Handless Aliens

I like to think about how sentient alien species could be radically different from us.

The aliens I am writing about now don’t have hands or tentacles or any other type of appendage that they can use to manipulate their environment.  The result of this difference is that there are a lot of things we can do that they cannot.

On a purely physical level, a species without hands cannot hold things.  They cannot pick something up and carry it somewhere else.  If you’ve ever watched a baby develop, you know that being able to carry stuff around is a key driver for wanting to walk instead of crawl.  It’s a darn useful thing to be able to do.  If an alien were configured so that it could nudge things onto part of itself – eg its upper surface – then it might have a crude capability to carry things around.  But it would be very crude compared to what we can do.  My aliens cannot hold things the way we do.

I think if a species cannot hold things, it’s harder to develop a concept of ownership.  Something I can hold in my hand, something I can hide in my hand, something I can carry around and keep with me – it’s mine.  Owning something external is, of course, still possible (think corporations, houses, animals), but it’s much more abstract.  And, in the case of cats, there’s the eternal question of who really owns whom.  😉  Ownership is a key concept for humans that my aliens don’t have.

If a species cannot hold things, it’s not going to develop tools.  It’s not going to probe termite mounds with sticks, it’s not going crack nuts with rocks, and it’s not going to cut things with knives.  (It could be argued that some Earth species use their mouths to use tools, but they can hold things with their mouths.  My aliens can’t.)  Tool use is one of the features of humanity that define us as an intelligent species.  My aliens don’t use tools.

Finally, if a species cannot hold things or use tools, it is not going to create physical things.  It’s not going to mold clay into bowls or build skyscrapers.  Being a creator is a fundamental aspect of who I am, and I know I am far from alone in feeling so.  This is not part of my alien’s identity at all.  (Although it could be – hands, ownership, and tools are not required to create music or stories…)

And yet … assuming a handless alien could also be sentient … and there’s no reason such a thing couldn’t evolve … there are still a lot of points where we could be the same.  A handless alien can still love, can still plan, can still fight, and can still contemplate what would be different if they had hands.

What do you think a handless alien would be like?  And, more interestingly, what could an alien have that we do not that would have such a profound effect on who they are?

Writing Streak

My writing 100 words a day streak is now at 34 days.  I’ve discovered that 100 words takes me somewhere between 10 and 40 minutes to write.  I’ve also discovered that, many times, I then go on to write far more words.  For anyone out there with the excuse that they “don’t have the time” to write (and, yep, I’ve used it too), I challenge you to try it and collect your own data.  Because maybe you really do have the time.

Now, I realize that 100 words a day isn’t going to add up to a novel anytime soon.  However, I think you’ll find it easier to add words to a big project than a small one because once you’re started on the big project, you can spend your time writing and not planning.  With smaller projects, the percentage of time need to plan is greater, I think.

I have now finished the first draft of my second short story for the year and am halfway through a third.  This is by far and away my most productive writing year, and it’s only the middle of February.

Fireball over Russia

I was planning on blogging about alien design today, but, really, how can I resist blogging about a major meteorite event and a close fly-by of an asteroid happening on the same day

Earlier today a fireball came apart over Russia and there are reported associated meteorites.


Someone on the American Meteor Society has already estimated a rough orbit:


I cannot wait to see what is learned from this event.  Very exciting!

And on the same day we have a close fly-by of an asteroid (closer to the Earth than the Moon or geosynchronous satellites).  But this one won’t hit us.


It is an exciting day for space news!

January Writing Stats

I’ve started this system where I’m writing at least 100 words a day instead of saving up my writing for when I have a big chunk of time.  I’ve found that I can add 100 words to a story pretty quickly – 10 or 15 minutes – which is doable, even after a long day of work.  I’ve also found that I think about my stories more because I’m working on them daily.  The drawback is that when I’m in polishing mode, I have to start another story at the same time.  But that has a silver lining: it means I’ve got another story started.  Anyway, in January I finished one story and started another.  Here are the month’s stats:



Rocks from Space!


A number of years ago, during a visit to Texas Christian University, I visited the Oscar Monnig meteorite collection.


Before this visit, I knew what meteorites were (rocks from space that actually make it to the Earth’s surface), but I had never given much thought to where they came from (other than the famous Mars meteorite).

Scientists, of course, had thought about it and have figured out the “parent” source of some meteorites.

A few meteorites have been caught on camera as they heat up falling through the Earth’s atmosphere, and their previous orbits can be determined from that data.  The results show that most meteorites came from the asteroid belt.

An early example is here:


Some clever scientists set up their cameras where it would be easy to find any meteorites that made it to the Earth.


Radar data can also be used to find meteorites and figure out where they came from.


But meteorites that are caught on camera during reentry are rare.

Scientists can also measure the reflection spectra of meteorites (the amount of light reflected back at various frequencies) and compare them to the telescopic spectra of various asteroids.  They found some pretty close matches:


But not all meteorites come from asteroids.  Some come from planets.

Martian meteorites tend to be “young” and contain gases that match the Martian atmosphere measured by the Viking spacecraft.


Lunar meteorites are also identified by their mineralogy and chemistry.


Recently, a meteorite was found in Africa that might originally be from Mercury:


How cool is that?