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Are humans/humanoids needed?

Mad Swede

Of course they would understand a third dimension. Just because they themselves are flat, doesn't mean that something around them (rocks or low mountains) wouldn't have depth. If they are intelligent creatures, they would understand this simply by looking around, or if they can't see, feeling the way the elevation changes. While I haven't read that book specifically, who's to say they don't have an emotional connection to each other? Just because one can sit on top of another, or beneath another doesn't mean that isn't a form of intimacy in itself. Humans do it all the time. Snuggling together for warmth, for company, laying/leaning on one another at the back of a classroom just for companionship. Touch is probably one of the most intimate things Humans can experience. Why wouldn't the same be true of some 2D aliens on a distant world?

Just a question, having not read that book: Were those 2D alien technologically advanced, or just some critter Clarke used for window dressing to describe a planet such as the one in the book?
No, I don't think you understand what I'm trying to get at. Clarke describes the world as being flat, because of the high gravity. There are no hills or mountains. Its inhabitants are flat (OK, two dimensional). And the question Clarke asks is interesting. Think about it. How often do we express ourselves in terms of height? Things like hierarchies, pay rises, position, etc. Or, consider what happens if one of these creatures is suddenly rotated through ninety degrees - does that creature still exist as seen by other creatures of their sort? Or has the rotated creature vanished? If the vast majority of your species don't or can't understand the concept of a third dimension, how do you express things? If youhave a belief system, what does it look like? How would you translate concepts from your language to those of another species who do think in three dimension? Our concepts reflect what we see around us, but they are formed by how we express those concepts in our everyday language. The fact that we think and express things in terms like compassion doesn't mean that other species out there would understand what we mean. Yes, they might have similar concepts but they might express them very differently and we might not understand each other when we try to translate our concepts.


What is your opinion, is humanity necessary for a story? Does the story become too alien if there is no-one like the reader in it? Or is it just lack of imagination that every story is only a mirror of our own?
Necessary? No. But it's going to take an awful lot of effort on your part, and your audience will be somewhat niche. As social justice is intent on telling us adnausium, a pretty large portion of the population (mostly them) don't possess empathy if they can't see themselves in the characters, and for the rest that do, there still needs to be extra draw somewhere else to make up the lack of easily understandable context. That context is why even if you have non-humanoid races in stories, unless (or even if) they're meant to be stock monsters, they still follow easily human psychologies and societies despite it not making sense.


My one attempt at this did have humans, but they were tertiary characters, didn’t really affect the story except in one instance. The main characters were cats ; knights who use magic on top of their built-in melee weapons.

The secondary characters were other cats. As expressed above, they were short stories that I suppose hypothetically be woven together into a novelette or some other shorter fiction.
I just realized that the book serries "Shadows of the Apt" by Adrian Tchaikovsky (which is a fairly well known traditionally published serries) doesn't have any actual humans in it. They're all different types of bugs, each with their own special powers and societies. The ones I read were nice.

The interesting thing here is though that both me and my brother read these (at least the first one). My brother didn't like it at all. He simply couldn't get over the fact that they were bugs, it completely ruined his immersion and suspension of disbelief. I didn't mind, but when I reflected on that it was because in my mind they weren't bugs. Rather, they were simply different groups of humans, each with their own special powers and societies which mapped onto bugs and they had simply adopted those bug names to distinguish between themselves. They looked human and acted human enough for me.

And I think this is something to be aware of. If you have no humans in your story, there is a fairly decent chance that a reader will simply map one or all races onto humans. We can only work from our own perspective and experience, and since we're human it's likely that we map stuff like this to being human.

Another anecdote. In one of my novels I started off without humans. There were dwarves, and the occasional appearance of some other race, but no humans. When I was about halfway through I realized that my dwarves were simply short humans living underground. They acted human, lived in human like places and so on, and as when reading, I simply mapped them onto humans in my mind. Which made having them as dwarves useless. It didn't add anything to the story. It just made it confusing. I changed it and I think the story is better for it.


toujours gai, archie
This is one I've thought about a fair amount. I think there's room for some nuance here.

First of all, I agree that if we as authors don't make an effort, our readers will almost certainly map our non-humans onto humans. I think that's what underlies the common complaint about elves being no more than humans with pointy ears. But we don't have to stop there, which raises the question of how we can go further.

I think it has to come from the tweaking of several variables, including appearance, customs, speech, social organization, politics, philosophy, and so on. IOW, the whole range of the human experience. Tweak some of these and you get a character who, though still human, is recognizably other. I think here of Elric, or even Gandalf. Tweak more of the variables, though, and you really can get beings that are convincingly not human.

It's not necessary to be different in every regard. That is done sometimes, most successfully in some SF, where the construction of non-humans has a longer pedigree. We fantasy writers could learn a trick or two there. The interesting ground lies in between, where there are recognizable similarities, yet with profound differences also.

And profound is a key word there. It has to run deeper than skin and eyes. It only gets interesting when it involves ethics or gender or law or family organization. Foundational stuff. That can be difficult to work out; not conducive to churning out a novel a month.

And not all stories need to run to that depth. I'm quite content to have humans with pointy ears square off against short humans underground, so long as the author clearly intends no more than that. Superficial fun is still fun.