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SF Subgenre Guides
Exotic Ecosystems Science Fiction
What is Exotic Ecosystems Science Fiction?
Exotic Ecosystems is all about unusual lifeforms and worlds—creatures and places that are truly alien. Much of sci fi populates its imagined worlds with familiar humanoid aliens and Earth-like settings, which can make it easier for readers to relate to the story. Exotic Ecosystem stories channel a bit of Willy Wonka—they are truly imaginative worlds, but with the sci fi edge of possibility.
While this sub-genre often includes intelligent alien life forms, it is defined by its setting. A truly other-worldly vision with alien ecologies.
Other Features of Exotic Ecosystems Science Fiction
- Level of Real Science
Moderate. Science is one way to understand an exotic ecosystem, but our scientific knowledge may fail when confronted with the truly exotic.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
High. The big question that Exotic Ecosystem stories must tackle: What is the nature of life? Different lifeforms, different intelligences, different vegetation—all of this will make you rethink what you know about what it means to be alive.
- Level of Characterization
Low. With some exceptions, the level of characterization in Exotic Ecosystem stories is low because of all the effort it takes to create the alien world.
- Level of Plot Complexity
Low. Like characterization, plot too can suffer under the weight of the artistically crafted alien world. These systems, because they are complex and alien, are really interesting but authors often struggle using them as the setting or background of an entertaining plot.
- Level of Violence
Variable. Again, because the sub-genre is defined by its setting the author has the freedom to choose how much, if any violence to include in the story.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
Colonization Science Fiction. Many stories that feature a rich alien eco-system are done in the framework of colonization—usually humans trying to colonize the alien world with varying degrees of success.
Astrosociobiology. This is a scientific inquiry into alien life and some of that alien life may fall into the truly exotic category.
First Contact Science Fiction. Occasionally, the Exotic Ecosystems story is framed as a first-contact story, where humans and aliens must struggle to understand one another.
Exotic Ecosystems Science Fiction isn't for you if...
If you want a strong story with strong characters and a fast-paced plot. Exotic Ecosystem stories must integrate huge amounts of information, which makes the crafting of the narrative more difficult. Thus, the worlds that are truly exotic and other-worldly have a narrative that is more artificial than organic and even allegorical.
- 1 The Word for Wold is Forest
By Ursula K. LeGuin. The Terrans come to the forest planet Athshe to colonize, but they destroy its ecosystem.
- 2 The Remarkables
By Robert Reed. A trek across an alien planet is also a coming of age story.
- 3 Solaris
By Stanislaw Lem. A trek across an alien planet is also a coming of age story.
- 4 Extreme Planets
By David Brin and Stephen Gaskell. A Science Fiction Anothology Of Alien Worlds (Chaosium fiction). This collection of hard sci fi short stories has various contributors who have written stories set on alien worlds that push the limits of what science used to tell us was possible.
- 5 Mission of Gravity
By Hal Clement. The first book in the Mesklin trilogy. The planet of Mesklin's gravity can be 700 times greater than Earth's, the oceans are liquid methane, the snow is frozen ammonia—but there is life.
- 6 War of the Wing-Men
By Poul Anderson. 3 humans are stuck in the middle of war on a little-explored planet between to alien tribes. The natives can fly—the planet is large with a low density and the air has a high density. The world and its biology are well thought out and have a very real impact on the story.
- 7 The Flight of the Dragonfly
By Robert L. Forward Rocheworld is a double planet and it is the first planet in another star system that humans journey to—one half is rock and the other is water, they share an atmosphere and are egg shaped.
- 8 The Integral Trees
By Larry Niven. The story takes place around a neutron star and a gas giant with insufficient gravity to keep its atmosphere, resulting in a gas torus and smoke ring. The smoke ring supports a wide variety of life including some amazing trees.
- 9 A Meeting with Medusa
By Arthur C. Clarke. The eco-system of this book is in the clouds of Jupiter—from glowing plankton floating through the air to gigantic whale-like medusa which feed on the plankton and then aerial sharks. One of the earlier attempts at creating a completely alien bionetwork.
- 10 Star Maker
By Olaf Stapledon. This is a history and a future of the entire galaxy, the entire cosmos, and the star maker itself. The book will take readers on a journey to see strange planet's and even stranger alien life.
- 11 Speaker for the Dead
By Orson Scott Card. In this sequel to Ender's Game, Ender finds himself on an alien planet where another alien species' existence is at stake. Through the story the biology and the intricate interconnectedness of life on this planet is uncovered.