Fiction From Nonhuman Viewpoints
At one point in time, we thought the universe revolved around us and our abode, Earth. Eventually, we discovered otherwise, and subsequently assumed the universe must then revolve around our heavenly benefactor, the sun.Sensing a pattern, here. We humans tend to be consumed by our own self-importance. Or, to put it another way, we have a very anthropocentric view of the universe.
Human being asking Universe… by CLUC | Flickr
According to Orson Scott Card, stories follow one of four structures: Milieu, Idea, Character, Event. He argues that most science fiction and fantasy stories follow the Event structure. Something has gone wrong with the world in some way, and the tale doesn’t end until order is restored.
Despite that, modern SFF has become very character-oriented—even the novels that aren’t, strictly speaking, Character stories. We want to watch the Event unfold before the characters’ eyes, and we wonder how it will affect those characters. After all, things are only “wrong” in the first place because the people of the story consider them so.
Even where we introduce nonhuman, alien, android / AI, and otherwise intelligent beings, most readers find it difficult to connect with a story unless it’s told from a human point of view. Some notable exceptions are below.
Science Fiction or Fantasy Novels From Nonhuman Viewpoints
- Far-Seer by Robert J. Sawyer
- Chanur Saga by C.J. Cherryh
- Raptor Red by Robert T. Baker
- The Crucible of Time by John Brunner
- Code of the Lifemaker by James P. Hogan
- The Bug Wars by Robert Lynn Asprin
- The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany
- Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
- Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon
- First Cycle by H. Beam Piper
- The Alien Dark by Diana G. Gallagher
The novels above got rather good ratings on Goodreads, so clearly it’s not impossible to connect with a nonhuman viewpoint. However, many of the books above—as well as others like the Rats of NIMH or Watership Down—are ostensibly told from a nonhuman point of view, yet these are rather anthropomorphic nonhumans.
In short, even our fictional universes still revolve around us. The Milieu novel is only interesting because we follow a character through an unfamiliar world. An Idea novel follows the character who unravels the mystery to find the answers. The Event novel holds our interest because of the characters’ reactions to it.
We just aren’t interested in a seedling’s trials as it bursts from the acorn and strives to survive and become an oak tree. We might read the story of the birth of a solar system through its super nova death in short-story format. But we’d be much more interested if there were humans visiting the solar system when the super nova occurred.
Can you think of any stories that are not about humans or anthropomorphic nonhumans? Certainly no novels spring to mind, but an avid short-story reader might think of a few.
In other news, Nevada is forward-thinking about auto-piloted cars. No drunk “driving” allowed.