Arrival –aliens trying to communicate
  • AIs–“cannot be a construct, but yes”
  • Turing Copper–a mystery series where AI is in love with creator
  • Godzilla originally began as a response to worries about radiation poisoning
    • smites bad in world
    • protector demon summoned to take care of human issues
  • Harry Harrison’s Death World 1970s
    • planet evolved things to destroy humans
    • planet trying to expel humans, like white cells attacking foreign bodies
    • entirely inter-connected eco system

Does the story drive biology or do you create the creatures first?

  • function first–I needed annoying background. I took a Hoover vacuum and put flowers on it.
  • for a series I tried to think of what would have a particular sense
  • figure out the story first and have a character who happens to be alien… need gift/benefit and drawback
  • try to personify the story with the monsters
  • did Godzilla dealing with climate change
  • 18th C demon and Texas Rangers
  • I usually start with monster and give myself freedom to explore
  • intelligent weasel “utterly malignant and wicked”
  • alien first–then build story–then change alien 🙂
  • alien invasion of plants taking over the ecosystem, ultimate invasive species


  • Avoid discussing how the not-biology works.
  • “as close as we can get” is all you can do
  • People will name things similarly to what they already know.
  • I had a creature called “butter bugs” because when you stepped on them, they smelled like buttered popcorn.
  • Need to read a lot of bio/science for world building, if not an alternate Earth.

What about cyborgs?

  • It depends how written.
  • Example would be a human brain in a completely mechanical body.
  • Discussion of The Ship Who Sang, Anne McCaffrey.
  • Separated brain has issues, b/c memory relates to smell, touch, taste.
  • Will we be able to scan human brains?
  • Can a scan inherit the brain owner’s stuff?
  • chemistry drives the emotional life, so they are still human
  • intelligent and self-aware = person, may not be human anymore
  • human v person is a sliding scale

There were two additional panels along these same lines: Fungi and Fun  and Alien Life-Not Alone.

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