The Non-Human Hero

This past April I attended the Pike’s Peak Writers Conference in Colorado Springs with the main purpose of pitching my science-fiction novel to an agent.  In particular, to a New York based agent.  Secondarily, of course, I took advantage of the courses and talks that were presented by many others at the conference: writers, agents, publishers, and so forth.  But what I’m most interested in commenting on in this posting is a comment that the agent made during my ten-minute pitch.  (I’m not identifying the agent by name because I don’t have that person’s permission to use his/her name in a blog, and I will refer to him/her simply as “he” as a matter of convenience.)  The agent expressed some hesitation to take on my novel because, he said, the characters are not human.  That is, they don’t come from the planet Earth.

That comment got me to thinking.  It’s true that the protagonists of many sci-fi novels are “human” and have their origins on Earth.  A few popular examples: Harry Potter is human, though he’s endowed with extra powers; the predecessors of the characters of the Dune books originally came from Earth; and the characters of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey either journeyed from Earth toward Jupiter or were responsible for sending them on their way.  Spiderman, too, is human, transformed by the bite of a radioactive spider.  I could name more, and I’m sure you could too.

But just because the protagonists of a book don’t come from Earth doesn’t mean that those types of books aren’t out there.  I can also list a few books and movies and television shows whose heroes (and bad guys too) come from other planets.  Star Wars comes immediately to mind.  All Star Wars movies begin with the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away.”  So all the characters portrayed by human actors on the screen such as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and so forth, are all really non-human since they couldn’t possibly have come from Earth.  (Interestingly, Star Wars is one of the few sci-fi tales that do take place outside our galaxy.  Most, including mine, take place within the Milky Way Galaxy.)

Superman is another character who isn’t really human.  He comes from the planet Krypton, sent to Earth in a space-going pod by his parents to land on a farm in Kansas.  I’ve always found it interesting that no one, at least to my knowledge, has ever commented on the great incongruity of humanity and fiction when the Kent family opened that pod and found within it a human–for all intents and purposes–baby.  (I’ve always wondered what the pediatrician thought when he tried to do a finger-stick to draw a little blood on the young Clark Kent to do a blood count.)  Yet we willingly accept Superman as a legitimate hero, and read and consume all the Superman stories voraciously.

The inhabitants of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth aren’t really human either, because they inhabit a place that, while it’s similar to Earth, is really a different place entirely.  Strictly speaking, the Hobbits aren’t human.

The characters of Battlestar Galactica aren’t human because they’re actually looking for Earth.  I haven’t seen the latest television series because I don’t have cable, but I saw the original series in the 1970’s.  As I recall, they never found it.

So, this has been a list of a few sci-fi stories whose characters are not human, though they look, act, and sound like humans, and may be portrayed by humans on the screen.  I’m sure there are more. and it might be fun to try to think of some.  Most sci-fi is human-based and human-oriented, but exceptions do exist.

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